No matter how successful you are as a musician, there are definitely small moments in most performances that we wish hadn’t gone that way. So how can you work to fix small performance mistakes that are so common among musical performers? Here are some ways to tackle even the smallest and most persistent errors.
Lack of Practice or Rehearsal
It goes without saying, but many performance mistakes, large and small, are connected to the practice and rehearsal that you’ve accomplished long before the actual stage time.
You may, for instance, have practiced enough on your own but didn’t get the feel for playing with your ensemble through a sufficient amount of run-throughs in rehearsal. You also, like many others, may have practiced enough to have achieved your desired result a time or two in practice, but you were never at the nearly-error-free level for long enough to grow comfortable there.
There is no point in being unkind to yourself over a performance mistake related to lack of practice; you cannot change how much you practiced retroactively. Instead, avoid the bigger mistake, which is to continue practicing as before. Use any performance mistakes as a catalyst for deeper concentration and commitment.
The Fix: Redouble your efforts to practice and recognizing that one or two perfect run-throughs is rarely enough to get you comfortable with a particular piece.
Missed Notes: The Tiny-Error Category
These issues are the most common of all errors: a tiny misstep here or there, because of lack of practice or lost focus or instrument failure, that results in one sour or off note, a single second or two of performance imperfection.
The good thing about these mistakes is that, generally, no one can tell that you’ve even made a mistake at this point! The way you react and recover has everything to do with how your audience will handle these small errors.
The way to “fix” these errors is not about never having them; realistically, no one plays every note or sings every word identically in the long run. It is about two things:
The Fix: Be mindful of the kinds of tiny errors you commit so that you can receive assistance from instructors about improvements, and don’t let a small error turn into a big mistake through getting flustered, restarting a whole section, or other choices that disrupt the flow of the music.
Lost Focus: The First Error That Creates More
No matter how well-practiced you are, and no matter how technically skilled, sometimes your mind will simply wander. Fixing this error has much less to do with musical preparation and is instead related to preparing your mind.
Whenever possible, give yourself space before a performance to visualize the performance going well. Imagine the experience you want to achieve, and note your level of jitters or relaxation, aiming for the level of alertness that tends to get you the results you want. Notice what is holding you back, and what else is on your mind. When possible, let everything else fade away till the performance is done.
The Fix: Giving your mind the clearest possible runway to success – alongside important mind-body aspects like sleep, food, and water – is the best thing you can do to avoid lost focus.
Just Getting it Wrong: When You Are Sharp But Still Misstep
These “getting it wrong” moments tend to be distinct from errors – unavoidable small mistakes – and lapses of focus, which can result in a variety of problems. Instead, these are aspects like when you cut a note off or when you begin to sing or play in a group – moments where you have to judge duration or timing and you can just… get it wrong.
These can be jarring because you can be as focused and practiced as you could possibly be and still occasionally miscalculate. That being said, much like with tiny errors, the solution is to remain calm and proceed unobtrusively back into the flow of the music. This one mistake doesn’t define the performance; let go of any jitters arising from the mistake as soon as you can.
The Fix: Trust yourself to return to the flow and count of the music and proceed unencumbered by worry about the error.
Forgetting Your Path Through the Performance
Slightly different from a lapse in focus, this step involves simply forgetting a piece of music; this could be forgetting your place on the page or forgetting a part of a memorized piece of music. As with so many errors, more practice might have helped, but when you forget, you just… forget.
The key at a moment of forgetfulness is not to simply drop out of the music entirely. You are a capable musician who can improvise briefly to get to a point in the music where you confidently remember the next step.
The Fix: Hone your ability to create pleasing and off-the-cuff additions to the actual musical score, or to fluidly repeat what you do know, so that a faulty memory doesn’t result in silence on the stage.
Instrument Failure: A Mistake Connected to the Technical Aspects of the Performance
The truth is that sometimes, through no fault of our own, our instruments (outside the body, like your violin, or inside, like your voice) will change in the middle of a performance. A dropped instrument, a crack in the voice, or a squeaky string all fall into this category.
When these things happen, keep in mind that you set the tone for everyone else’s reaction to this occurrence: if you calmly proceed, righting whatever has happened and moving forward, everyone else will move along with you as a viewing audience. If you look stricken, pause extensively, or scramble frantically, they will feel like it is a bigger error and focus on it more.
The Fix: You know your instrument is an imperfect thing; calmly overcoming obstacles related to the technical aspects of your instrument will help everyone else focus on your beautiful music instead.
If you are working on your performance ability, Grace Music School is here to help you get to the next level. Reach out today to learn more.