The Metronome

In high school, I was a band nerd (I say that with affection). I played several instruments and I was truthfully never very good at any of them. But I wanted to be. The guidance of my band director was always to practice difficult passages at half tempo with a metronome until it is perfect. He said that the worst thing you can do is play notes faster than your accuracy allows because it ingrains the wrong notes into your brain. You play it right every time, no matter how slow you need to go. Eventually, the speed comes by itself.

That was always really hard for me because it’s boring and slow and the progress that you make is so incremental that it feels non-existent. I would start off at half-tempo and then inevitably speed it up and play it wrong, because I wanted to learn it right now.

I want things fast. I want things now. Right now. I want to feel good every day right now, and be successful right now, and be the perfect wife and mother right now. And because of that, I’m playing the piece all wrong. I’ve been practicing for 30 years and I don’t feel like I’m any better than I was when I started.

Here’s what I’m learning, though:

Perfection. You can’t wait until the piece is perfect before you perform. First of all, perfection is not a thing. Even if something is really really good, it can always be better. Perfection does not exist for us mere mortals and the quest for it can prevent us from trying altogether. You can still make beautiful music even if it isn’t perfect.

It’s not about you. The music is not just about you. It is about a shared experience of communication with someone else. So too with life, it isn’t just about you. You can’t spend so much time focused on yourself that you forget to look outwards and make a positive impact on the people around you.

Passion. The greatest musicians of all-time have one thing in common. They care passionately about what they do. They care enough to spend the time when they are tired. They care enough to practice when there are other things to do. Their passion is what drives them to greatness.

Work. If you want to get better at anything, you have to work for it and work at it. Consistent practice is the only way to improve. And although you may not improve as quickly you’d like, it is the only way to reach your full potential.

Light the Darkness,

Dana Nevels


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