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My eight-year-old daughter Lilly is sometimes an impatient, self-doubting perfectionist. She picks up a pen and draws a picture of a monkey (the girl really has a thing for monkeys) only to sigh a minute later. “Mama, I can’t draw.” The same goes for reading clocks, swimming, doing timetables. “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,” after only five minutes of trying. “Practice makes perfect,” I tell her, dipping into the golden store of parental cliches.

But I don’t tell her how hard it sometimes is for me to follow the same advice.

I’ve gotten better about this with writing. Somewhere along the road I accepted a big part of the writing process is getting down in the trenches: Let the ideas flow out uncensored and then revise, revise, revise, revise.

The lesson has been harder to learn with singing, especially since I switched over to jazz. Part of me still has that adolescent desire to immediately “feel” the music, to magically hear everything going on in a song and brilliantly respond each time. This of course is the ultimate goal, but I was skipping the important task of working much harder to better train my ears.

Recently I’ve made myself sit down at the piano and play out the scale and intrevals of a tune as well as each individual chord. I’ve mapped out improvisations, changing the melody, switching to a third or a seventh, adding in chromatic movement and neighbor tones. Still not as spontaneous and free as I would ultimately like but damn girl, practice what you preach. Sit on down and do your homework.

And listen to your mentors. Here are mine:

All such emotional, musically creative performers. Hope I can someday come at least close to their level of artistry. The goal of a lifetime if ever there was one…

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