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Mistakes, mistakes everywhere
#2528620 04/07/16 06:16 PM
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Hi everybody,

I've been reading quite a lot on the online piano forums lately and it seems to be a very popular opinion that "you play as you practice", so if you practice with a lot of errors, of course you're going to do the same mistakes during actual performances.

Now, what is rather interesting (and despairing) to me is the fact that, basically, I seem to be unable to play a piece, even simple ones, without making some kind of mistake: be it an A instead of G, be it just a slight delay or acceleration in the tempo, be it just an short uneven passage in a piece, 95% of the time I simply cannot produce a perfect performance. Sometimes I'm at the last bar of a piece and I haven't done any errors, I'm fairly sure that everything will go smoothly and BAM! target missed on the very last note. Heck, I'm sure I wouldn't even be able to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star 10 times in a row if I tried.

And I'm not talking about always the same errors repeated again and again at every piano session. Those can be of course overcome by concentrating on them, repeating the problematic bit many times in a slow and controlled fashion.

I'm talking here about parts that I had always played perfectly, that suddenly, one day, fall apart by surprise, and possibly the day after come back ok once again.
But that single day, my fingers just slip on that "mastered" bar of some piece, and so I start from that bar again, sure that everything will go alright as it always has, and instead I just can't seem to make it and I'm like "what the f is happening?? I've always played this without any problem at all!"
It might take me hours of repetition to finally be able to play that part at speed.

Also, when practicing a complete piece, slow practice is often advocated, but it happens quite often that more instead of less errors happen when going much slower than usual, possibly due to the higher difficulty of keeping concentration on very slow tempos and on the lesser reliance on muscle memory.

Does this kind of stuff happen to you? How do you handle it? Do you just ignore the occasional slip and go on playing the rest of the piece like nothing happened or do you stubbornly start repeating the measure that is giving you trouble (or even the whole piece) until it's correct? How is it possible to avoid such unexpected slips if, by definition, they are unexpected? Is it simply a matter of needing to wait and practice for several more years before achieving a truly perfect performance? Or do you think that some people simply need to accept the fact that their playing will always have the occasional flaw and only on rare occasions will be able to perform without any mistakes?

Thanks for sharing your experience.

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Re: Mistakes, mistakes everywhere
Kalos Piano #2528626 04/07/16 06:28 PM
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What I've been doing, and don't know if it's right or wrong, is that I will then practice even slower. If I can't get through it correctly at a certain speed, then I need to slow it down, even if it means at a dead speed, which can be quite painful and boring. I think that if I tried to continue with a faster tempo and make mistakes, then I'm practicing to make mistakes consistently smile


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Re: Mistakes, mistakes everywhere
Kalos Piano #2528631 04/07/16 06:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Kalos Piano
I seem to be unable to play a piece, even simple ones, without making some kind of mistake: be it an A instead of G, be it just a slight delay or acceleration in the tempo, be it just an short uneven passage in a piece, 95% of the time I simply cannot produce a perfect performance.


I've played a long time and I'm beginning to just accept that I'm wired in the same way. I'll miss something in 99% of playthroughs and performance

* Playing and practicing sections is certainly important
* Maybe I'm still just not rigorous -enough-
* I now focus on just trying to communicate the beauty of the idea of the piece. I mess up, but the mistakes have less of a cascade effect
* I play for friends and in public when I have the chance. That helps some.


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Re: Mistakes, mistakes everywhere
Kalos Piano #2528632 04/07/16 06:44 PM
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If I have a measure that has now become a 'problem child' I will repeat that measure ONLY, multiple repetitions SLOWLY then up to speed, and then practice that measure joined with the ones before and after.

You need targeted practice to send the problem measures scurrying away.... the thing is you can't just keep going or go back to the beginning of the score. You need to practice to eliminate the muscle memory of the wrong note. Everytime I let myself keep going with the thought 'oh, I won't forget that is a g flat there'.. I have paid dearly.



Re: Mistakes, mistakes everywhere
Kalos Piano #2528641 04/07/16 07:35 PM
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You can envision three phases in learning/playing a piece:

1. The learning stage, when you're getting the fingering down, learning the notes, learning the rhythm, pedaling, dynamics. At this early stage you need to go slow and try to keep the errors down (but they will happen). You are doing a phrase or a measure to two at a time in this stage.

2. The mastering stage. In this stage, you've got the fingering and notes down and you're working on getting the dynamics and tempo and interpretation down, maybe getting it memorized. You can play through it fairly well, but random errors still happen.

3. The polishing stage. This is the stage where you need to get everything working together, every single time. This stage is the last 10% but takes 90% of the time.

If a person is performing professionally or in a high-level recital or competition, the piece must be polished. Some people choose to polish every piece, whereas others pick a few to polish while they get most to the high mastered level.

What you're experiencing, Kalos, is typical of the learning stages we all go through. What level you take a piece to is up to you, in the end. Slow practice is still good advice. It makes you think about what you do, rather than letting muscle memory run the show.





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Re: Mistakes, mistakes everywhere
Kalos Piano #2528642 04/07/16 07:40 PM
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Originally Posted by Kalos Piano
Hi everybody,


Now, what is rather interesting (and despairing) to me is the fact that, basically, I seem to be unable to play a piece, even simple ones, without making some kind of mistake: be it an A instead of G, be it just a slight delay or acceleration in the tempo, be it just an short uneven passage in a piece, 95% of the time I simply cannot produce a perfect performance.

It might take me hours of repetition to finally be able to play that part at speed.

Also, when practicing a complete piece, slow practice is often advocated, but it happens quite often that more instead of less errors happen when going much slower than usual, possibly due to the higher difficulty of keeping concentration on very slow tempos and on the lesser reliance on muscle memory.

Does this kind of stuff happen to you? How do you handle it?

Or do you think that some people simply need to accept the fact that their playing will always have the occasional flaw and only on rare occasions will be able to perform without any mistakes?


I have a much lower bar for "perfect." Particularly, when I'm practicing very slowly, I focus on getting the notes and fingering correct, but set aside most other objectives. Once I've got the notes down then I'll increase the tempo for very small sections, piece-by-piece, and try to make each small section perfect. Getting dozens or hundreds of small sections all perfect together starts to run against some probability math.

If your current approach feels productive, however difficult, that's one thing, but if you feel like you're beating your head against a rock, then some other approaches might be fruitful.



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Re: Mistakes, mistakes everywhere
Kalos Piano #2528654 04/07/16 09:00 PM
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Originally Posted by Kalos Piano
How is it possible to avoid such unexpected slips if, by definition, they are unexpected? Is it simply a matter of needing to wait and practice for several more years before achieving a truly perfect performance? Or do you think that some people simply need to accept the fact that their playing will always have the occasional flaw and only on rare occasions will be able to perform without any mistakes?


As your command of the keyboard improves with lots of practice (and the passage of time), so will your accuracy. You just improve your mastery of the keyboard, and your sense of where the keys are, such that as pieces feel easier to play, they are easier, and less of a technical challenge, and therefore you make less mistakes. Your fingers know their way around the keyboard better.

That's why very accomplished pianists can sight-read complex pieces they've never played before with hardly any mistake - they've had years & years of playing difficult music under their belt. Similarly, when intermediate-level pieces begin to feel comfortable for you, you'll find it possible to play easier pieces with complete accuracy.
Beginners rarely play anything completely accurately, even with lots of practice. Intermediate-level pianists play beginner pieces completely accurately with not much practice. Advanced pianists play intermediate-level pieces easily, with complete accuracy, time after time.......


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Re: Mistakes, mistakes everywhere
Kalos Piano #2528663 04/07/16 09:54 PM
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I am enjoying everyone's responses to this thread.

I too am frustrated with random mistakes popping up out of the blue, many in random, previously smooth, places. As Bennevis said, it is because these are pieces that stretch my ability so I guess as I get better, mistakes in pieces *of this level* will become fewer. For now though, it will have to be good enough.

My teacher is the "push yourself and work on pieces beyond your level" kind of a teacher, and I love that. It suits my personality very well. But I guess she is just going to have to accept a less-than-perfect work product in the short term smile

Last edited by INBoston; 04/07/16 10:13 PM.

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Re: Mistakes, mistakes everywhere
Kalos Piano #2528667 04/07/16 10:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Kalos Piano

Also, when practicing a complete piece, slow practice is often advocated, but it happens quite often that more instead of less errors happen when going much slower than usual, possibly due to the higher difficulty of keeping concentration on very slow tempos and on the lesser reliance on muscle memory.

This part makes me think that you're over-relying on muscle memory and not knowing the notes with your ears and brain as well as you think you do.
I do think that developing our concentration and focus is part of what music study is about. It's a good discipline. If it's really hard with complete longer pieces then try shorter ones, or shorter sections of longer pieces.

Be sure that your practicing always involves many correct repetitions of the spot you fixed, after you fix it, before you go on to something else. 5 is a good number but if you find you need 10 then do 10. You might also need 5-10 the next day.

Everyone messes up sometimes, but as you become more advanced, mess-ups are more like "I was too loud on that note" or "I didn't shape that dialogue between the hands as well as I know I can", or maybe every once in a while "one embarrassing blurred octave in that cascade," and less "I completely forgot where I was and had to stop and restart."

PS Speaking of Twinkle, I will never forget the day in Suzuki teacher training when we all had to play our Twinkles for the teacher trainer. These trainees are people with performing and/or accompanying careers, master's degrees, etc., and every once in a while someone would blur a note or have a slightly weird rhythm or have a note not sound or forget to do the right arm movement. It really made me feel a lot better about all the little things that happen to me when I'm nervous performing or recording.

Last edited by hreichgott; 04/07/16 10:09 PM.

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Re: Mistakes, mistakes everywhere
Kalos Piano #2528670 04/07/16 10:29 PM
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Another thing you'll get better with over time (and with much practice) is covering up your mistakes when you do make them. Beginners often find that it train wrecks the entire song when they make a mistake. Better players are able to play through their mistakes, and often do so in ways such that a casual listener would never know that a mike was made. It's a useful skill to cultivate.


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Re: Mistakes, mistakes everywhere
Kalos Piano #2528680 04/07/16 11:41 PM
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I just don't buy that "everyone can do it if they just work enough and the right way". Maybe because I know quite a lot about cognitive deficiencies people can have, which can be genetic or environmental, and not often reversable. Some people are able to be consistent, others are not. If you are not, even after doing all the work, then it's good to switch focus on how to recover well.

Re: Mistakes, mistakes everywhere
outo #2528689 04/08/16 01:24 AM
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Originally Posted by outo
I just don't buy that "everyone can do it if they just work enough and the right way". Maybe because I know quite a lot about cognitive deficiencies people can have, which can be genetic or environmental, and not often reversable. Some people are able to be consistent, others are not. If you are not, even after doing all the work, then it's good to switch focus on how to recover well.

Precisely! However, there is no place to frustrate: here there is also a range between "the maximum number of mistakes" and "their minimum number ".
So is always a hope ( personal experience)!

Re: Mistakes, mistakes everywhere
Kalos Piano #2528700 04/08/16 03:22 AM
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I think the question you really want to ask is why are we making mistakes?
Lack of concentration
Not remembering the notes
Piece not fresh in memory
Clumsy fumbling
Muscle Memory lapse
Misjudged spacial distance
Because we are fallable
Did I not feel which keys my hand was over
Senility (how does this affect piano repertioire?)
Distracted

Etc

There is a big difference to being uncertain on a note and getting it wrong, to being 100% certain, and hitting the wrong key. The latter are the ones to really think about.
For me, mostly they come down to getting the distance wrong by one note:
'I knew it is an A'
'My muscle memory puts my finger in the right place'
'I will play an A'
'Hmmm. It came out G'

I found a good lesson on accuracy in an Alberto Jonas piano book.
You basically play C with one finger 2 or 3 octaves apart at a rising tempo. RH or LH only, never HT.

The point is to get to the C well before the beat, ensure your finger is always correctly placed before playing any note.

It develops into harder excercises, double notes-chromatic scales. But just doing these octaves, in all fingers, has really improved my day-to-day accuracy. It has virtually eliminated my playing two notes at once by accident.

Try it for a minute or two a day and see if it helps at all.


Re: Mistakes, mistakes everywhere
hreichgott #2528747 04/08/16 07:53 AM
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Originally Posted by hreichgott


Everyone messes up sometimes, but as you become more advanced, mess-ups are more like "I was too loud on that note" or "I didn't shape that dialogue between the hands as well as I know I can", or maybe every once in a while "one embarrassing blurred octave in that cascade," and less "I completely forgot where I was and had to stop and restart."



This is really important to remember, I think. We've created such a myth of perfection that people start to think flawless performance is possible. High-level players who are honest about it always see things that could be better. The mistakes get more subtle, but for them to go away completely, you'd need a machine, not a human being. And then what would be the point?

I vaguely recall studies reporting that something like 5% of human actions are errors.

I've found that I make a lot fewer mistakes if I don't focus on error-avoidance in performing. Clearly, during practice, you need to focus on problem areas. But random slips that don't recur are not worth fretting over too much, IMO. If it happens twice in the same spot, I will try to analyze the problem. Otherwise, as someone else said, it's more important to learn how to recover and keep the music flowing when mistakes happen.

I used to get upset when I made a mistake in performance. And of course, I'd rather not! smile But it's much better to focus on the whole musical experience, which is not defined by its flaws.


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Re: Mistakes, mistakes everywhere
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Originally Posted by jdw
Originally Posted by hreichgott

Everyone messes up sometimes, but as you become more advanced, mess-ups are more like "I was too loud on that note" or "I didn't shape that dialogue between the hands as well as I know I can", or maybe every once in a while "one embarrassing blurred octave in that cascade," and less "I completely forgot where I was and had to stop and restart."


This is really important to remember, I think. We've created such a myth of perfection that people start to think flawless performance is possible.
...

Good posts.

Music is expression and artistic. At it's best, an optimum balance of technical accuracy and artistic expression is achieved.

You can always aim for no mistakes (ie. no wrong notes) but better to strive for your best artistic expression overall and injection of yourself into the music.

Re: Mistakes, mistakes everywhere
Kalos Piano #2528833 04/08/16 12:28 PM
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Hi guys, thank you all so much for your replies.

I do agree with bennevis that being able to play pieces at a higher level lets you play lower level pieces more accurately, but I do play fairly well, for instance, fur elise or (with a much higher probability of making mistakes) the turkish rondo, but somehow I still manage to not-so-occasionally mess up a simple menuet in g from the notebook of AM.
I've got pieces perfectly memorized (can name all the notes without looking at a score or piano) yet random errors do pop up.

Is it probably a concentration problem? Maybe I should pick one single piece of my repertory and repeat it super slow several times per day for several days? And also play it several times at speed training not to stop at mistakes? What do you think? I guess this would risk making me improve much at one piece and mske me suck at all the others :))

The exercises suggested by medden also seem very interesting. With the repertory increasing steadily and my efforts in memorizing new pieces I haven't had the chance to work on technique much lately. I should probably start doing that again.

I also see that outo seems to believe that, no matter the practice, not everybody can be perfect all the time, and I guess I agree with this, unfortunately. Yet I'll work to set the errors to the minimum possible number as said by nahum smile

Re: Mistakes, mistakes everywhere
Kalos Piano #2528840 04/08/16 12:50 PM
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I can sympathize very much with the frustration about how hard it is to get to fewer mistakes! I have been struggling with this myself. Most of the advice offered here has been very good, and I have been trying some combinations of the different suggestions offered. I especially agree with the idea of the three stages of working on a piece, and the last one is the one that takes the longest time.


Now, all that said, let me offer a (somewhat) contrarian point of view. I think that we all come to piano with different sets of strengths and weaknesses. In an ideal world, a perfect teacher would do some sort of amazingly deep assessment and craft a plan perfect for each individual student. That is impossible of course. But I still think we all have things we are better or worse at.

In my case, one (minor) strength I have is somewhat of a decent ear for tone; I can often pick out a piece from ear, etc. BUT, I was somewhat dismayed when I realized, after playing a few years, in some sense this does not help AT ALL. You either hit the right key, or you don't. That's it.

However, I think that in the phase or gaining a piece, it might actually be OK to tolerate some mistakes, so long as you are hearing them and correcting them. It uses that part of your brain that is the "play by ear" thing. Obviously this is just a stage, and you have to move past it. But in my case I have found this works OK (sometimes) to get a piece moving, as opposed to the super slow, get it perfect first approach. But, to each his own, of course!


Re: Mistakes, mistakes everywhere
Kalos Piano #2528847 04/08/16 01:30 PM
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My teacher's response to me was, "Slow and steady wins the race".


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Re: Mistakes, mistakes everywhere
Kalos Piano #2528849 04/08/16 01:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Kalos Piano
Hi guys, thank you all so much for your replies.
...

Is it probably a concentration problem? Maybe I should pick one single piece of my repertory and repeat it super slow several times per day for several days? And also play it several times at speed training not to stop at mistakes? What do you think? I guess this would risk making me improve much at one piece and mske me suck at all the others :))
...

I also see that outo seems to believe that, no matter the practice, not everybody can be perfect all the time...


I agree with Outo and some others, there is such a thing as aptitude. Some people have certain strengths and weaknesses and have to work a lot harder on their weaknesses.

My suggestion is what I like to do with performance pieces. I like to separately be able to play with the eyes closed, the sound off and mental practice away from the piano. Complex pieces can't be entirely done this way, but sections can be. Working the different parts of the brain is better than just working one or two. If a person knows a piece without sight, without sound, without touch, odds greatly increase that they can perform it well or record well.

I'm not sure if you mentioned your process for learning new pieces. Most suggest doing small segments, playing very slowly, repeating each small segment multiple times without mistakes before going to the next small segment. Only when each small segment is pretty much perfected does a person lengthen the segments. Only when all segments are near perfect does a person work on complete play throughs.

My attitude is that perfection tends to be a hope, a dream, an illusion. Even top level pros can usually pick apart their live performances. Mind you, pro level mistakes are extremely minor and often are not even noticed by untrained ears. As a person's ability increases, so does their discernment. For the perfectionist, the bar can go ever higher for every bump up in piano ability.

A lot of folks can get to at least near note perfect for pieces at or below their level. Listen to the quarterly recitals and a large percentage sound close to note perfect. The catch is that many devote a lot of time and effort to get their clean sounding recording.

So that is another suggestion: to participate in the quarterly recitals. The subconscious mind is powerful. Taking the extra time to learn a piece well, and to do the numerous takes to get a clean recording, will almost certainly be helpful. A few go overboard and become obsessed with getting to note perfect, and I wouldn't suggest that. The overall process, extra work, numerous takes, different kinds of practice, the commitment, the deadline, will tend to get a person closer. Many on the forum say participating in the forum recitals are a big factor in their overall improvement.


Re: Mistakes, mistakes everywhere
fizikisto #2528851 04/08/16 01:44 PM
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Originally Posted by fizikisto
Another thing you'll get better with over time (and with much practice) is covering up your mistakes when you do make them. Beginners often find that it train wrecks the entire song when they make a mistake. Better players are able to play through their mistakes, and often do so in ways such that a casual listener would never know that a mike was made. It's a useful skill to cultivate.


+1. The usual trick is to turn the mistake into a grace note or two or three. Make the error sound like a deliberate ornament. You made a wrong turn, now you have to wander back to the tune.

Most important, this is only for the infrequent one of a kind errors. If you're making the same mistake in the same place every time, you need to stop and drill on that phrase to get it right.


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