Ep. 64: Does Practice Make Perfect? With Ed Varner, Ed.D.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

October 13, 2020

There is a pretty universal saying that “Practice Makes… [and we all fill in the blank] Perfect.” Ed Varner, Ed.D., argues that improvement, not perfection, should be the goal in the creation of art, in education, in work, and in everything that we do. He explains what he calls The Practice and how this approach is the application of his belief that music has value for EVERYone.

Dr. Ed Varner


I recently came across the work of today’s guest, and one thing that immediately resonated with me about his work was his holistic approach to education and music. I’m thrilled to have Dr. Edward Varner joining me today. Dr. Varner has been an educator, musician, actor, and arts education specialist and advocate for more than 30 years. He has taught award winning K-12 programs in California, Nevada, and Washington; he’s presented workshops for groups including the National Association for Elementary School Principals and the National Association for Music Education. He is currently in his ninth year as the Director of Visual and Performing Arts for the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, PA.


  • Article:  Perfection is a Myth, but Improvement is Always Possible
  • Varner says:
  • “By suggesting that perfection might be achievable if we only try hard enough, or practice in a better way, we are condemning ourselves and our students to failure.”
  • “Perfection is a myth. Improvement, on the other hand, is always possible and should be the goal of our practice. Improvement should be the goal in life, in education, in the creation of art, in work and in everything that we do. None of us are capable of ‘perfect.’ We are all capable of improvement.”
  • “As an educator, I have always been a firm believer in the philosophies of integration and differentiation of curriculum to better meet the needs of students. I must know my students in order to adequately and effectively meet them where they are and help them progress to the next level. This philosophy of knowing your students necessitates the added element of care. Educators must care for their students, themselves, and have the fortitude to continue caring when it appears that others have surrendered.”
  • “When we are resolved to engage in The Practice ourselves, we seek out self-improvement for the sake of others—an altruistic intention.”
  • By seeing ourselves and others as equally striving for improvement and then switching the emphasis from our own aims to the needs of others, we create powerful learning opportunities for every person we have the good fortune of working with.”

This is what Dr. Varner refers to as The Practice:

  • The Truth
    1. Symptoms: There will always be difficulties and challenges.
    2. Cause/Diagnosis: There will always be an identifiable cause of these difficulties and challenges.
    3. Prognosis: There is a way to alleviate these difficulties and challenges.*
    4. Prescription: There is an identifiable path to end these difficulties and challenges.*

*The last two “truths” present an opportunity for improvement and growth. Remember, perfection is a myth. Improvement, however, is always possible and should be the goal of our practice.

  • The Path
    1. Right View and understanding: Seek knowledge about what practice is needed and understand how to manage it. Keep a positive outlook.
    2. Right intention and resolve: Resolve to pay attention, to seek information, and empower yourself with persistence and grit.
    3. Right Speech: Avoid negative self-talk or premature judgements. Seek clarity of understanding and knowledge that will strengthen your practice.
    4. Right Action: Make time, self-monitor, and seek advice of others working to improve.
    5. Right Livelihood: Avoid unhealthy habits, surround yourself with positive people and actively pursue success.
    6. Right Effort: Remain sincere with your efforts. Control your thoughts by being careful to nurture and develop good habits while letting go of bad habits.
    7. Right Mindfulness: Be conscious or aware of what you are doing. Stay in the moment.
    8. Right Concentration: Practice. Focus. Manage your stress and don’t be too critical of your efforts. Remember, improvement is the goal, not perfection.

Connect/Other Resources


Dr. Varner says: While I do not come from an inherently musical family, music was always encouraged and enjoyed in our home. My parents started me in drum lessons with a local college music major when I was 5 and cheered me on throughout my music journey even though they sometimes had a hard time seeing a job in the end – Thank you Anna Marie Rivas (still one of my favorite teachers). As a result of early positive experiences with music, I always tell young parents and teachers that whatever they do, they should sing to their children (or students). This is always followed by some comment about how poorly they sing or an “I can’t sing” type comment. I then reply that your children do not care if you sing well or not. What children hear when you sing to them is your joy and your love. By singing to and with our kids, we create more happiness and joy in our lives and homes as we encourage children to play with words and songs- literacy. They do not care if you sing in tune. They don’t care if you are pitchy or if you can or cannot carry a tune. They will feel in their very being that you love them. I usually share the story of my Mom singing Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” terribly out of tune in the kitchen while mopping the floor. That is one of my favorite memories. She was enjoying herself, being silly, and connecting with her teenaged kids. I also share about how my wife and I constantly sing – mind you I’m a percussionist for a reason and my wife likes to say that she “plays the radio really well.” At any rate, our house has always been a musical and we all break into song at the slightest hint of a cue – usually from Broadway musicals. Singing and playing with words when my kids where little inspired my CD Magic Machine. It is a silly work that encourages people to be happy and silly. I think we need this now more than ever. I am proud to say that my kids are doing amazing, creative things and that music has been an important part of our family life (1 daughter with a BS in Electrical Engineering from Penn State, 1 daughter with a BA in Journalism and a minor in Health and Wellness, and a son who starts his BFA in Musical Theatre at AMDA on November 3rd). SO, if there is one constant I’d like to share about music, art, and life it would be the “there is no perfect and that is OK.” Enjoy and create opportunities to share your joy with people.

Closing Words

Dr. Varner is SO spot on with that literacy component and its relationship to music and rhythm. If you’re interested in learning more about the link between a child’s ability to keep a steady beat and their progress in learning to read, check out Ep. 59: How does MUSIC learning impact OTHER learning? With Dr. Anita Collins. Thank you so much to Dr. Varner for joining us today, for sharing his insightful perspective on the role of perfection in music education, and for the many ways he enhances lives with music. I’m sending a big shout-out and thank-you to Doug Schmitt (Schmitt Music) and Paul Babcock (MacPhail) for sending me pictures and more info on the Steinway piano that was discussed in Ep. 63: Confessions of a Piano Tuner. In that episode, Billy Sadler tells quite a story about his experiences working on a Steinway piano for Leon Fleisher. That piano went on to be played and loved enough to be signed by many celebrity performers. Thanks to Doug and Paul, you can see pictures of the signatures on the piano, hear more about the piano’s background and story, and see the piano being played in its current home at MacPhail by going to that episode’s show notes. Here at Enhance Life with Music, we take a look at the benefits of music and its impact on our everyday lives through the lens of science, medicine, sports, and other disciplines. I’m including some links in today’s show notes for previous episodes that are evergreen and especially applicable this time of year:

  • In Ep. 48, we talk to a time management coach who gives tips for making your we’re-all-at-home family schedule work for you, when it comes to practicing musical instruments and also other chores and goals. This episode was originally geared toward making the most of your family’s time over the summer, but with the continuing home-based nature of school this fall, the information is just as applicable now as it was in the summer.
  • If you’re missing the traditional start of the NHL season, you can get your hockey fix with Ep. 10 on the role of organ music in hockey. In that episode we also discuss how fans can connect with and make song requests of their favorite sports organists (hockey AND Baseball organists)
  • And if you have a child in music lessons, you may be interested in Ep. 28: My CHILD is taking music lessons; what’s MY role? 

If there’s a topic you’d like to hear us talk about, please let me know. You can connect with me on social media, email, or my website. Thank you so much for joining me today. Until next week, may your life be enhanced with music.  Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Some of this site’s product links are affiliate links, which means we may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, for purchases made through these links. 

3 responses to “Ep. 64: Does Practice Make Perfect? With Ed Varner, Ed.D.”

  1. Thank you, Mindy, for the opportunity to speak with you and your listeners and thank you for your work highlighting the importance of music education in the lives of people. I have long been an advocate of music and the arts as both unique disciplines and as learning tools for the enhanced understanding of traditional subjects. It is important that we introduce as many people as possible to a wide variety of activities and experiences that broaden their knowledge base. Exposure to music, visual art, theatre, and dance help students to gain a larger understanding of the world. They open the door to a global citizenry and help to eliminate the worst enemies of human kind: ignorance and prejudice.

    Music and art are important. They do not need to be perfect to have value. I so believe that anything worth doing is also worth doing badly. Let’s not chase people away from the arts because they are not perfect. Perfect is a myth. Our flaws are what make us interesting.

    I appreciate how you were able to wrangle in my verbal ramblings. I’m sure that was no easy task.

    It was great talking with you. I look forward to following your fine work on social media and hope we are able to keep in touch.

    Be well. Be safe. And, keep up the awesome work.