Practice Makes Perfect

Amy had always wanted to learn to play the piano. She imagined herself onstage in a sparkly gown, sitting at the keyboard of a grand piano, playing something complex and beautiful. The audience would be at the edge of their seats, completely silent in awe of her performance. When she hit the last note, there would be a long pause, and then the applause would be like thunder.

And so, after a year of pleading for piano lessons instead of ballet, her mom finally made the switch. Piano was in and ballet was out. The old piano in the corner was now in tune, and Amy had just flown through a month of lessons.

Unfortunately, piano lessons were a bit like ballet, in that you didn’t get very far in a month. Amy had taken ballet lessons for a year, and they still hadn’t learned any neat leaps or twirls. It would be years before any of them would be able to stand on their toes. Many years.

Here she was, a month into piano lessons, and she was just picking out simple tunes with one hand. Forget buying a sparkly dress for the end of the year, she may not be playing in her dream concert at the end of the decade. It was a little discouraging.

Fortunately, Amy knew how to meet her goals a little more quickly. Everyone always told her that practice makes perfect. If she played perfectly at every lesson, surely she’d be moved into the advanced piano books right away.

And so Amy began to practice every chance she could. She played her song over and over and over and over and over. She ignored it when her little brother groaned and asked her to just stop playing. When her mom asked her if she wanted to do something else for a little while, Amy said no. She tapped out her song when she couldn’t play. She was going to be a concert pianist in record time.

When it was finally time for her lesson, she rushed to the piano. “Listen to this,” she said.

Her piano teacher followed her to the piano and sat down in the chair next to the piano bench. “Wait and let me open your book to the right page.”

Amy frowned. “But I have it memorized. I don’t need the book.”

“Well done.” The teacher smiled. “Then I’ll just hold the book and follow along.”

Amy waited for her teacher to find the right page, and played through the song. Then she triumphantly waited for the praise or applause that would surely follow. She wasn’t picky. She’d take either one.

“You don’t have the rhythm quite right,” the teacher said. “This note is a half note and gets two counts. And over here, this note is a g and you played an f. See how the note is two steps up?” The teacher pointed out the mistakes, and then set the book on the stand in front of Amy.

“How is it wrong? I practiced for hours.” Amy tried to not whine, but it was difficult. “Practice makes perfect, and I practiced a lot. A lot a lot.”

“Well, now you’re perfect at making those mistakes,” the teacher said. “Let’s work on playing it correctly.”

But it wasn’t easy to correct the mistakes. She’d practiced so much, that playing the piece correctly didn’t sound right, and her fingers automatically played the wrong thing before she had a chance to think about it. Amy scowled and played several notes at once that sounded awful together. “What good is practicing if it makes things worse?”

“You’ll see the value later, when you have more knowledge and can catch more of your own mistakes. Let’s count out loud again and see if you can get the rhythm right this time.”

Amy slumped. “We already tried that and it didn’t work. Maybe I’m just not very good at playing the piano. I tried and tried and tried, and I just messed up.”

“Hmmmm.” The teacher looked at Amy thoughtfully. “Maybe we should try moving on to the next piece for now and come back to this one later.” She turned the page.

Amy was careful to count out the notes this time. She played a few wrong notes, but after playing through the piece twice, the teacher didn’t have any mistakes to point out. The teacher smiled. “See, your practicing did pay off. Let’s pass this one off and move straight to the next song. It’s time to talk about sharps and flats.”

As the teacher pointed out the tiny letter b and the hashtag on the next page, Amy tried to pay close attention. It was a little difficult, because she could hear the applause of the crowd in the back of her mind. She played well enough to pass off a song at her lesson. Practicing really did pay off. The applause sounded like thunder.