The Perfect Wrong Note by William Westney

The-Perfect-Wrong-Note-William-Westney-ReviewFrom the outset this book presents a different look at music practice. Westney is a respected pianist and educator from the US and the book comes with a long list of endorsees and so one would hope to find much of interest in its pages.

Westney opens his discussion on music lessons and practice by addressing the question of vitality. Childhood he argues is the time when we are free from the doubts and worries of later life, it is also the time when we are able to express ourselves with free abandon and enjoy music for music”s sake. The key point to arise from this is the realisation that vitality changes at some point in childhood and is then very difficult to recover. Misplaced remarks from teachers, parents and peers are the major contributors here.
Having identified what he sees as the major issue in music making Westney proceeds in the remainder this book to outline ways in which we might free ourselves from the constriction of thoughts, prejudices and norms of musical society and thereby learn to rely on our musical inner being much more.

The first stage Westney outlines is to use the power of mistakes to empower our practice. Rather than blaming and criticising ourselves for mistakes Westney proposes a system whereby the musician notices and learns from all their mistakes ” indeed he states that mistakes are a good thing as they contain all the information needed for learning.

A ten step practice system is the next topic discussed in the book and this covers warm up, focus, visualisation and relaxation, all topics often discussed by more forward thinking teachers of practice. Westney also offers some more specific ways in which the pianist may achieve breakthroughs in their practice.

The last couple of chapters of the book try to challenge accepted thinking on what music lessons and master classes should consist of. I agree with Westney that the traditional music lesson may not be the most conducive way to improvement ” the idea of the all knowing teacher demonstrating to the adoring pupil does not leave room for self discovery and self learning. The ideas on masterclass format were for me however less satisfactory.

Overall this book is a good addition to the available literature on practice and experienced performers and teachers would certainly benefit from reading it. For those just starting however I am less convinced of its usefulness ” much better to have their teachers read it and convey the general principles in lessons.

If I had to pick just one nugget of information from this book it would be this: There are two types of performance nerves – those that come from not knowing the piece nearly well enough and those that come from exposing oneself on the stage. I would encourage all musicians to do everything they can to ensure the first is not the case – do this and you should suffer less from the second.

The Perfect Wrong Note – Learning to Trust Your Musical Self by William Westney (2003, Amadeus Press, ISBN: 1-57467-145-6) is available from:
[amazon asin=1574671456&template=htp price]

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