“Practice Makes Perfect” Is a Lie

Before I graduated from college, my cello teacher Robert Luke told me, “‘Practice makes perfect’ is a lie. Practice makes experience.” I have carried this with me since and I have shared it with my students.

Performance is often imperfect. No matter what there is nearly always some detail we don’t like in our performances and performance situations. Sometimes the environment is not ideal. Sometimes it’s the chair we sat in, what we had for a meal beforehand, lighting, etc.

When we practice, we are building experience. If we are playing a note incorrectly, that is our experience. If we play a note correctly, then that is our experience. We can train ourselves to play out of tune; we can train ourselves to play in tune. If we play a passage correctly 95 times and incorrectly 5 times, what are the odds we are going to play it correctly? If we play a passage correctly 5 times and incorrectly 95 times, what are our odds then? By building good experience, we hope to prepare ourselves properly to increase the possibility of a good performance.

Too many times I see students who want to learn too much too soon too fast. They want to play through a piece over and over again. Beyond an initial sight read through, I try to discourage practicing by that way. Too many times we waste time doing that. Once in college I was practicing when I became aware of someone playing piano in the practice room next door. She went through the piece until a certain point when a mistake happened. She stopped, started over from the beginning until the same mistake happened. She repeated the same procedure with the same results. Again and again she reinforced the mistake. I couldn’t take it anymore I had to leave my practice room and move to another.

Often these days I may say that if you make a mistake you are either playing too fast, playing too many notes, or both. In all that we do we build history in our brains and muscles. So, I believe that practice makes experience. Thank you, Mr. Luke, for those words of wisdom.

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