What do you do when you play a wrong note?
This week, an email exchange with one of my online piano students really got me thinking about the whole issue of wrong notes. He (correctly) pointed out that we can basically make any “wrong” note sound good by following it with a note that incorporates it into the overall phrase. In other words, it’s not the mistake that matters so much, but the note(s) we play after it.
It's true that the next note is much more important than the actual mistake itself. You can resolve it or otherwise incorporate it into the arrangement. In fact, I just read an interview with Sting where he says that Gil Evans told him this during a recording session they did together.
While on the surface, this concept seems to take a lot of the pressure off us to play “perfectly” all the time. It puts things into perspective and can help us relax our obsession to play note-perfectly which often inhibits our enjoyment of the music as well as emotional expression. However, this concept also creates a demand to be able to think so fast while we’re actually playing that we can instantly “correct” the wrong note by altering what we play immediately afterwards.
For the vast majority of pianists in the world, this can create even more anxiety about making mistakes.
Here’s the funny thing:
This conversation got me thinking about what I do when I play wrong notes and what surprised me was that initially I couldn't remember ever playing a wrong note. I literally couldn’t remember ever playing a wrong note during the past 30 years!
Then I realized that although I play wrong notes in just about every piece I play, they mean so little to me that I simply move on. They're not an issue unless we make them an issue.
So yes, try altering what you play right after you make a mistake. But also see if you can lighten up your attitude about wrong notes in general and simply smile and move on when you make a mistake. Life’s too short to let fear get in the way of completely enjoying our own piano playing!
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
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