A Journey to Break Free from the ‘Practice Makes Perfect’ Myth


Shaina Taebi

The “practice makes perfect” myth could overpower a musician’s practice. Often, this myth perpetuates a feeling of imperfection and frustration that could lapse in time.

My first love was not a human but an object. It was dark brown and wooden, with a glossy surface and orange undertones. Four silver strings with a carbon fiber pin sticking out the other end. I called it Kayllo, a nickname for my 27-year-old cello.

For the past few months, I have been working on “Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 3,” a piece that many musicians admire for its difficulty, interpretation and skill. The time I spent perfecting this piece has been countless, as I believed the amount of time I spent mastering a certain skill would translate to my final product—but this time, it did not.

In my nine years of being a cellist, I have only now realized that the “practice makes perfect” myth is a solid but implicit and harmful presence in my music life. This saying only perpetuated an impossible quest for perfection. I experienced initial frustration and disappointment after realizing that my dream, to be the perfect musician, was on an unreachable pedestal.

At some point in our lives, musicians may have all been guilty of attempting to fulfill the “practice makes perfect” myth. But can one take anything from the perfect musician mentality besides the fact that imperfect human beings are trying to be flawless?

Brooke Macnamara, David Hambrick and Frederick Oswald, authors of the book, Psychological Science, “calculated that, overall, the amount of deliberate practice in which someone engages explains only 12% of the variance in the quality of performance. Which means 88% is explained by other factors,” according to The Washington Post.

It is important to acknowledge that instead of following a myth, we should try to set unique expectations for ourselves and take into consideration that criticism can act as the biggest stepping stone to achieving the final product. As a matter of fact, no benefits come from believing in this myth, as it is a fundamentally impossible goal. 

Thus, targeting and improving our weaknesses is the way to success. However, musicians need to acknowledge that a myth must not define them, and they must learn to embrace harsh feedback to improve.

Even though I made it to my end goal of mastering Beethoven’s piece, I reflect on my experience with a different mindset. Through the criticism I heard, I learned to embrace it. This acted as a stepping stone to becoming a better and improved cellist, not the perfect cellist I longed to become in the past.

As my one-sided relationship of nine years is reaching its tenth, I will be working on even more challenging pieces. However, these projects will be far different than any other projects I have taken on: the constant comparisons to other cellists and being overly critical of myself will all end. I will have a more optimistic mindset, stand with confidence and fully trust myself to perform to the best of my abilities.