Learning To Embrace Mistakes As A Musician


2While there are many skills musicians must master in order to be successful, one of the most important and difficult is the ability to recover and learn from mistakes. Here we look at how artists can use their screw-ups to help with their overall improvement.

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Guest Post by Anthony Cerullo on the Sonicbids Blog

As a musician, there are many skills to master, but oddly enough, one of the hardest skills to master for a musician isn’t musical at all. We’re talking about the art of recovery. More specifically, the way you handle onstage mistakes.

We’ve all been there: the lights shining down on you and the audience glued to your every move. Even if you’ve practiced something millions of times, you’re still not immune to mistakes. They happen, and depending on how you handle them, they can make or break a performance. Some musicians will turn a mishap into a beautiful moment that goes down in music history. Others will spend night after night stressing on one mistake that will only set off an array of further anxiety.

For those looking to make a career out of music, it’s important to know how to stay in the moment even when the biggest mistake happens. You need to keep the music flowing at all costs. After the show, it’s fine to acknowledge these errors, but there’s simply no time to do so during a performance. To prevent an onstage trainwreck, it helps to know not only how to handle mistakes, but also how to embrace them.

Understand that mistakes don’t mean failure

Before we reveal the magic trick of embracing mistakes, you first must understand one thing: mistakes don’t mean failure. An onstage mistake is a mere footnote in the realm of music history – and that’s even being generous.

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Simply put, your audience doesn’t care. It’s not that they’re stupid or oblivious to error. It’s just that a mistake won’t take away from the big picture. There are so many moments during a musical performance, and a single bad one won’t make or break the whole experience. When the bad starts to outweigh the good, well, then we have a problem. But one little mistake? No. That’s not a failure.

[How to Make Mistakes Onstage Like a Pro]

If you watch some of the most famous bands perform live, even they might miss a cue. The thing is, though, they know how to keep the mood alive so that the blunder is hardly a blip on anyone’s radar. If you miss a note but keep up the intensity of the music, do you think the audience will be talk amongst themselves about that one error? Of course not. If crafted well, the energy will guide them into the next piece of music without a second thought. 

The influence of failure is all in the hands of the musician. If you want it to become something great, you have the power to do so. But you also have the power to turn failure into a negative. Mistakes might seem uncontrollable, but the way you deal with them is not.

Don’t be ashamed

Oftentimes, it’s all too easy to harbor shame from the errors we make. Mistakes aren’t fun. They can sometimes even create guilt, especially if the mistake interrupts a special moment of the show.

That being said, there’s a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is a more natural emotion. It’s human nature. Say you accidentally drop your best friend’s collector’s edition Sesame Street glass Elmo on the ground. That event will likely elicit some guilt. Shame, though, that goes a lot deeper. The feeling of shame means that mistakes make you believe you’re inferior. You’re not an inferior person for dropping that glass Elmo on the ground, just as you’re not an inferior musician for missing a note.

Mistakes don’t make you inferior; it’s all in your head. As you build up your ability, you’ll eventually make smaller and fewer mistakes. Along with that, you’ll learn how to mask those errors with style and grace. You’ll also begin to see errors for what they truly are: a tool for development.

[The 3 Types of Performance Mistakes Musicians Make (And What to Do About Them)]

Use mistakes as a learning tool

Finding mistakes doesn’t have to be a painful process. It can be fun! If you mess up some lyrics in practice, don’t stop; go on and enjoy trying to improvise through the mistake. Not only is this fun, but it’s good practice for when it happens onstage (and it will).

Make it a point to acknowledge your errors. After all, these are the signs of improvement. If you ignore these signs, you’ll never improve, so actively seek them out. As your learning habits continue to grow, so will your onstage confidence.

Without fear of mistakes, you’ll already have a head start on the most technically proficient musician who can’t stand errors. Knowing how to prepare for a performance and trusting in your ability to deliver a great one is a huge advantage to have as a musician.

Anthony Cerullo is a nomadic freelance writer and keyboard player. In his spare time, he can be found reading, hiking mountains, and lying in hammocks for extended periods of time.