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Math, Music, and Perfectionism

When I was a kid, I was pretty much brought up to do math and science (the reasons are another story). That can be very appealing because, for the most part, your answers can be right or wrong. Sure, for longer problems you can get partial credit, but overall, you’re right or wrong. If you’re wrong, you can find out exactly why and and get it right the next time.

In music, it’s almost the opposite. While there are some schools of thought that will say a person is playing a piece correctly or incorrectly, the fact is two people can play a piece “correctly” yet one can be judged to have played it better than the other. I think this is very common in classical music, but I have seen it in pop music styles as well (think of the beginning of the movie Rock Star with Mark Wahlberg for instance).

In jazz, it is even “worse.” * One can always play a tune differently, better, or with a new technique. I have a friend who says, “the great thing about music is that there’s always something new to learn. The drag about music is that there’s always something new to learn.”

Don’t get me wrong. It is great to have many different ways to play a song and decide depending upon how you want to interpret it that time. But the never ending quest, the fact that you can always play it differently, that it is completely subjective whether you are doing it right or wrong can be very difficult for someone used to the perfection of math and science, who likes to get something done, get it right, and move on. And who is somewhere on the obsessive-compulsive scale.

* Jazz isn’t really worse, I’m just referring to the problem this post is discussing.

Posted 2017 05 15 at 10:19 AM

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