There’s a sort of air in the music realm surrounding technique and virtuosity, that the harder something is to play and the more technical skill it takes, the better it is. Not the better it sounds, necessarily, but the higher quality the piece is—and the better the player you are. There’s a certain feeling that if you want to be considered a good musician, you have to play longer pieces, to memorize them all, to play in harder key signatures, to play with wildly advanced techniques.
When you’ve been playing for a decade or so, this starts to weigh on you. When I was in high school, sending out my college applications, I took a look at the audition parameters to study piano at Juilliard. I’d been playing for about eight years at the time, so I thought it wouldn’t be anything unimaginably out of my skill level. I was wrong—they requested videos of the applicants playing three pieces or so, all memorized, all at least ten pages, and so on. It seemed reasonable on paper, but when I looked up the sheet music to the requested pieces, I balked. There were no symbols I didn’t recognize, but the complexity and sheer amount of music was enough to back me down from applying. I’d been playing for half my life, and it seemed as though even if I had started when I was eight, seven, six years old, I wouldn’t be able to reach that level of skill at that age. That was incredibly discouraging.
But you know what? If you keep playing, you can leave all that nonsense behind you, and play for yourself. Who cares if you’re no good at memorizing pieces, or if key signatures with more than four accidentals mess with your mind, or if you can’t hit those seventeen-notes-per-beat runs in Romantic pieces? It’s okay to take longer on harder pieces to get them good enough, and it’s okay if good enough for you is the standard of your “good enough.” While it’s very rewarding to learn how to do all the advanced techniques, you can’t let yourself get wrapped up in getting it perfect, at least not so much that you back off of playing at all. Give yourself time. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Tight performances only come from hours of practice, and sometimes practice has to be loose, free, and fun. We wouldn’t still be playing if we weren’t having fun…so let go of the need for virtuosity; it’s overrated anyway.