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Why Do I Keep Making Mistakes?


Long Haired David
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I have been playing my Lachenal Anglo for about 6 years and enjoy playing it very much. However, I get very irritated because I don't seem to be able to play any tune consistently without making stupid mistakes. 4 times through out of 5 it will go fine but then I will make a silly fingering mistake and get upset with myself.

 

As an example, I have posted a video on Youtube of me playing "The Darktown Strutter's Ball". The first time through, fairly slowly, I make a few mistakes and then the second time, speeding up a bit, I get it pretty much right.

 

Why? Any suggestions would be helpful.

 

http://youtu.be/BzHG1m4uObY

 

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Some musos, the ones that have the music in them, that is the natural musicians, can play and rarely make a mistake which is very frustrating for the rest of us plodders. For us, to a degree it depends on how well one knows the piece but the main requirement is to try to maintain concentration. Concentration I think is the key. I wander off frequently while playing and all of a sudden I make a mistake. So I've been trying to train myself to concentrate and I think it's starting to work.

 

In a concert situation on stage it's a little easier because the audience is there to remind you to keep it together. But in any situation, practice, jam or performance, I try to always consciously think of the very next line or phrase of a piece or song. Concentrate, concentrate, concentrate.

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I think you are right. I sometimes find that when I start to congratulate myself for doing well, I instantly go wrong. Concentrate, concentrate. I also think that playing solely for yourself (and an uncritical wife who just enjoys hearing me play) means that I relax a little too much. I was recently learning the soprano sax and was having lessons. I found that when I played for my tutor I almost never got a wrong note.

 

Thanks for the interest

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i have learned to "concentrate" as in, "watching the road." or, "keeping my eye n the road." I get into trouble when I "concentrate" in the sense of, "thinking real, real hard," or, mentally "bearing down real hard" on what I am doing. rather, I try not to take my eyes off the road while I am driving. there are other thought lines that are fleeting enough that "my eyes are stlll on the road." but then others actually take my eyes off the road, and then there is a problem. the one that used to rampantly do it, and still does on occasion, is when I start thinking I am going to get to the end without dropping a note. I used to think I flubbed at such times out of some "fear of success" thing, but eventually figured out it was because I took my eyes off the road.

 

the other thing is, always, always, include practice time on any piece or tune, that is slow enough for perfect or near-perfect execution, even if your practice time includes faster and riskier. your hands and the fine-motor connectors in your brain must be regularly, second-nature familiar with flawless or near-flawless execution on an ongoing basis.

 

also.....there is an interim phase of "knowing the tune very well" where you THINK something anomalous or weird is afoot because you are messing up despite the fact that you "know it so well." actually, that is merely the ENTRY phase of "knowing it real well." the MATURE phase comes much, much later. that is the phase where you really CAN play it just about flawlessly, on a consistent and reliable basis. in order to get to that late phase of deep knowledge, you have to play a lot, and you have to play carefully and correctly, a lot.

 

this is why, in irish traditional music, often when you see master musicians performing on stage, they will play tunes they learned at age six. they have been playing these tunes so long, and so well for so long, they are golden taking them out of the trick bag for an audience. I used itm as an example, but this is a common strategy for musical performance in any genre....

Edited by ceemonster
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I'm not familiar with this piece of music David but it appears that you have a rhythmic hiccup . I assume that it is a dance tune and should have a regular beat ?

So the motto " don't let the notes get in the way of the rhythm" could be applied to your mistakes... as if you are getting a note out of place and it throws you off track.

 

Concentrating hard is usefull but also relaxing and thinking of something else whilst playing can be good too. Getting to the stage where it is possible to watch the television whilst practicing ( perhaps with the sound turned off).... is a bit like playing for dancers and being busy watching them whilst your tune is playing in automatic mode.

 

:) Geoff.

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Yes Geoff, My music flows more freely and satisfactorily when I distance myself from the practicalities of it all and take a very relaxed approach. Almost the exact opposite of 'concentration '. May sound weird but it works for me.

 

This is true for me too - I believe it's just the tunes which I can already play properly but are not yet really "sticking" where concentration helps and free-floating thoughts may be disastrous.

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Some good friends who are "instrumental" in the folk music scene where I used to live, advised that "amateurs tend to practice a tune until they get it right, while professionals practice a tune until they can't get it wrong."

 

I find that I make far more mistakes when playing for even a small audience than I do at home. But really, I'm not so bothered if I have to start over a couple times at home, while that is a problem in front of people, so I fool myself into believing I have a tune in hand, when really I'm still only just starting to grasp it.

 

I do find that it is valuable to vary my practice, playing deliberately slowly, then playing faster, then slowly and deliberately again, sometimes sitting, then other times standing or even walking around. I usually learn from written music, but I don't consider myself ready to perform a piece until I can play it from memory. The best trick for learning to play without the music is to just do it, and see how far I can get, and keep trying to push farther before peeking. Then when (eventually) it all seems to be working well, try playing something else instead, and then come back to the original tune again without looking.

 

Often the start of the tune gets quite a bit of practice, because of playing until I make a mistake, then starting over. So another valuable trick is to practice from the middle to the end of the piece, and then when that is under control start again just a bit earlier, and gradually build up to playing the whole tune. That way when performing, the piece becomes more familiar as I go through it, rather than less familiar.

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I do find that it is valuable to vary my practice, playing deliberately slowly, then playing faster, then slowly and deliberately again, sometimes sitting, then other times standing or even walking around. I usually learn from written music, but I don't consider myself ready to perform a piece until I can play it from memory. The best trick for learning to play without the music is to just do it, and see how far I can get, and keep trying to push farther before peeking. Then when (eventually) it all seems to be working well, try playing something else instead, and then come back to the original tune again without looking.

 

Often the start of the tune gets quite a bit of practice, because of playing until I make a mistake, then starting over. So another valuable trick is to practice from the middle to the end of the piece, and then when that is under control start again just a bit earlier, and gradually build up to playing the whole tune. That way when performing, the piece becomes more familiar as I go through it, rather than less familiar.

Some great advice there. And to really know the tune, sing it as well (even if you're a lousy singer). That way, it really gets inside your head and your fingers find it a lot more easily.

Also following on from Tradewinds Ted's post, beware of practising your mistakes - playing it over and over, breaking down at the same point each time. Work on the difficult parts until they're good.

Beware too of playing the easy bits fast and slowing down for the hard parts. Play the whole tune at the same speed until you know it well enough to speed up.

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Why? Any suggestions would be helpful.

 

http://youtu.be/BzHG1m4uObY

 

 

 

I'm not familiar with this piece of music David but it appears that you have a rhythmic hiccup .

 

David, I would suggest you practice this with a metronome - to my mind it's crying out for some rhythmic stability, which is what you'll get if you can really nail it to a metronome. Start at a slower pace than you're used to and only increase the speed when you can play it faultlessly. If you find you always make a mistake at the same point in the tune, just practice that passage, or passages until you can get the whole piece up to the same speed. You'll hate it at first, and think it's the one going wonky, but with time and practice it will become your faithful friend.

A friend of mine (thanks Mark!) recently sent me this link, I think there's lots of useful stuff in it and it's pretty much the way I try to practice.

Hope this helps.

 

Adrian

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David,

I can certainly identify with your experience. For me it is concentration on the tune or section that works to minimize mistakes. But not the kind of "bearing down" concentration one envisions when that word is used. What seems to work for me is to not let my mind wander from the tune. I tend to daydream while I play and this is when I make the most mistakes. But if I focus my daydreaming on the tune itself, that is, if I allow myself to hear the tune in my head (and focus on that) as I'm playing, then the effect is almost magical and I find I can play tunes with few or any mistakes. This works really well when I'm practicing by myself. However, on the very rare occasions when I play with others, I find myself timid about just letting the tune in my head control my fingers. I still try on those occasions to force my fingers to remember where they should be rather than trust that my memory of the tune will put my fingers in the right places at the right time. Still a work in progress, but the rewards wouldn't be as sweet if this all came easily.

 

Cary

Edited by CaryK
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There really are two kinds of concentration I think.

 

The first, which I like to call "overthinking," is where you try to concentrate on mechanical things like which button to push or exactly when to push it. That will almost always make your playing worse seems to me. You get so bound up in thinking that nothing works.

 

The second, which I like to call "focus," is the matter of keeping your mind on what you are doing. It is difficult to describe. The best I can do is to say that it means keeping the music in mind. If you are reading it means keeping a focus on looking ahead and being ready for what is next. If you are playing from memory or by ear it means keeping the tune in your mind and not thinking about what the listener might be hearing or what to have for supper. If you fare playing with others it means listening carefully to make sure you fit in properly. I conduct amateur wind musicians in a concert band, and the biggest single issue is not their technical skills or general intonation. It is their lack of focus on what they are doing. With focus they can all do more than they think they can. Focus is, to me, the real key to playing well.

 

Well, what about those folks who can talk to you about something while continuing to play a tune? They have progressed to the point that they keep focus with part of their brain while the rest talks to you. And, they can only do it if they have solid executant skills and know the piece. So, put it down to lots of playing and a bit of ability to be schizoid. (Did I spell that right??)

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Many words of wisdom here and might even help me! I especially agree with Tradewinds Ted's "amateurs tend to practice a tune until they get it right, while professionals practice a tune until they can't get it wrong." He's also right about how we forgive ourselves in practice. In storytelling it's easy to do the check your memory idea given here for memorizing music. Music memorization was always a problem for me and even if I learn something, it's not something that stays with me after a gap in time, unlike "running my mouth." However once learned, re-learning is always easier. My reason for bringing my own field of storytelling into the picture is because I remember another storyteller was criticized for insufficient practice by someone who was a classical guitar player. She gave some kind of ratio, don't remember exactly but maybe 4 hrs. for a piece? Learning a story to tell, as opposed to memorizing word for word, is far less and I suspect we musical amateurs are comparable when practicing until we get it right.

 

I've also found a few other musical problems not fitting just the practice end. My mother was trained to teach music. Wisely she didn't try to teach me, BUT she still would call out from the next room "That's not right!" I could hear my own mistakes. Didn't need to think she was, too. When playing for others somehow my "they just want to enjoy this and have fun" storytelling attitude disappears and I know ""That's not right!" shows . . . especially if anybody in the audience is a musician. When playing at our local folk society there's a bunch of them.

 

It also doesn't help that, like you, David, my internal metronome is entirely too forgiving.

 

My storytelling concentration plays to my audience. The talk here about focus and concentration shows I dare not do that with music.

 

On another forum for a different instrument I asked essentially this same question a month ago. Someone said he tells his students "to avoid two things when they make mistakes in front of an audience: don't stop (break rhythm), and don't change your facial expression. These are dead giveaways, and if you can avoid them your audience won't even notice many small errors. Of course, some things are too big to hide, but this will cover many of the small ones. And if you play the wrong note or chord, but it doesn't sound bad, do the same thing the next time through if you are playing multiple verses; for your audience it becomes just part of a unique arrangement!"

 

Unfortunately both that rhythm problem and a too expressive face tend to work against me on his advice.

 

Thank you for this discussion. I plan to do a condensed version of it and put it on as a further look at the problem on the other forum.

 

At least I have an excuse I can always give: Now you know why I'm a storyteller and not a musician!

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Yes Geoff, My music flows more freely and satisfactorily when I distance myself from the practicalities of it all and take a very relaxed approach. Almost the exact opposite of 'concentration '. May sound weird but it works for me.

 

If only one aspect is giving you trouble, then concentrating on that may help. But concentrating on one thing means drawing attention away from other aspects/factors and if they're not sufficiently "automatic", then you might find yourself stumbling over them, even though you didn't before.

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