One of the things I’ve noticed about some of my students is that they react the same way to each mistake they make. Typical reactions are anger, fear, or shame, and mistakes of any kind stop them dead in their tracks. They try to back up and attempt a do-over. That in itself is a mistake. Music keeps moving, whether you make a mistake or not. If you are in rehearsal mode, playing songs all the way through, then don’t EVER let a mistake stop you. Spend your rehearsals practicing getting yourself out of the self-inflicted jams. It’s truly the fastest way to improve your performances.
A master musician is not someone who doesn’t make mistakes, a master musician is someone who hides their mistakes well. Learn how to hide yours.
And learn the different types of mistakes musicians make; is it mental or physical? If you simply flubbed where you put your finger GET OVER IT, and keep playing. Physical errors happen to the best musicians and athletes on the planet. Do not spend a millisecond of your life berating your playing for this kind of mistake. IT. IS. NO. BIG. DEAL.
Of course not every physical mistake is the same either. Did you make a physical mistake because you don’t have the right technique or correct fingering for that passage? That’s different from a simple flub. Don’t stop playing, but acknowledge the problem and when you’re done playing spend time on fixing it. If your technique or fingering is incorrect, go back to work, slow everything down to about half-speed and practice the right moves until they feel natural.
The mistakes to be hyper-aware of are mental errors. Any sports coach will tell you that mental errors are the unforgivables in sports. They are in fact, unforced errors. But there are two kinds of mental errors. One is thinking you are doing the exact right thing and doing it only to find out it’s wrong. And the other is a brain-fart.
In the first instance, instead of berating yourself, figure out what you were supposed to do, get committed to that and play through it the next time the correct way. In the second instance-get over it-it’s not a big deal; it is a mental version of a physical flub. The first instance speaks to having bad information, and the other speaks to not being mindful. Both are worthy of correcting. I’ve noticed a huge uptick in the quality of my rehearsals since I’ve become mindful of being mindful. BE. HERE. NOW.
And please, don’t ever give yourself the goal of playing mistake free. It won’t happen. Even on nights that I’ve been flawless in my performance I’ve made more than a handful of mistakes; the difference for me is that I don’t telegraph my mistakes, I’ve probably made the same or similar mistake before, and I’ve planned an emergency exit of sorts. This is more for my benefit than the audience’s. If I’m not affected by my mistakes I’ll play better, and both the audience and I gain from that.
So figure out the kinds of mistakes you’re making, make the right corrections, and go play music that inspires and moves you. If you do that, you’ll inspire and move us.