Getting rid of mistakes?

Had a friend on Facebook post asking whether I had any Harp Tuesday videos dealing with not making mistakes while performing. Apart from my episode on Nerves and Performance Anxiety

(which, by the way, I think is a pretty good episode), I don’t. Heck, I make lots of mistakes while performing. Got me thinking, though, and I thought I’d offer four thoughts…

1. Are mistakes bad? How we view mistakes. I have a half written blog post about mistakes in music (and in general). I think we’re often way too critical of our mistakes, especially when practicing. Obviously mistakes can be super frustrating, but mistakes are also a normal and useful part of learning/mastering something.

Performing is a slightly different kettle of fish, but certainly while practicing I think people sometimes get too down on themselves over mistakes.

Now, when we’re performing we want to get across exactly what we had in mind and mistakes can certainly get in the way. Still, I think, particularly in classical music, there’s sometimes such a dread of mistakes that performances end up being super safe…

But the fact that there were no mistakes can’t make up for a performance that it was lifeless and boring. (This applies both to individual performers and to groups/orchestras, etc.).  I want to hear someone go for – dive off that cliff and trust their paraglider will work, etc. If something goes a little wrong, so be it – unlike a real cliff, you’re not going to die :)

2. Mastery of one’s instrument [time]. Sometimes it’s just as simple as more time – the more comfortable we become with out instrument, the easier it is to play exactly what we want to play…

3. Working on mistakes while practicing. William Westney wrote an interesting book called “The Perfect Wrong Note – Learning to Trust Your Musical Self”. One of the things he talks about is mindful practicing and trying to be aware of why you make a mistake. In particular, if you find yourself always making the same mistake, try to figure out what’s going on, why you aren’t playing this the way you want to, and what can you change.

On the harp, for example, where you’re looking with your eyes can be quite important… Maybe you need to look somewhere earlier, or change where you’re looking entirely… Or if you’re always buzzing at one spot, try and analyze exactly why, and see if you can change something (fingering, hand/finger approach/position, etc.) to make it better.

This is a slightly different idea, I think, than our normal mode of practice, which leans almost entirely on repetition – i.e. if we do something enough times, (perhaps starting slowly and as perfectly as we can), we’ll eventually be able to play it well.

In this case we’re trying to be aware of when we need to change something we’re doing – be it physical or mental.

4. Peak performance. When we finally turn towards trying to play well during a performance, perhaps the place to look is in the sports psychology literature. Just like sports, we’re doing something physical, and trying to be “in the zone” while doing it – focused, yet flowing, etc.

Again, I don’t really have anything useful to suggest here (apart from whatever is in my nerves and performance anxiety video).

While I don’t have much experience with them, I think rituals and visualization techniques can be effective in helping to get into a state of heightened ability during a performance. I certainly know that if I can play through an entire piece in my head, say the night before a performance, chances are that piece is going to go well.


Hmm, just a few thoughts :)


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