Oops! I Did It Again
Here’s the deal: You’re going to mess up.
How do I know this? I’ve been playing and performing for nearly 30 years, and teaching for almost 20. I’ve messed up a lot. My students have messed up a lot. Messing up is a natural part of the learning process. It’s also something that, at least for the vast majority of us mortals, never entirely goes away. It’s part of our humanity (and, as such, contains a few drams of beauty).
Yes, you definitely want to minimize the frequency and audibility of your mess-ups, particularly in performance. But in my experience, an intense preoccupation with accuracy almost always comes at the expense of musicianship. If you’re terrified of messing up, you’re less likely to really listen to the sound you are producing, the shapes you’re making, and how those shapes fit with the shapes being made around you. You’re less likely to take risks. You’re less likely to enjoy the music you’re playing, which will, in turn, diminish the likelihood that you’ll be able to transmit that enjoyment to your listeners.
To dredge up a basketball metaphor from my years of rabid childhood fandom, you want to play offense, not defense.
This is not to say that you abandon all sense and simply run toward the basket (traveling!), or smash willy nilly into the opposition (charging, people). Offense is an art, not an expression of brute force. But staying on offense is important.
I’ve even heard colleagues make the suggestion to go ahead and make a mistake early in each performance, deliberately, to get it out of the way, so that the rest of the time can be spent getting down to the far more important business of communicating what there is to love about whatever it is you’re playing.
I haven’t ever dared to do that. But the impulse makes sense to me.
I had a series of performances last week. I prepared for them as rigorously as I could- but yes, I messed up. And so did most of my colleagues. After which we picked ourselves up as quickly as possible and got back to the business of making music.