Perfectly Imperfect

I teach music to a lot of people these days, and the most useful tip I can give them is to learn how to be imperfect.

We all stumble. We all make mistakes. But it is in how we handle those mistakes that shows our true character – and experience.

For example: I have seen many an open mic performance, where the singer/player makes one little goof, then makes a horrible face, and then apologizes for that mistake. We all heard it – but now we are remembering it. Had the player just skated on past it, minimizing its impact – chances are we would have moved on to the rest of the performance and forgotten all about it.

Forget a lyric? Make one up. Improvise.
Sure, we want to “tell the correct story” in our lyrics, but what’s more important: start, stumble, stop –  or keeping a nice musical flow? Chances are – if someone does notice that you made up a word here and there, they would also notice the skill and cleverness you demonstrated in a tight spot.

Forget where you are in the song? Vamp!
Vamping (playing a chord or chords over and over) is a very useful tool. It keeps the music and the performance going, while you gather your thoughts. (It’s also a great way to start songs, as it gets everyone’s attention and sets the mood.)

The point I am trying to make, is that all but the very most experienced musical geniuses make a mistake here and there, (and even then, I think they do, too.) But the reason you don’t notice those mistakes so much is because attention isn’t drawn to them. They have practiced being imperfect.

Here’s a practice tip I find useful:
Practice a song you like, but don’t refer to the lyrics. Start with the words you know, and when you forget something – make something up that fits in with the chords you are playing. Keep trying – sometimes it will be silly and nonsensical, but you will be amazed at how at times, it will actually be pretty clever. You can even try singing complete nonsense, and see how musical you can make it.

Practice being perfectly imperfect.

3 Responses to “Perfectly Imperfect”

  1. Marilyn Norberg Says:

    I don’t think it is something I need to practice, at least the “imperfect” part! I do find that when things go wrong, if you as a performer take it in good stride , maybe even laugh a little, the audience will stay with you and cheer you on. It even makes them feel part of the performance to support you!

    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      Ha ha. I didn’t mean that we have to practice making the mistakes as much as to practice being ready for them and having actions in our memories to have at hand when they happen.

  2. Stanley Sokolow Says:

    I like your comment about making up something that fits the music even though it’s nonsense words. That reminds me of scat singing make famous by Cab Calloway which used nonsense syllables intentionally. I recently saw a good example done intentionally by Glen Rose in his tutorial video about playing “The Girl From Ipanema” where he sings nonsense syllables just to work with the feeling of the music while he demonstrates the jazz chords.

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