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Perfectionism: a tough task master

Spring is in its full glory here in the UK, and we’ve had the most glorious weather over the last couple of weeks. There has been a nip in the air, but it’s been sunny with blue skies, and the blossom and bluebells have been glorious.

Bluebells representing spaciousness in nature

We have also just been let out, at least partially, from our long winter lockdown and for me, teaching piano in person for the first time since early December has been a total joy. I am eternally grateful for the possibility of teaching online, but nothing beats seeing and hearing a piano student in real time, in my studio on my beautiful Steinway. Many of my Oxford students have struggled with having their university education at home often with less than adequate pianos and internet connection. Despite my best efforts, it is simply impossible to hear the full sound over the internet and assess where a student is going. Some have sadly fallen behind simply because of those limitations.

Perfectionism: a tough task master Performance coaching is fortunately much more suited to being online because there is more talking and less playing involved. Over the last few weeks, I’ve worked with instrumentalists and singers from all over the UK with one pianist from Texas, USA. It doesn’t seem to matter where someone comes from or what stage they’re at, the themes that come up are similar. Recently, it’s been perfectionism. Perfectionism is the drive to give a ‘perfect performance’ and this can often be present with a feeling of not being good enough and a need to prove oneself as a musician in order to be accepted in some way. All this is dangerous for a performer. It piles on the pressure and physical, mental and emotional tension then kicks in, laying a perfect foundation for performance anxiety.

So how do we deal with all these stresses? One way is to give ourselves bucketloads of self-care. This last year has been as stressful as they come so there is a need for this self-care more than ever before, especially when we have been living with fear all around us and huge restrictions in our lives. Self-care means different things to different people: eating healthily perhaps, checking we’re getting enough sleep, getting exercise and having enough time off. For the perfectionist musician, it is to take the pressure off and let ourselves off the hook when we don’t play as we’d like to. We simply need to allow ourselves to be human and fallible. This immediately frees us up and allows more space. It makes music making infinitely more enjoyable too.


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