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The Fine Art of Screwing Up

We all make mistakes in performance (except John Williams). It just happens. It’s part of the game. The really hard part is recovery: those milliseconds after the mistake.

The problem is confidence. Specifically, too much of it. We saunter on stage, start playing, then promptly screw up. The confidence we walked on with is gone. In its place is a ball of nervousness. The one mistake has thrown us into a downward spiral from which it’s hard to recover.

A performer needs confidence and poise, however, so we can’t let that go.

The fine are of screwing up is mastering non-attachment to the mistakes.

And it’s incredibly hard to do. I completely screwed up an entire section of a piece in a guitar ensemble concert last week. It took me the rest of the piece to recover. I’m writing this post as a reminder to myself what should happen when mistakes happen.

As mistakes happen, let go. Focus on the task at hand, and look forward to making the next bit as beautiful as you possibly can.

It’s easy to say what needs to happen, but it’s much harder to actually do it when the pressure is on.

3 Responses
  1. 2009 November 27

    Part of letting go could be related to your perspective on life as a whole. There has to be something in your life that’s much bigger than music (in my opinion). Otherwise, if music becomes that thing, it tends to self destruct. JS Bach I think servers as a great example. His music served a much greater purpose than just fulfilling his own needs or the needs of his ego. So consequently his music become truly great.

    I don’t know if this makes sense but I really think it is critical.

    • 2009 November 27

      I think you’re right on that one, Bobber. Petar Jankovic touched on that a bit in his interview.

      You just have to go on stage without an ego. Very hard to do, unfortunately.

  2. 2009 November 27

    I know another “flawless” player… although far less known than J.W. Look up Aldo Lagrutta at YouTube. Quite amazing!