There are many cases where I heard musicians worried about making a mistake before a performance. Of course sometimes it can be an indicator of how well we really know a piece. I personally have learned tricky pieces 3 weeks before a performance and of course there will be a discrepancy somewhere if the music isn’t familiar enough. (I sight read a Bach toccata for grade 8!). I learned that a piece of music really does need to be internalised and known well over a period of time- like remembering what we want to talk about in a speech, we just engage with it better.
The most important thing to remember is that mistakes really are a learning curve. It’s the only way of knowing how to improve. It can depend on a few factors such as being completely familiar with the register of the instrument. I also think the real instrument is actually ourselves as we are the ones who are doing the ‘moving’. The instrument is an inanimate object so therefore it relies completely on our own physical movement which we train. But it does run deeper than this I think.
In many a scenario nerves can help or hinder a performance. One time I played a fast piece and found myself playing even faster. Live performance is a very different scenario to practicing in the comfort of our own home- it can be exciting and give us just that extra buzz of energy. I think sometimes we even obsess over making each performance sound like a recording. Each live performance will always have its differences (such as a different piano with a different response can be distracting!) The best thing about recording is that we can take as many takes as we like until we choose one that we like the best.
We are always striving for perfection. It is a funny word that we seem to take as being a universal fact. But it really isn’t. It is all down to opinion and preference. We can play every single note cleanly. Does this define perfection? Where are the dynamics? Maybe the tone may have sounded too harsh somewhere… We are already on the verge of discovering there is no real such thing as perfection. (Unless every human being on the planet is in unanimous agreement on the same thing probably). Everything is changeable. Vladimir Horowitz had quoted ‘perfection is an imperfection’ -and it is. The best thing we can do is make a conscious decision on each element so we cover everything at our own pace. I think the best way of being happy with our performance is to prioritise what is most important to us. Is it phrasing, tone, catchy rhythm, dynamics or aiming it to sound dramatic? It can depend on focusing on what we value from music the most that gives us the confidence to play.
The most enigmatic thing I have found is when we worry about mistakes- this is really when we are likely to make them. The ‘ideal’ of perfection is piling on the pressure to do well that we tense up. Yet, if we accept the fact that mistakes will always happen at some point for everyone; we remind ourselves what we enjoy about the music and playing it. Being musical is what truly matters... In this case, we are actually much less likely- even unlikely at all to make any mistakes. Then you will be ready to enjoy your piano lessons. It gets easier with experience but simply just remember to accept to learn from mistakes and enjoy it.
Would you like to start performing?