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The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self

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In this groundbreaking book, prize-winning pianist and noted educator William Westney helps readers discover their own path to the natural, transcendent fulfillment of making music. Drawing on experience, psychological insight, and wisdom ancient and modern, Westney shows how to trust yourself and set your own musicality free. He offers healthy alternatives for lifelong le In this groundbreaking book, prize-winning pianist and noted educator William Westney helps readers discover their own path to the natural, transcendent fulfillment of making music. Drawing on experience, psychological insight, and wisdom ancient and modern, Westney shows how to trust yourself and set your own musicality free. He offers healthy alternatives for lifelong learning and suggests significant change in the way music is taught. For example, playing a wrong note can be constructive, useful, even enlightening. The creator of the acclaimed Un-Master Class(R) workshop also explores the special potential of group work, outlining the basics of his revelatory workshop that has transformed the music experience for participants the world over. Practicing, in Westney's view, is a lively, honest, adventurous, and spiritually rewarding enterprise, and it can (and should) meet with daily success, which empowers us to grow even more. Teachers, professionals, and students of any instrument will benefit from this unique guide, which brings artistic vitality, freedom, and confidence within everyone's reach


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In this groundbreaking book, prize-winning pianist and noted educator William Westney helps readers discover their own path to the natural, transcendent fulfillment of making music. Drawing on experience, psychological insight, and wisdom ancient and modern, Westney shows how to trust yourself and set your own musicality free. He offers healthy alternatives for lifelong le In this groundbreaking book, prize-winning pianist and noted educator William Westney helps readers discover their own path to the natural, transcendent fulfillment of making music. Drawing on experience, psychological insight, and wisdom ancient and modern, Westney shows how to trust yourself and set your own musicality free. He offers healthy alternatives for lifelong learning and suggests significant change in the way music is taught. For example, playing a wrong note can be constructive, useful, even enlightening. The creator of the acclaimed Un-Master Class(R) workshop also explores the special potential of group work, outlining the basics of his revelatory workshop that has transformed the music experience for participants the world over. Practicing, in Westney's view, is a lively, honest, adventurous, and spiritually rewarding enterprise, and it can (and should) meet with daily success, which empowers us to grow even more. Teachers, professionals, and students of any instrument will benefit from this unique guide, which brings artistic vitality, freedom, and confidence within everyone's reach

30 review for The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self

  1. 5 out of 5

    Genni

    This is one of the most helpful books I have found on both practicing and teaching music. The title is catching, as I was always taught to avoid mistakes at all costs. You begin a piece by practicing VERY slowly, avoiding all mistakes. You slowly increase your speed, again, at all times avoiding mistakes, until you reach the desired speed. This seems to work in the practice room, but why is it that outside the practice room, everything you thought you knew vanishes? Another result of this type o This is one of the most helpful books I have found on both practicing and teaching music. The title is catching, as I was always taught to avoid mistakes at all costs. You begin a piece by practicing VERY slowly, avoiding all mistakes. You slowly increase your speed, again, at all times avoiding mistakes, until you reach the desired speed. This seems to work in the practice room, but why is it that outside the practice room, everything you thought you knew vanishes? Another result of this type of practice is an almost stilted way of playing, unless one is of the lucky few that flourish in spite of this fear of mistakes. Obviously, Westney encourages mistakes in the classroom, not at the expense of accuracy, but with accuracy as precisely the goal. He makes a convincing case that pushing oneself and sabotaging oneself (something I also recently heard Daniil Trifonov talk about) while practicing reveals exactly where gaps in knowledge of the music lie and are the perfect learning opportunity. Knowledge is fluid, in some sense, and practice has to make room for that. Another thing he focuses on is the physical act of playing music. He gives the example of walking. Just as one learns to walk by trial and error until the body just “gets” it, music making has a similar aspect of learning to it that I have almost completely ignored since I was a kid. I have been equating learning with memorizing notes, chord progressions, musical architecture, etc, etc. The truth is, every piece has a different physical “feel” to it, different hand positions that feel completely different from even other similar pieces in that they begin and end somewhere different. Different jumps or techniques are things the body doesn’t learn one time “for good”, but are something that have to constantly be reassessed in new contexts. This has made a huge difference in how I practice, and also how I teach. And in some ways, this physical aspect is something that cannot be taught to another. His example of “Helga” was one that I found especially enlightening: “Helga’s odd, counterproductive arm movements had seemed vaguely familiar to me, as if I’d seen someone play like that before. Now I remembered; her famous teacher used exactly the same technique. But with one great difference: when he did it, it worked beautifully.” If you have a musical background similar to what I have described, I can only recommend picking up this book immediately. There is a lot of food for thought.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    I started this book for my own practice, but quickly incorporated the ideas into my own teaching as well. This book began my informal study into physical learning and self-expression, and I am still at the very beginning of this exploration. There are a lot of problems with the way music is generally taught, which has a lot to do with the fact that many students become discouraged and quit. Returning to an exploratory and not-judgmental approach to learning is ultimately more satisfying, and mor I started this book for my own practice, but quickly incorporated the ideas into my own teaching as well. This book began my informal study into physical learning and self-expression, and I am still at the very beginning of this exploration. There are a lot of problems with the way music is generally taught, which has a lot to do with the fact that many students become discouraged and quit. Returning to an exploratory and not-judgmental approach to learning is ultimately more satisfying, and more effective.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    I loved this book. It's a musician's practical and psychological guide to music-making, and how to approach both the learning AND teaching of music, turning aside from approaches that exacerbate perfectionist self-criticism and celebrating approaches that free the musician to learn from and even enjoy those "juicy mistakes" in the practice room and in the performance hall. Really,in many ways,this book is applicable to life as much (and maybe more) than it is to music. It's just as great as 'The I loved this book. It's a musician's practical and psychological guide to music-making, and how to approach both the learning AND teaching of music, turning aside from approaches that exacerbate perfectionist self-criticism and celebrating approaches that free the musician to learn from and even enjoy those "juicy mistakes" in the practice room and in the performance hall. Really,in many ways,this book is applicable to life as much (and maybe more) than it is to music. It's just as great as 'The Inner Game of Tennis' or 'Full Catastrophe Living,' which I also love a lot. Great book! I'll continue to refer to it, I am sure.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ali

    Although, I have finished reading this book, it is a book that I will continue to study and reference for it is truly an important read for students and teachers alike ... and aren't we all learning and teaching? If you agree, you will enjoy this book as you can apply it to many areas in life. Thank you, Mr. Westney! :) Although, I have finished reading this book, it is a book that I will continue to study and reference for it is truly an important read for students and teachers alike ... and aren't we all learning and teaching? If you agree, you will enjoy this book as you can apply it to many areas in life. Thank you, Mr. Westney! :)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kat

    I think the only bad part of this book is the title, which makes it sound like a self-help book. It's a lot more academic than that, and is probably more useful to music teachers than music students. It does have really fabulous suggestions for effective practicing though, minimizing frustration and time spent by paying careful attention to the specific mistakes we're making and what information the body is trying to convey through its choice of mistakes. I think the only bad part of this book is the title, which makes it sound like a self-help book. It's a lot more academic than that, and is probably more useful to music teachers than music students. It does have really fabulous suggestions for effective practicing though, minimizing frustration and time spent by paying careful attention to the specific mistakes we're making and what information the body is trying to convey through its choice of mistakes.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Valarie M.

    I had lessons once...this book holds true to the thought that music that is made naturally, not with pretense or strain, brings forth fascinating, pleasurable, worthwhile results. I've gone back several times to re-read just to keep me on point! I had lessons once...this book holds true to the thought that music that is made naturally, not with pretense or strain, brings forth fascinating, pleasurable, worthwhile results. I've gone back several times to re-read just to keep me on point!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey

    This book is a game changer, read it. I feel a new freedom in my approach to practice. Westney really gets it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I appreciated reading about William Westney's approach to music lessons. The book is meant as a counter/reaction to the common attitude in standard music lessons that mistakes are bad and to be avoided at all costs. Westney points out that learning to play an intrument is a physical thing akin to sports, and that mistakes are an inherent part of the body learning the right movements. Trying to avoid making mistakes to begin with leads to tension and tentative playing. He presents a solid overvie I appreciated reading about William Westney's approach to music lessons. The book is meant as a counter/reaction to the common attitude in standard music lessons that mistakes are bad and to be avoided at all costs. Westney points out that learning to play an intrument is a physical thing akin to sports, and that mistakes are an inherent part of the body learning the right movements. Trying to avoid making mistakes to begin with leads to tension and tentative playing. He presents a solid overview of how to approach practicing in a fun, mindful way that helps you learn from mistakes. While I resonated with much of what he said about how to approach learning music from a body-based, mindful perspective, I didn't feel like I was exactly the target audience for the book because I mostly improvise/compose rather than learn fixed pieces. That said, the principles behind his approach certainly still apply to my context. I think the target audience for the book is probably adults who had music lessons as children and are either professional (but perhaps have issues with tension and performance) or are wanting to return to music as adults but don't want the same experience they had as children. Music teachers could certainly benefit from the book as well.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    I was afraid this would be a touchy-feely self-help book, but I picked it up as a nervous beginning piano student and found that it's a delightful exploration of how we interact with music, especially as students of any musical instrument or the voice. Westney helps us think productively about our stumbling efforts to get the beautiful sounds in our heads to express themselves physically and to find joy doing so. For example, here's how to approach the dreaded piano lesson: roll up your sleeves, I was afraid this would be a touchy-feely self-help book, but I picked it up as a nervous beginning piano student and found that it's a delightful exploration of how we interact with music, especially as students of any musical instrument or the voice. Westney helps us think productively about our stumbling efforts to get the beautiful sounds in our heads to express themselves physically and to find joy doing so. For example, here's how to approach the dreaded piano lesson: roll up your sleeves, plunge in, and think, "What can I learn today?" Basically, we need to think of our music lessons not as performances but as interesting experiments in figuring out how to do something new. My favorite quote involved a violin student in his 80s: He awoke each day "happy to know I have so much to learn today."

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Giving ourselves permission to discover artistry and vitality This is a great challenge to musicians of any instrument to free themselves to make their music performance have life. Rather than restrain ourselves to find perfection and artistry, allow ourselves to shed the shackles of perfectionism and be willing to take a chance, even if that means a dreaded wrong note on the road to artistry. A relatively short read that may revolutionize your performance and teaching.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Christa Sigman

    If I were still teaching piano regularly I would make parts or all of this book.required reading for parents and older students. I wish I had had this insight from the beginning and especially in college. Even though I am mostly a recreational player now, I still can't wait to try some of these techniques and ideas when learning new pieces. If I were still teaching piano regularly I would make parts or all of this book.required reading for parents and older students. I wish I had had this insight from the beginning and especially in college. Even though I am mostly a recreational player now, I still can't wait to try some of these techniques and ideas when learning new pieces.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Devon

    Essential reading for any pianist of any level--gets right the the heart of those of us who are drawn to these monster instruments and speaks to the crop of brain activity that actually impedes us as we filter everything through narratives of (nerve-driven) failure. "Don't believe everything you think". The pianist's experience of playing is very different from the audience's experience. Essential reading for any pianist of any level--gets right the the heart of those of us who are drawn to these monster instruments and speaks to the crop of brain activity that actually impedes us as we filter everything through narratives of (nerve-driven) failure. "Don't believe everything you think". The pianist's experience of playing is very different from the audience's experience.

  13. 5 out of 5

    John Kline

    If you are a teacher at any level, you need to go read this book. Even if you are a performer on some level, not even a musician, it will the change the way you think about practicing and performing.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    This isn’t a boring self help book. Every chapter is full of life and energy, making it a pleasure to read. It doesn’t matter your skill level in music—read this book. Your practicing will never be the same.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Keith Wheeles

    Interesting read. Commends a self-forgiving approach to music and musical practice. Leave the stress, keep the joy. Easier said than done - some ideas on keeping this in mind.

  16. 5 out of 5

    msjoonee

    A mind-clearing, thought-provoking look at how to make an honest, positive connection with music and how to come to terms with ourselves when we sit down to embark on that most humbling of experiences...practicing a musical instrument. The perfect book to pick up when you feel that you are starting to lose the joy in music making and are instead dreading the thought of practicing. An important addition to the library of any musician or music teacher (of which i am both).

  17. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    Interesting. I'm looking for and reading books on music practice and music theory. This one explores some of the more psychological aspects of music performance and practice. It has brought the "Delacroix' method to my attention. Interesting. I'm looking for and reading books on music practice and music theory. This one explores some of the more psychological aspects of music performance and practice. It has brought the "Delacroix' method to my attention.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Shaun Deane

    Straightforward, pragmatic and inspirational. I will return to this book regularly, I am sure. What a relief to read suggestions with no BS attached - just viable, solid advice. Not at all stuffy and in recognition that "hey folks, music is sposed to be fun, remember?" Straightforward, pragmatic and inspirational. I will return to this book regularly, I am sure. What a relief to read suggestions with no BS attached - just viable, solid advice. Not at all stuffy and in recognition that "hey folks, music is sposed to be fun, remember?"

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bunnydozer

    I tutor regularly, and this book gave me a new perspective on how people learn and teach. I wasn't all the way through when the new Harry Potter came out. Me being a big dork, I put this one down to start the new book. I've been distracted since but I definatly want to finish this one. I tutor regularly, and this book gave me a new perspective on how people learn and teach. I wasn't all the way through when the new Harry Potter came out. Me being a big dork, I put this one down to start the new book. I've been distracted since but I definatly want to finish this one.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sidi

    This book is on my reading list from my Juilliard piano class. I only read last two chapters: it's not about academic teaching and philosophy of self practice. Amateurs are mucks lovers with maturity and experience, sense of change and understanding of patience. Let it go and let it happen. This book is on my reading list from my Juilliard piano class. I only read last two chapters: it's not about academic teaching and philosophy of self practice. Amateurs are mucks lovers with maturity and experience, sense of change and understanding of patience. Let it go and let it happen.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Xiaoyu Li

    Good book, not just for music, but for other things. If we want do our best, please feel our heart, let our body know what we want, go ahead, even in a mistake.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sophia

    So so so so helpful as a musician and music teacher--reminds me that the real reason I play is for the music not for the competition.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    An insightful rethinking of music lessons, practice time, and masterclasses with the goal of more musicality, enjoyment, and healthy playing.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    Very illuminating, even after so many years in the profession.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    An extremely helpful book for pianists, especially those who have lost their love for music in perfectionism. Very helpful for restoring joy to practicing.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dianne

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

  28. 4 out of 5

    Henry

  29. 5 out of 5

    Richard

  30. 4 out of 5

    Angela McCuiston

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