Piano Practicing: What to do when you make a mistake

In the universe of playing incorrect notes, I tell students to chill out, and approach a particular glitched passage in an organized manner. (This does NOT include PLAYING the so-called wrong note again ON PURPOSE to eliminate it)

When an unintended error is magnified by PLAYING IT again, the brain REGISTERS that action as legitimate. The ear HEARS the wrong note and the fingers obedient to the brain play the PAVLOVIAN game of stimulus– INCORRECT NOTE G#–(NOT G) response–finger no. 3-

Unfortunately, such an action is TALLIED and kept in a neurological repository for SAFE-keeping while it basically amounts to a MEMORY bank DEBIT, not a secure DEPOSIT.

In summary: To think one is DE-valuing a WRONG note by playing it again (even with a consciousness that it wasn’t the RIGHT one) is tantamount to INFLATING the problem.

So what’s the solution?

Well, it depends on the Wrong note, or notes. (Call them INCORRECT to strip the clunkers of any emotional attachment to RIGHT and WRONG which can open a Pandora’s box of moral judgments)

Example: If a student is practicing the scale of E minor (Harmonic) form in CONTRARY motion and plays the incorrect note D instead of D# in one or more octaves in either hand, I advise her to sing or internalize the sound of the MINOR form with the altered (RAISED) 7th note. HEARING before playing has been well publicized by the esteemed pianist, Leon Fleisher in one of his Carnegie Institute Seminars.

Bottom line, Attentive Listening and SLOW PRACTICE are in my opinion, CENTRAL to the process of note correction.

Once the aural perception is ingrained, the student can BLOCK out the E minor scale with separate hands. (This is a chunking process where notes are grouped and patterns are MADE CONSCIOUS) In this instance, MIRROR fingers play blocked notes, with thumbs coming between in a synchronized fashion. (SYMMETRIES are fleshed out as neuro-reinforced organizers)

FINGERING clarification is naturally intrinsic to playing correct notes, and to landscaping scales and passage work within the vast piano repertoire. (Don’t forget theory-based assists that are great organizers. For example, a note won’t fit into a DOMINANT chord if it conflicts with the resonating, foundational Major THIRD: Root–third)

In the following video, the student initially had a problem rendering the E minor scale in contrary motion, where she played Fs occasionally instead of F#s. (the second note of E minor) As a start we devised an EMPHASIS on the F# each time as it occurred temporally in each hand.

In the Harmonic minor, she would not always play the D# (raised seventh note) as previously mentioned so Blocking and Rhythm practice was demonstrated and recommended.

Note corrections themselves are meaningless if phrasing, contouring and shaping are not part of the remedy. Playing with relaxed arms and supple wrists are significant tension-relievers and antidotes to TIGHT, constricted movements that often increase the likelihood of note errors

During a lesson-in-progress, an adult pupil noted that she had accuracy problems with her 5th finger, in a five-finger F# Major progression played in staccato, forte and piano. Through a process of experimentation, with a focus on a forearm generated vertical approach interspersed with rotations, we seemed to better secure the playing. In this case, physical and musical framings advanced clarity and accuracy.

In another framing, I used the C Major scale in Contrary motion, to demonstrate a roll-in motion and a rotational curve around at the peak. This consciousness of shape, sound, integrated with physical motion helped prevent the occurrence of note errors..

BREATHING is a must to advance beautifully phrased playing without the encumbrance of incorrect notes. Setting aside time during practice to focus on relaxed breathing will often solve the inaccurate note problem. (CHOKING UP is a big contributor to error-making)

In summary an incorrect note is not an isolated event. It’s tied to what happens before and after in a chain of measures and phrases. Therefore, the more ways one can practice and organize music –with a cognitive, affective and kinesthetic consciousness, the likelihood the error can be corrected in subsequent playings.

About arioso7: Shirley Kirsten

International piano teacher by Skype, recording artist, composer, piano finder, freelance writer, film maker, story teller: Grad of the NYC HS of Performing Arts, Oberlin Conservatory, NYU (Master of Arts) Studies with Lillian Freundlich and Ena Bronstein; Master classes with Murray Perahia and Oxana Yablonskaya. Studios in BERKELEY and EL CERRITO, California; Member, Music Teachers Assoc. of California, MTAC; Distance learning and Skyped instruction with supplementary videos: SKYPE ID, shirleypiano1 Contact me at: shirley_kirsten@yahoo.com OR http://www.youtube.com/arioso7 or at FACEBOOK: Shirley Smith Kirsten, http://facebook.com /shirley.kirsten TWITTER: http://twitter.com/arioso7 Private fund-raising for non-profits as pianist--Public Speaking re: piano teaching and creative approaches
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One Response to Piano Practicing: What to do when you make a mistake

  1. Grazie per il post!
    Cordiali saluti,
    Sig. Muslim Verbbel Massari


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