Being An Imperfect Musician


I played piano today, and I enjoyed it. This was a statement I had not been able to say for a long time.

Over a year ago I had posted about rekindling my love for the instrument, but it never really happened. Life got in the way- or so I thought.

I blamed a lot of not playing on being busy, which I was with various internships. I also pushed the piano aside because Teddy (my precious little puppy) hated the sound and would howl whenever any instrument was played.

Though the above were contributing factors, none of them really explained why I was avoiding the piano. The truth was that in fourth year after a rather disastrous jury, I was tired and frustrated at the piano.

I am a big cognitive science junkie. In Levtin’s book This is Your Brain On Music he talks about how 10,000 hours of practice makes a great musician. I calculated that if I started piano when I was five and averaged about 2 hours a day since then (with the long hours in my advanced years evening out the early years and holidays) that it amounted to something like 12,410 hours. This was approximate number of hours I had spent at a piano from when I was 5 up to the day of my piano jury when I was 22 (I am currently 24).

It was disheartening having put in more than the required 10,000 hours and be far from “perfect”. This anxiety had caused me to be afraid of performing in front of other people. “What if I mess up?” was a constant worry during the hours spent in university practice rooms. The consequence of this unease was more intense practicing and the development of carpel tunnel (which I am happy to say I don’t have any more).

Today I sat at the piano without too much thought about it. I picked up a book of Chopin waltzes and simply started playing. I realized some of my strengths:
1. I am a great sight reader.
2. If I played a song once, my fingers will remember it forever no matter how long it’s been since I last played it.

Though imperfectly, it was nice to be playing again, especially the music of my favourite composer. Now that I am out of school (and finished RCM exams), I don’t have to be playing under the pretense of needing to be perfect or performing for somebody else. I can also explore pieces that excite me and not have to drill them to perfection. I want to continuously enjoy performing for myself. And for me, imperfect is okay.

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One thought on “Being An Imperfect Musician

  1. Although I’ve played guitar “by ear” since I was 12 ( I’m 61..you do the math) I’ve never played piano before in my life. (I take that back, I tried to play chop sticks when I was in my teens but couldn’t get it right). I’ve always thought it was too difficult and for some reason I was never able to get the hang of reading music so playing piano was just a dream I have had all my life but thought was out of my reach.

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