Perfectionists are everywhere. In fact, without them, not very much would get done well!
But there are good and bad perfectionists. Neither is ever satisfied — for the good ones, this is because they always find something to improve. For the bad ones, it’s because they always find a mistake to fix.
This difference in approach is very real, and in music, it has a noticeable impact on how people learn, how they perform, and how they play with others.
It’s not so hard to turn a bad perfectionist into a good one. The “cure” became clear to me when I heard about a theater game taught by an improvisation instructor.
One of the stumbling blocks for bad perfectionists is that, while they may believe that “practice makes perfect”, they often don’t know which things need to be perfected, or how, or when. As mentioned in the previous article, cognitive scientists have found that “learners are very poor judges of when they’re learning well.” If students’ priorities are not on target, judging themselves harshly may only be getting in their own way.
Jack, for example, was so wrapped up in getting every note right that he didn’t stop to realize how weak his bowing was. We focused on making his sound more confident, on bowing to match the timing of the tune, on finding the right ratio of bow speed and pressure to make a clear sound, and Jack made a lot of progress.
I complimented him on this progress and encouraged him to keep it up and pay attention to it when he played. But all he could do was frown and look at me as if I was crazy. He pointed out each of the notes he’d missed, especially one of them that had been way out of tune. I explained why his new bowing skill made all the notes sound much better and more in time, even the notes that weren’t perfect. He looked askew at me as if I was either deaf, or lying in order to make him feel better.
This was when we talked about the improv exercise. Here’s how it worked: Continue reading Good and Bad Perfectionists