“But I Played it Perfectly at Home!” The Culprit of Comparison

How many times have we heard this statement coming from our students in a moment of frustration while attempting to execute a particular task during a lesson? They make the comparison between their “home” playing and their “in-lesson” playing, and find the latter wanting. Perhaps we even remember this from when we were students ourselves, and can relate to the feeling of disappointment when a performance or a lesson doesn’t seem to reflect the successes that we experienced in our home environment.

It struck me recently that this situation mirrors a social phenomenon that has been occurring in our culture since social media became part of our daily lives. So many of our youth, and many of our adult as well, are experiencing anxiety, depression, and emotional turmoil, and the clear culprit is comparison. As we scroll through posts made by our peers on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter we see beautiful faces and lives, filtered and altered to create a “social mask” that is a complete fiction. This fantasy of someone else’s perfect life is then compared to what we see in our own daily lives, which seem mundane, imperfect, and unworthy in contrast. No wonder our youth are feeling devastated and “less-than”.  

It Never Hurts To Ask

How then, does this relate to the world of practising? Just recently, I started asking students about the “perfect” event that occurred at home. I ask which day of the week it occurred on. I ask what time of day it was. I ask how many repetitions occurred before the perfect moment happened. Inevitably, they answer that it was near the end of the week, after many repetitions, etc. If you’ve been teaching for some time you likely predicted that answer. Their responses lead me to the final question that usually results in a quiet moment of reflection: “Do you think it is fair to yourself to compare your very best prime-practise moment, after many repetitions with high levels of concentration and hard work, to a first-time, “cold” run-through, in front of your teacher after a full day of your busy, full life?”

As a result of this kind of supportive prompting, my students have taken a new approach to their lesson time. A few have asked if they can start off with a few scales to warm up (who knew!!??). A few smile when they bobble the first run-through of a piece that’s still in learning mode and give themselves permission to have another go to show me how hard they have worked through the week. Several students are recovering during a little blip in a performance with an attitude of “wow I’m really proud of how I recovered and how I played the rest of the piece.” Some even forget there was a blip all together and feeling quite pleased with themselves!

Overall, this discussion of comparison has really had a positive effect on the emotional well-being of my students. One student who was experiencing performance anxiety has made a complete turn-around and is handling her responses to her own, natural (and normal!) imperfections with a much healthier attitude.

If only they could somehow carry their newfound knowledge of the “culprit of comparison” life lesson over to the rest of their life, especially in the face of social media, surely their worlds would become more fulfilling and more peaceful.

By Jodie Compeau

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