Perfect Is Relative

Within a practice session, when is it time to move on to the next passage?

When it’s perfect, right?

Well, what does perfect mean?

I’ve been working on the Haydn Trumpet Concerto the last few months, and I have a sublime live recording of Chris Martin, principal trumpet in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, performing the piece with the CSO. It’s gorgeous playing.

I’m a good player, but I’m not even in the same ballpark as Chris Martin. I’m fully aware of this.

Yet when I’m practicing, it’s sometimes hard to move on from a given passage because I feel like it needs to attain a level of perfection that’s frankly out of reach for me in the here and now. I want it to sound like Chris Martin or Tom Hooten or Bobby Shew or Wayne Bergeron.

The thing is, perfect is relative.

Unless we’re at that world-class level, our playing is not going to sound like those guys.' Our perfect is different from their perfect.

If we forget that, it’s easy to spend too much time on one little passage, essentially waxing the back fender over and over while the rest of the car waits.

And you know what’s really crazy? Chris Martin himself probably remembers moments from that recording that he could do better. The very thing I hold up as an ideal to emulate is not perfect by his standards. He strives for his own level of perfection, and I need to strive for mine.

In music and every other field, once our work has reached the best it’s going to get today, based on our current level of ability, it’s time to move on to something else. The way we reach the next level is not by trying to attain perfection in an afternoon, but by repeating the process over and over, day after day.