Are you struggling to play through an entire piece of music without making any mistakes? This is a very common problem that many musicians grapple with for their entire life. However, if you diagnose each mistake properly, you can quickly solve each problem and play your music perfectly.
But what causes musicians to make mistakes when they play? Is it poor memory? Is it bad technique? Is it bad concentration? In reality, each mistake has a different cause.
From my experiences, there are six main types of mistakes that musicians make:
Each of these mistakes has a completely different cause, and likewise, each one has a completely different solution...
A memory mistake happens when you are trying to play a piece by memory and:
Memory mistakes are probably the most common type of mistake that amateur musicians make. With hundreds, even thousands of notes on a page of sheet music, it is very easy to get confused and forget some of these notes when performing. Moreover, many musicians try to learn music in a hurry, without taking the time to fully memorize each section.
The only way to fix memorization mistakes is to strengthen the memory in each part of your brain (e.g. visual memory, touch memory, audio memory, etc.). To learn how, read my other article about using various memorization exercises to learn music.
This type of mistake is caused by poor technique. In other words, your fingers mess up because they cannot accurately perform a certain motion or gesture in the piece.
To fix a technical mistake, you need to isolate the problematic section of the music and practice it very slowly and accurately - whatever speed is necessary to play it 100% accurate. Once you feel comfortable at that speed, then you can try going to a little faster. If you mess up, go slower again.
It is very important that you always practice at a tempo that is 100% accurate. Otherwise, you will be practicing mistakes.
If the technique is very difficult, I recommend looking for some related exercises and studies to help you practice.
Don't rush. Sometimes, it will take days, weeks or even months to master. However, once you have fully learned the technique, it should feel completely effortless and comfortable.
This type of mistake is caused by excessive tension somewhere in your body. For instance, maybe you have a lot of tension in your shoulders, your hands, your wrists, etc.
Why does excessive tension cause mistakes? There are a few reasons.
First, when your muscles are tense, your fingers cannot move as freely and accurately as they normally would. It restricts your range of motion and your finger independence,
Second, when your muscles are strained for long periods of time (without having a chance to relax), they get fatigued and do not function as well. The longer they stay tense, the more difficult it is for them to function.
Moreover, tension in one muscle usually causes tension in many other muscles, creating a chain reaction of fatigue everywhere in your body.
The result... your body cannot function optimally and you make a lot of mistakes.
To fix a tension mistake, you need to practice playing as relaxed as possible. Relax your head, relax your shoulders... relax everything. Only use the minimum effort that you need in order to play.
Even when your are as relaxed and tension-free as possible, you still use a lot of energy when you play music. Over a long period of practicing or performing, this can be very fatiguing and can cause to lose control of your fine coordination and mistakes. This is what a call an "endurance mistake."
Note that this type of mistake only happens when you are fatigued. In other words, it has nothing to do with technique, memory, etc.
There are two ways to avoid these "endurance mistakes."
This type of mistake is caused by poor concentration. In other words, you would normally be able to play the piece perfectly, but you messed up because your mind was not fully focused.
This mistake is common during performances, especially if you are mentally tired or you have been playing for a long period of time.
To fix a concentration mistakes, you need to learn how to play with 100% mental concentration all the time. Here are three important rules to follow to maximize your concentration:
This type of mistake only happens when you are nervous during a performance (also known as "stage fright"). Nervousness triggers the classic "fight or flight" response, which can cause many symptoms in the body:
When you experience these symptoms, you lose control of your fine coordination and you start to make many mistakes.
The best way to fix nervous mistakes is to avoid getting stage fright in the first place. Practice performing in front of people so that you become comfortable in high-pressure situations. The more you practice, the less nervous you will be.
Also, the more you prepare for the performance, the less likely you are to experience stage fright. If you confidently know that you can play the piece well without making mistakes, there is nothing to be worried about. In general, you only get nervous when you are concerned about how well you will perform.
But, we do not live in an ideal world. If you do start to experience the fight or flight response during a performance, you can do some things to minimize the symptoms:
Want to learn more about playing music without making mistakes? These are three books that have helped me a lot:
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