Monday, May 9, 2011

Mistakes During A Performance

Mistakes During A Performance
[Posted on November 26, 2010 by Richard Matteson]


Today we’ll look at what to do when mistakes occur during a performance. We will be using a solo guitar or solo instrument recital as our setting.

Aaron Shearer talked about mistakes in his classes and books. Paraphrasing, he said there are two types of mistakes:

Minor mistakes- are errors that don’t cause you to become confused or hesitate.

Major Mistakes- are errors that cause you to be confused or hesitate.

Now let’s look at Aaron’s guidelines for a successful performance which he called “accuracy and continuity” and I call “quality and continuity.”

The most important ingredient is “continuity” which is: you try to play from the beginning to the end of the piece without stopping or hesitating.

The worst thing you can do if you make a mistake is try to fix the mistake. That is- you play the same thing again in an attempt to correct the mistake. Shearer calls this the “double reflex error.” By fixing a mistake you immediately let the audience know there was a mistake and what’s worse you break the rhythm or continuity of the piece.

This method of correcting or fixing mistakes is established at the early stages of learning by many students who think they need to correct mistakes and get into a habit of doing it.

When a mistake is made you immediately go to the next note. This should be done at all stages of learning and become a habit!!!!! This is not the same thing as intentionally practicing a trouble spot, where you isolate and repeat a problem spot.

Another common problem for performers is: making false starts. Their conscious mind directs them to start playing but they haven’t thought carefully about what they are about to play and how it begins. Once they get started they can play the whole piece.

The performer should be prepared to play the very first notes of the piece and the fingers should be placed to play the very first note or chord- before they start. By visualizing the first phrase and the movement forms, melody and rhythm before they start, then they are almost ready to begin. Silently establishing and counting out the rhythm, they begin.

The performer should remain calm and in control when mistakes occur and be prepared in the event a major mistake occurs.

If a mistake is made:

1) Immediately and without pausing proceed to the next note and continue on in rhythm.

2) If the mistake prevents you from playing the next immediate note, skip ahead and continue, playing in rhythm. [If you are using ADM or silently solfeging and have practiced the stop-start procedure this isn't difficult. If you are playing with an ensemble or band you have to learn how to do this.]

As long as there’s not a prolonged pause in the music this is an acceptable solution.

3) If the mistake prevents you from playing the next immediate note and you become confused and can’t skip ahead, you immediately skip to an anchor point. An anchor point is a predetermined spot usually at the beginning of a section or passage. It should be near to the place in the music where you made the mistake and became confused.

This has happened to me several times during a solo performance and unless someone in the audience knows the piece intimately and is paying attention, no one may know that anything is wrong. The key is: you must not pause or hesitate and must keep playing in rhythm.

4) If the mistake prevents you from playing the next immediate note and you become confused and can’t skip ahead and you can’t immediately skip to an anchor point- you simply start over without pausing.

5) If the mistake prevents you from playing the next immediate note and you become confused and can’t skip ahead and you can’t immediately skip to an anchor point or start over without pausing- you stop and look up, signaling that the piece is over. If there’s applause- you stand and bow.

This is the process for dealing with mistakes in a formal recital or program. This can be adapted to other performance situations.

In band, orchestra or ensemble situations, as a performer you must be able to jump back in the music after a mistake is made- you won’t be able to skip ahead or behind. If you’re reading it’s not difficult to find your place and jump back in. If you’re playing from memory or not using music you need to use the stop-start procedure (I’ll cover in another blog).

Remember, as a performer you know when you make mistakes. The audience is usually forgiving- they may not notice minor mistakes and unless you break the rhythm even major mistakes may be unnoticed or forgiven. Do not apologize, talk about the mistakes on-stage, become un-nerved or visibly upset. Usually you are your own worst critic.

Your goal as a performer is to perform by sharing the music you love- and enjoy it! If you’re not prepared for mistakes and don’t know what to do when they happen, you’re not adequately prepared to perform.

More to come,

Richard Matteson

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