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Why Do I Keep Making Mistakes?

Long Haired David

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On the topic of playing and speaking at the same time -


I was in an Anglo workshop class with John Williams several years ago. While he was playing a reel (at normal speed) for the class someone came into the room with an uncertain look on their face. John asked what he was looking for, responded with a couple of comments and then gave directions including location and room numbers as a reference - all while continuing to play the reel he was demonstrating and with no apparent impact on his playing.


The best I can do reliably while playing reels and jigs is a clipped "yes" or "no." I can occasionally manage three or four sensible words in a string, but not often. Not likely to manage that on a tune recently learned, but more likely if I've known it a few years.

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

I haven't got that excuse - I'm both a story-teller and a musician. That is, a self-accompanied singer.

As such, I sometimes have to smile when "mere" instrumentalists talk about the difficulty of learning a tune. As a singer, you have to get the tune learnt once, and then the words of several different verses in the right sequence as well!


The singer as a story-teller has to have the sequence of related events in the back of his mind at all times, so that he'll know what verse (i.e. chapter of the story) comes next. This attitude helps with the memorisation of tunes, because this is easier when you have the sequence of musical events (e.g. chords, melodic phrases) in the back of your mind at all times.


At first glance, singing songs seems more like reciting stories than telling them, because you use the exact same words in the exact same sequence every time. However, I try to tell the story of my songs, as if I were making them up for the present audience - but of course, the words that come to mind are those that I have learnt off by heart fom the song-book or oral tradition.


I'd like to endorse one point that was made earlier: the songs that you learned long ago and have played frequently ever since are the ones where you make the fewest mistakes. After a few years (or decades) you reach that professional point where you can't make a mistake!


As to concentration: very important, in my opinion, but different for instrumentals and songs. Concentrate on playing the instrumental; concentrating on getting the song across to your listeners.




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  • 2 weeks later...

I don't play concertina yet, but I know all about stubborn mistakes. One thing that helps me is "slow ironing" them out. If I notice myself consistently making a mistake, I take the time to diligently focus on that one phrase(or those phrases, there tend to be at least two trouble spots for me per piece) until that mistake is corrected. Look at it this way, you have 95% of the piece down pat so you only have 5% to fix. Don't worry about the other 95%, just get the 5% fixed. Then you'll have all of it down!


Confidence is very important when it comes to playing a piece correctly. If you let yourself get tense and anxious as the phrase approaches, the more likely you are to make a mistake. And if you do make a mistake, it just means you'll have to "iron" a little harder until that wrinkle is gone. You'll figure it out.


(If push comes to shove, slow down, a lot. Repetitively play the phrase at a tempo where you know you can play it perfectly. When you're confident and it's second nature, increase the tempo and do it over again. It can get tedious, but for some phrases, it's the only way. But it always works.)

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David I think you play the first part quite confidentially and it sounds good. Measure 8 is a problem for you and when you mess up it undermines your confidence and affects your ability to play measure 9 smoothly. Without seeing your hands I can tell that measure 8 you are playing the repeated C closing on the right side R6. You will find it a lot easier and smoother to begin that phrase on the third (G) row button L14. You can play that entire measure opening with the B on the right second row R6 and the A on the left second row L10. You can then finish either closing or opening as you like.


Generally if you are having trouble in one spot, there probably is a different way to rephrase the melody that is more comfortable. This is guideline - make the uncomfortable comfortable.


Beyond that there is the whole discussion of the visualization of the phrase in your brain first and then translate that to the fingers. But I won't bore you with that whole discussion



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