“Letting Go” of Perfectionist Tendencies

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August 12, 2013 by admin

I remember my first time playing in front of a crowd like it was yesterday.  I was sixteen years old and had recently started a cover band with my brother on drums and a few neighborhood friends.  We all caught the ‘metal’ bug and wanted nothing else but to play Metallica and Pantera covers all day long.  The other guitarist in the band told us of an opportunity to play a show at his high school.  After some nervous contemplation, we all decided to jump onboard with the idea.

In hindsight, we played a decent show considering we were inexperienced and still learning our way around our instruments.  But, to this day, there’s still one memory that I have from that show which sticks out like a sore thumb; I made a mistake during my guitar solo!  I’m sure you all know that feeling.  It was actually the only original song that we had written and decided to play at the show.  It was my moment to shine, and I screwed up.  Or maybe not…

A few days later when I watched the video of the show, something interesting occurred to me;  I didn’t notice the mistake!  In my mind, the blunder was so obvious that I logically assumed it would be obvious to everyone else.  But I had to re-watch the video a couple of times to actually notice the error I had made.  The irony is, the only thing in the video that appears obvious is when I shake my head in frustration after the mistake allegedly happened.

This brings me to the main point of this article; how to effectively let go of our mistakes, especially during a performance.  I think it’s safe to say that most musicians are perfectionists by nature, which we all hope will produce rewarding results.  A majority of the time, our hard work does pay off, and we begin to see noticeable improvements during our formative years.  We start to play faster and more accurately with the good old metronome day by day.  However, a small byproduct of this strong work ethic begins to grow inside our psyche which, if unchecked, can spread like a cancer; the tendency to obsess over every last detail.

In my opinion, the line between proficiency and perfection is sometimes blurred to the detriment of the player.  We sometimes are solely focused on improving our miscues from the prior day’s practice that we don’t stop to realize just how far along we’ve come.  When I would play along to songs in my room, I had a habit of replaying a song from the beginning if I screwed up just one section.  Needless to say, there’s no ‘replay’ button when you’re playing live.  Instead, I started getting in the habit of owning my mistakes.  This can be an invaluable step forward to make in your playing.  Unless the mistake is catastrophic (which, if you practice effectively, should be a rare occurrence), should you really let it get to you?  I don’t think so, and sometimes it can be helpful to look at it from a different perspective.

The road to musical perfection is an illusory one paved with good intentions.  But from the cracks in the road which we sometimes call mistakes, can come style and character.  I remember watching a video diary from the late great Dimebag Darrell (off of the DimeVision DVD) where he was describing how uncomfortable he felt when he listened to one of his guitar solos which was the final take on an album.  The look on his face said it all, it was cringeworthy for him to relive this part of the solo (I think it involved one of his ‘squeals’ not living up to his expectations).  But one of his friends always pointed out the same section and told Dime that it was his favorite part of the whole solo.

If you watch enough YouTube videos, I’m sure you can find tons of live footage from famous bands where mistakes are made.  The question is, how often do you see them shaking their head in frustration?  Perception is reality, and if you ‘own’ your occasional slip ups and quirks, then they become non-events and barely noticeable to your audience.  In fact, these imperfections help to reinforce the human aspect of your playing and can make the music sound more honest.

It’s like taking a test in school, if you want to get a good grade, then studying (practicing your instrument) and being prepared for the material is a no brainer.  However, at the end of the day, why get all stressed out because you scored an “A-” instead of an “A” or an “A+”?  Instead of dwelling, take pride in what you have accomplished thus far in your musical journey and try not to forget that, at one point, you were completely unable to play the guitar!  Even the best musicians make mistakes, but it’s how you react and move forward from those setbacks that truly measure your progress.








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