Thoughts on freedom and perfection in practicing

Will Roesch started a small group discussion on Facebook where he posted the query:

What's the next step to get beyond good enough? is it as simple as devoting more time to my instrument? Or is a new approach to my instrument necessary?

How did you do it?

There were some good answers, but I don't want to presume those writers would want me to quote them unannounced here.

I answered:

Quality is not a state to achieve; it's more of an attitude, a process and a direction.

I am happiest when I practice clarinet for myself. I actually dislike performances, at least as a measure of my abilities as a clarinetist and musician. A goal for me now is to bring the joy I find (at times) when playing alone to the performances.

I enjoy experimentation and playful freedom. I occasionally improvise during some of my practice sessions. I play along with Jazz songs or a Jamey Aebersold CD (I've been using Volume 24 Major and Minor) It helps me to free up my own abilities, to get beyond my fears of limitations and expectations.

It hard to overcome fears that someone might hear me messing around, playing "wrong notes". (I'm improvising! What's a wrong note?) That admission reveals a lot about myself, and I'm sure most classical musicians experience the same apprehension when improvising. Yet it's a critical test, for which there is no grade, no right or wrong. Untying that psychological knot, that paradox of fear or perfectionist expectation, can be the most valuable achievement toward the "freedom" of the highest quality music making.

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