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  1. #1
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    Default Perfectionism:Good or Bad?

    I wanted to raise this question because it's been on my mind lately. The issue arose for me in 2000. I had a baby girl with another on the way and I was pretty depressed. Really depressed! I have never felt like that before, My wife suggested I go see someone to talk. The guy I went to was great. he said I had an "All or nothing mentality". I would either do something completely and until it was at a state I felt was perfect or I wouldn't try at all because what would be the point. The issue was coming up because I wasn't practicing at all because everytime I would start there would be an interruption. I wasn't cleaning the house because I could never get it to the state where it was perfect and if I did someone would come along and mess it up and I didn't have the energy to keep it perfect so why even start. Through these talks it also came out that I would feel bad depending on if I played bad(or less than perfect) I never composed music because it was never good enough when I tried. I never recorded myself because I never thought it was good enough to use(I did a studio recording in the early nineties but never did anything with it because a week after I recorded it I didn't like it)
    Talking to this doctor was very enlightening for me. I didn't realize how ingrained this was in my thinking until he kept pointing it out in our conversations. Some of the things he said to me pop into my head almost daily. SInce that time I created a website(that isn't perfect), I put sound clips on it (that I'm far from happy with), I put clips of my playing different mouthpieces on it almost weekly( before I wouldn't have the courage to do any of this),I started teaching and have a large number of students now, I've written a few method books(that also are not perfect)
    My point in all this is I've been alot more productive and happy as a person when I let go of the perfection thing, do my best and then let it go. I've had people criticize my website, my playing, my clips(Although the majority of feedback has been very supportive) and things that would have devastated me before don't even bother me. If someone points something out I listen. Thank them for the help, weigh what they said, try to improve, and keep moving on. Keep progressing forward.
    I know this is more personal stuff than I feel comfortable sharing but I wonder how many other people on this forum are held back by their "all or nothing" mentality. Honestly, I was practicing alot but I wasn't doing anything because I was never good enough(in my mind)
    It still comes out all the time. My wife asked me the other day when I would make a CD. I said I needed to practice for 6 months straight to get to that point.....There it was again. That thinking that I'm not good enough now stopping me from doing what I should be doing. Maybe I'm alone in this. Can anyone else relate to what I'm saying?

  2. #2

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    Well, just like anything else: Perfectionism isn't perfect. If you rely on music to bring home bread, you better be a perfectionist, but if not, bein a perfectionist isn't nessasary.

  3. #3

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    This is a very interesting post, and I can relate to your dilemna. All of us probably can, to a certain extent. That's the nature of music training - it can always be better. If we wait until something is perfect, it will never get there.

    Funny you should mention the cleaning house example. I lived through the Northridge, CA earthquake in 1994, and watched pretty much everything in my apartment tumble onto the floor. Needless to say, when the shaking stopped, it was a mess. I spent a lot of energy cleaning up most of it, but in the back of my mind I felt like it was all going to fall down again if there was another earthquake or strong aftershock, so why should I bother? Since that time I've turned into kind of a slob (more than I was before).

    As far as performing, if I have an important performance coming up, I try to practice and prepare as thoroughly as possible, and when it comes to show time, I need to be able to tell myself that I did my best in my preparation. If I focus on the idea that it could be better, I'll have much less confidence, and that could easily sabotage the performance.

    Chasing the ideal of perfection can have positive and negative effects. It spurs us to reach a higher level, but it can also be frustrating or depressing to see that perfection will never be attained.

    It's great that you have found someone to put things into a good perspective. Thanks for your post, it was enlightening to read it.

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    This counselor told me that I needed a certain amount of perfectionism to achieve excellence and achieve anything great but he said I have to balance that with a realistic view of myself and my abilities.(Realistic meaning most of our own views of ourselves are too demeaning or grandiose and not based on reality) I have to except my playing for what it is and where it's at and be happy in the moment regardless of what I wish it would be or what I think it should be. I think for years I used this perfectionistic mindset to push me into the practice room and work. It works towards those goals but at the same time it makes you sad, depressed, never happy, obsessed. Even when I played really well I didn't give myself the permission to feel good about it because if I did I was afraid I would let off on my pursuit of that perfect goal.
    All I know whether good or bad, I am a lot happier these past 5 years than I was before and although I'm not working as hard at the sax. I'm still working hard and feel more balance and peace in my life.

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    Forum Contributor 2010 DukeCity's Avatar
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    Steve, I can totally relate. I had in my mind that I needed to get all of my playing stuff together before I would do a recording of my own. Finally, in the summer of '05, I had a chance for a good deal at the best studio in town, and I had about three weeks until I was going to be teaching at some music camps (where I could sell some discs, if I had them to sell).

    Well, it was as if a log jam had broken. I got the group together that I had done some work with (just tenor, bass, drums), picked some tunes, booked the studio, and I was off and running. We recorded on a Thurs and Fri, and normally I would have waited, and waited to get in to do mixing (and probably never have found just the right time to do it). But with the clock ticking, I went in the very next day and started four days of editing and mixing, and another day of mastering. During that same time I was also getting a guy to work on graphics for the packaging, and another guy to do some photography, and I was writing the text. So, that very next Friday, I FedExed the stuff to the CD manufacturing place.

    The CD is far from perfect. I'm basically OK with my playing, very proud of the "sound" that we got, and looking forward to doing another project soon.

    Several years ago Denis DiBlasio and I were talking about his CDs, and he said that he just thinks of them as being a document of wherever he is as a player at that moment. That makes it not nearly as intimidating as my previous conception of the CD as being the culmination of my life's work!

    While I want to do things well, and create things I can be proud of, I try not to get wrapped up in comparing myself (too much ) to masters past or present. So whether it's cleaning the house, or working on my golf swing, or writing tunes, or making a CD, it's as much about the path as it is about the destination!

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    Forum Contributor 2010 DukeCity's Avatar
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    In more direct response to the question in the title of the thread: I would say that slightly-less-than-perfectionism can be a good thing. By that, I mean setting high standards for one's self is good. Setting a literal perfectionist standard that results in paralysis or inaction, not so good.

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    I look at it this way... Everyday, strive to get halfway closer to perfection. Halfway closer than yesterday. Tomorrow, halfway further. Will you ever get there? Nope! You'll only get halfway there. But, the effort will make it more difficult for anyone to tell the difference.

    Perfection is fleating and can't be held onto. It's the journey my son

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    I prefer to just think of it as "bestism" instead of "perfectionism". Perfectionists strive to be perfect and demand perfection of themselves at all times, which is of course impossible. Bestists strive for their personal best and demand their personal best at any given time, which is very, very possible.

    This simple change of words or mentality works very effectively to accomodate ALL life situations. For example, if you are really sick, depressed, out of shape, or whatever your personal best is going to be a bit lower but it's still going to be YOUR personal best! At the same time, if you depend on gigs for a significant portion of your income, you must try to do that gig the best you can, and strive to be the best person for the job.

    I find that this switch in attitude has caused me to come closer to my ideal playing than ever before.
    My quintet album - Released June 2013. Please enjoy.
    Glenn Miller Orchestra - See when we're near you and come on out to a show! Ask me about comp tickets.
    Mike Lorenz - a great musician who I collaborate with often. He also produced my album.

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    If we never stretch, we never get better; AS we stretch, we are sure to do it imperfectly.

    Another thought - we only have so much time available for everything - family, job, hobbies, outside commitments. Knowing this, we have to choose who/what we cheat on. If we spend an extra 4 hours of practice to get us from 95 to 96 % perfect, is that time well spent? Sometimes 'good enough' is.
    "People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing"
    Florence Foster Jenkins

  10. #10
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    Steve - First of all congratulations on your kids! Man, they really change things, don't they? I really gained a lot of perspective about my own life and the lifes of the students I teach after my daughter was born. That was more than 10 years ago! LOL

    Second of all - put togther a CD! You are a great player; I really enjoy listening to your clips on the website. DukeCity's Diblasio quote about a recording being "where you are" really makes sense.

    Sometimes I have a hard time practicing because I know there will always be someone out there better, someone who can do something I can't, or...fill in the blank.... Then I started practicing for me and try to always make sure that I am playing for me.

    A lot of musicians are so close to their music that their playing equals who they are. You can be a great player and have bad day - you are still you. You can be an average player and play lights out - you are still who you are. If you have not done so, check out Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner. Outstanding book that helped me.

    Having said all of that, I think the pursuit of perfection is good, and realizing that it can never be achieved is wise.

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    An interesting thread with very insightful, practical, responses.

    “Perfectionism” is a problem area for many people. “Perfectionists” often set unrealistic, even impossible, standards. They think that they have to perform superbly no matter how inexperienced they are. Even if they have success, if a single mistake is made, they focus on that and not what went well. They can become entrapped in vicious cycles of self-criticism and self-doubt when they don’t achieve these unrealistic standards.
    http://www.saxontheweb.net/Resources...-NSharpe3.html

    Ken Fornetran, professional jazz musician, comments, “ Worry turns you inward, cuts you off. We begin to have issues about getting up in front of people and playing. We can begin to get nervous about it, to constantly worry. I used to have those kinds of anxiety issues. But, I learned to just let things happen. It’s not going to hurt you if you make mistakes…That’s how we learn. We need to understand and accept that for some nights and for some sessions something can go wrong and will go wrong. It’s the same for every musician, no matter how talented. We’re a lot better off going in relaxed and letting things happen”.
    http://www.saxontheweb.net/Jazz/KenFornetran1.html

    Sometimes things will flow easily, sometimes they won’t. Sometimes the results will be terrific, sometimes they won’t. That’s part of being a human being. The talent always is there. It just finds different ways to express itself from time to time. Mistakes and set-backs are how one learns, how one progresses.

    When a mistake happens, it can help to write down what happened, why, and how to better manage it the next time. Eventually, one will have a checklist of performance tips.

    Prepare as best one can. Perform as best one can. That is all one can demand of oneself. Do not hold a cloud of regret in one’s mind.

  12. #12

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    On my shelf unpublished,are 6 different cd's I recorded because i don't think they're good enough to release when i hear them.I always think they could have been done better, so nothing gets released.I did'nt think I had a problem ,I thought the music had one,but of course it's my music,so...sometimes it's better not to be so critical of your work or results,wanting to do take after take and losing spontaneity,just share it and you -I ,may be surprised at response of others who might enjoy your old recordings more than you do.Remember, the next one will be better!

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    Forum Contributor 2009 JimD's Avatar
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    Steve, you've more or less accepted that perfectionism is unrealistic and damaging. All the other replies acknowledge the same thing and it's obviously common if not the normal state of affairs. There is no such thing as perfect in this world, which runs on the Apollonian and Dionysian principle (at least in the 2 square feet where I stand) where Apollo is the striving for calm and stability (perfection) and Dionysis is striving for chaos, the two need each other to make creativity possible.

    I don't struggle for prefection, I'm so far away from anything that anybody would describe as perfect that to make that my goal would be idiotic. As Razzy says, you aim to do your best at any given time. I actually look at mistakes as possibilities to take things in otherwise different, and possibly better, directions. So I belive that mistakes are part of creativity, which I think is true in all the arts as well as maths, sciences etc as well.

    If you could reach this mythical state of being perfect then what? Nowhere to go, stasis. Sometimes I've reached points where I've thought "you can play pretty well now" and then a year or so later realised that I'm now better than I was and so that I was only deluding myself before. Mind you there's also the opposite of that when I've thought that I am now so much better technically and theoretically but I've lost the freshness I had. So what do you do? Do your best, try to keep it fresh (alive) and keep moving (hopefully forward). That horizon is always moving away at exactly the same speed as we progress so satisfaction is always going to be fleeting. Nice thought from tjontheroad, "Will you ever get there? Nope! You'll only get halfway there."

    Now my problem is that I always want things to be new (too much Dionysis) so sometimes when I turn in a set of prefectly decent solos but feel that I'm only running my own set of cliches, then I'm miserable. But it's all down to preception. I've invariably had more compliments when I've just knocked off the solos than when I've been really striving. None of it gets me anywhere so I just keep on keeping on. All the posts here have had good things to say and you know the answer already but it can be hard to keep it uppermost when those other demons have such deep roots.

  14. #14
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    "...those other demons have such deep roots"

    Useful insight to think of perfectionism as a demon. Perfection belongs only to God, and in one sense all the music we do is imitating what he's done before only better. To imitate is sincere flattery, but to pretend we can do as well is presumption, in the end.

    I guess we do it either because other people have ingrained in us that we should be what we're not, or because we're trying to persuade ourselves of the same thing. I'd rather be pretty good, troubled and productive than perfect, tortured and fruitless.

    But then bringing up kids drives away any pretence of being perfect at anything.
    It's an ill wind that blows nobody down a long lane which has no silver lining.

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