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Monday, February 27, 2017

The Case for Perfection -- Taking it One Small Step at a Time

The Teach Suzuki Podcast recently broadcast an episode about small steps in order to develop the ability of mastery (click here to listen). I recalled writing a blog article in 2012 that addressed the issue of perfection. With a few updates, here is that article:


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A thought struck me today: it seems as if parents do not want their children to strive for perfection.

That seems a bit harsh, I told myself. Do you really want to take that extreme position?

I am not sure. The above statement is a result of the parental behaviors I observe in my studio.

My next thoughts were:
  • What does perfection mean exactly?
  • Is perfection a good thing to strive for after all?
  • What reasons could parents subconsciously have for not helping their children to achieve perfection?
  • Teachers want perfection in their students, right?
  • Is there anything that we teachers can do to encourage our parents to want this same lofty goal?
  • Is anything ever perfect?
Probably not, I concluded. Perfection may be an illusory goal. We may strive for perfection because we desire accolades, awards, success, or challenge. I think, however, that maybe the real reason that we desire perfection is that in doing so we become more than who we are.

A muscle needs challenge in order to become stronger. We must first tear down the muscle. When we exercise the muscle, we must challenge the muscle with our exercise. We cannot continue to work the muscle the same way or it will not grow. Muscles are made up of many tiny fibers. We must stress the muscle (micro trauma), and tiny little micro tears appear in the fibers. Over the next 48 hours, the muscle will repair the fiber tears more strongly than before. If we stress the muscle again, the process of rebuilding and strengthening will continue.

When we strive for perfection, the moment at which we attempt to measure whether we have achieved perfection is gone in a flash. We can only evaluate what has now become a memory or past event. If we were to set up another evaluation to measure whether we have achieved perfection anew, we would measure another past point in time. This is what I meant by perfection being an illusory goal. It does not remain static. It is by its very definition "just out of reach." Like a muscle, however, the striving for perfection will result in strength. Whenever we strive for something, we become stronger in the process of striving. Sounds circular, I know, like the chicken and the egg scenario. Think of the circle as a hamster wheel. The purpose of the wheel is to encourage exercise. Just get on the wheel already and let the exercise process begin.

What parental behaviors do I see that lead me to make the observation that parents do not seem to want their children to achieve perfection? Here is a short list of parental behaviors as they relate to the music studio:
  • Parents may not practice consistently with their children. In many cases, I am unsure whether parents really understand the concept of practice and how it should be done. I spend a great deal of time teaching parents and students about healthy practice techniques. 
  • Parents may not adequately supervise how the children perform and practice.
  • Parents may not require perfection in practice or practice habits. The child is left to adopt unhealthy posture habits. Parents seem to routinely allow inadequate work to suffice.
  • Parents may offer many possible excuses for not doing adequate work at home or for allowing the child to turn in less than stellar home practice work.
  • Parents may allow their children to spend an inadequate amount of time to develop a skill or ability.
  • Parents may not make many strong demands on their children to do work of any kind, to earn the right to relax and have fun, or to experience the logical consequences to the children's choices regarding behavior. Note that even parents do not make this strong demand on themselves, if you consider the list I just made.
The podcast episode discusses this issue in more depth as to why parents may not work towards perfection or mastery. Let me offer another possibility to the ones mentioned in the podcast episode. Striving for perfection requires work. This kind of work might require the parent to operate outside of an entrenched comfort zone. Parents may also be too busy or may want the parenting job to be easier.

Parenting is not easy. The parent's job never ends. The job continues even after the child has moved out of the home, become an adult, or married and started a family. My husband calls it the "job for life." Parenting is a lifelong commitment. Parenting is work. If a parent cares at all about the child, the parent will be willing to put in the time and effort to make sure the job is done and done correctly. The reward for a parent is a terrific child and developed skill and ability to the best that the child is capable.

Teachers want their students to strive for and achieve perfection, whatever perfection should look like at the moment. I believe that teachers choose this profession because of their innate desire to make the world a better place, even an "ideal" place, if you will. Teachers do the best they can under the circumstances. Teachers may teach the child a fraction of the time in a child's week, and yet, teachers will approach the teaching job with as much effort as possible. Teachers strive for perfection because this is how teachers can bring out the best possible result in children.

How can teachers encourage parents to share this vision of the value of striving for perfection? There may be several possible ways:

Role Modeling: As a teacher and performing professional musician, I model for my students and their parents what it looks like to strive for perfection. I am not perfect, but I do not lower my standards for myself. I continue to challenge myself with new repertoire and new performance opportunities. I perform regularly in solo performances, chamber music, and large ensembles. I continue to study new subjects and revisit old subjects with new perspective.

Standards: I set high standards for myself, my students, and my students' parents. I expect my students and their parents to do the best that they can. I am here to help at all times, but I do not permit my students or their parents to allow me to do the work for them in the studio which should rightfully be completed by my students and their parents in home practice sessions, although I am always accessible by phone, internet, or aural or video recordings.

Information: I provide a great deal of parenting and teaching information to my studio parents in the form of parent education, this blog and the years that I have written for it, the podcast episodes, and throughout the course of a student's musical study program with me. I spend a great deal of time sharing useful information about parenting as well as teaching on the blog and podcast.

Love: Finally, let me urge parents to love their children. When a parent loves his or her child, the parent will do what needs to be done to help the child. The parent will want what is best for the child, and the parent will seek out other people who can help the parent to achieve that lofty goal. I believe that perfection is a lofty goal and most definitely in the best interest of the child.

Let me close with one of my favorite Dr. Suzuki quotes: "Where love is deep, much can be accomplished."

Until next time,



Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----


© 2017 by Paula E. Bird

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