On the generosity of Instagram practice accounts

Classical musicians are trained to make it perfect. To make all the notes correct, to make it sound like the CD, to do it the way everyone else has done it. The only way to shine is to be BETTER – which means cleaner, more in tune, more perfect. We DO NOT SHIP until it’s perfect, which is why so many people struggle with performance anxiety and stage fright. Live is scary because you can’t control how perfect it is.

But here’s what the kids are doing, over on Instagram. They are making “practice accounts” and sharing their work in progress. They are sharing snippets of pieces, little technical etudes, minute-long snatches of what is happening. They are sharing the messy middle.

The first magic in this is that the process of recording yourself, listening to what you’re doing, making judgements for yourself about what is good ENOUGH to share, trying again to make the snippet REPRESENT where you are in the journey – that PROCESS is making you better.

The second magic is that seeing your brave journey makes other people feel braver. And more people sharing makes a community. There are SO MANY oboists on Instagram putting up bits of music – tiny performances created in their bedrooms and offices. And they SEE each other, and HEAR each other. How many live oboe recitals can you go to in a week? I’m pretty prolific, but I only give maybe 10 or 12 solo performances a year. On IG you can hear players every day.

The third magic is that in this community it feels safe to be vulnerable. Every person I have seen says, at some point in the journey, “This isn’t as good as I want it to be, but it’s the best I have today.” This includes real pros, holding major orchestral chairs, and it includes middle schoolers. EVERYONE works through these feelings of frustration and disappointment. When you listen, sometimes you can’t even tell what they are talking about – the playing sounds beautiful. Or in the case of the 15-year-olds, it at least sounds REPRESENTATIVE. The tiny flaws you hear in your own playing are real, they ARE worth working on, but in many cases they don’t distract from the work you are trying to share.

The final magic is that this community is KIND. Sometimes there’s feedback, if the person asked for it – but I have never ONCE seen a nasty trolling response of any sort on one of these practice posts. The humanity of the person sharing their work is honored.

As a professional, I struggle with social media sometimes – how much to post, how to be visible, what to keep back, what to give generously and what to save for paying clients. But I LOVE the community of Instagram Practice Accounts.

Go and look at #oboepractice. Or #100daysofpractice. Or #40daysofbarret, or #ferling48challenge, or just get creative with your hashtags, because the kids sure are. Or what if you put some playing out there yourself? What would it feel like to just share something, even imperfectly?