Robert Estrin - piano expert
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Dealing with failure in a musical performance

How to react when your performance doesn't go as well as planned

Released on October 9, 2013

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Video Transcription

Welcome. I'm Robert Estrin, here at and

Today's subject is very important; How to deal with failure in musical performance.

Anybody who's played music has had at least one experience in their lives, which was a disaster. How can this be? How can you deal with it? This is what we're going to talk about today and it's very important.

Now, why is it so important? It's because we are all human. We are not machines. The whole aspect of live performance is the wonder of what's going to happen. That's why people go to the circus or watch sports, as well as musical events and musical theater and things, because there's the element of chance. You don't know what's going to happen. Sometimes you have amazingly pleasant surprises and other times there are unpleasant surprises.

So what do you do? You play a musical performance you've prepared for, for months. You go out and you bomb. At least in your own mind, you feel that way.

Well, believe it or not, when you are done with that musical performance, first of all, what looms so large in your mind is not a big deal to the audience. Why is that? Because the audience doesn't have the same frame of reference that you have. You know your best, they don't. And if you don't hit your best, you're going to be very very upset with yourself, but the audience doesn't know any different. So the audience is going to enjoy what they enjoy. And you don't want to spoil it for them.

So, if you've done a performance and you feel you did miserably, and somebody comes over to you and they say, "Oh, thank you. I really enjoyed that." The worst thing you can ever say to them is say, "No. It was terrible."

Why is it so bad? Well, obviously you think it's because it makes you look bad, but that's not it. That's certainly part of it. There's no reason to tarnish your career just because you feel bad about a performance. The real reason is that it's an insult to the audience. Somebody came, they went out of their house, they drove there. They sat through a performance, they enjoyed it. They took the time to tell you that they liked it. For you to then tell them, "No. You're wrong. It was bad and you shouldn't have enjoyed it." It's insulting their intelligence. Let them enjoy it. If they enjoyed it, that's their business. Doesn't mean that you won't go back to the practice room and put together a better performance for next time.

So here are some of the benefits of failure. Failure is one of the best teachers you have because you will learn things from a failed performance that you would never learn in a successful performance, sometimes. You will find weaknesses you didn't know were there. It gives you the opportunity to strengthen your weaknesses. So you must look at failure as a learning opportunity.

It's just a performance. No one dies. It's not like the trapeze artist. We not only have a net, we can't even fall. We're in good shape. It's just music. We get very attached and we're very concerned about our own musical performances. But you've got to realize it's all about your own ego. And the audience isn't there for your ego. They are there for their own enjoyment. Make it as enjoyable for them as possible. Take failure as a learning experience. And prepare like crazy for future performances, particularly after one that you are not are very happy with.

So, if you do have a devastating experience, you do not want to allow it to regenerate itself. Because, the worst thing that can happen is if you have a mishap in a performance, you start locking your brain, thinking, "Oh, what's going to happen next?" And make a self-fulfilling prophecy of mistakes. The same thing could happen in multiple performances if you start thinking that way.

So the first step is to prepare furiously for your next performance and try to make it a low-stress performance. If you just had a performance that was disappointing to you, next time you perform, maybe just do an in-home concert. Or play informally for friends, just so you get comfortable and get their reassurance and the positive feedback of an audience. And to know yourself, that you can get through it again. And build up to more important performances with the experience of performing the very same program for more than one small audience before going out when the high-pressure stakes again. Start building positive experiences so you develop your confidence again.

And this is the most important thing. Keep your attitude positive and be prepared so you can enjoy your performance. Because you can practice and practice, and if you go out there and even play accurately but you're not enjoying it, guess what? Your audience won't either. We are expressing emotions. So how you feel about your music is vital. Keep yourself positive and keep the love for your music, whatever it takes. That's the most valuable asset you have.

Thanks for joining me. Robert Estrin here at and
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John Neoclis Raftopoulos on November 25, 2015 @9:29 am PST
hi! I take the chance to ask what is the best to do if during a performance, a nasty mistake happens, like a wrong note hit, or an important note which failed to be heard, etc...what to do then? stop, go back a few measures and repeat, or just continue as if nothing has happened? thank you for your post, which was very good, but it refers only to what happens after completion, that's why I raise this question.
Leo Sarrazin on November 25, 2015 @8:43 am PST
Best video yet! and I've seen them all
Charles StDizier * VSM MEMBER * on November 25, 2015 @7:17 am PST
Great post. I comment not as an accomplished musician, but as a devoted fan of live performance. I can tell you that discerning audiences are not interested in the perfect performance. What we are looking for is all the things that go into an emotional experience. The phrasing, the tempo, the personality, the tone, etc. Heck, we hear flubs all the time. It's not that we don't notice them, it's just that we understand that such things are way low on the list of criteria that define a moving performance.
Briana * VSM MEMBER * on November 25, 2015 @6:51 am PST
I'm rejoining the world of classical after 13 years in pop and this video resounds strongly with me. Pop music taught me it really IS all about the audience. If they enjoyed it, you did a good job . . . and that's pretty much the end of the story. Yes, Mr. Classical Musician, I appreciate all of your years in conservatory and the practice room, and I know you wouldn't trade them for anything. Still - get over yourself! -- that's tough love talking, just like your videos. Your love for music and musicians comes through in every one. Keep up the good work.
JUAN MANUEL GONZALEZ DE COSIO * VSM MEMBER * on November 11, 2013 @8:05 am PST
Dear Bob, this is one of your greatest video lessons ! Thanks so much ! And one more thing, I appreciate very much your English. Although this idiom is not my mother tongue, I speak and understand it reasonable well but not perfectly well. However, although you speak a little bit fast, your English is impeccable and therefore I can understand it 100%. I think my comment is important because there should be hundreds of piano lovers from other countries that watch your valuable lessons and you make them crystal clear with your perfect English. Thanks so much ! You are a great teacher ! My Best to you, Juan Manuel.
Robert Estrin - host, on November 14, 2013 @11:34 am PST
Thank you Juan Manuel - I'm so glad you are enjoying the videos!
Surangika Senanayake on October 26, 2013 @1:55 pm PST
Very useful and to the point; enjoyed it and shared it. Thank you.
Wolfgang Gerling on October 24, 2013 @2:45 pm PST
Thanks for your attention.I saw your interviews and completed my curiosity with your information abaout brands and tones.
Here in Brazil I have an Essenfelder.The best brazilian piano ever made.Florian Essenfelder worked at Bechstein as a technician and came to Brazil before WW I .
Once more thanks for your attention..
Wolfgang Gerling on October 23, 2013 @4:26 am PST
Hi ,Mr.Estrin.First of all I may say that I appreciate all your videos and the enthusiastic way you explain all kinds of matters related to pianos.I am not a pianist , I only play the piano and love everything related to the king of instruments.
I would like to know your opinion or considerations about the following:
I am used to hearing Steinways and Bosendorfers throughout records,as well as other brands . I like to compare the sound of each instrument according to the kind of music ,
But, some weeks ago I was lucky to go to a friend's piano store and there, there was a 1960 Concert Pleyel .For the first time I sat and played a Concert piano .But it wasn't any piano , it was a Pleyel .Since then I've changed my mind .I still have the sound in my ears and in my mind.I was astonished. What a sound ! So,
Why doesn't anybody talk about Pleyel .Why we don't see any model of the Brand on the stages ?
Greetings from Brazil ! (forgive my bad English!)
Robert Estrin - host, on October 23, 2013 @6:20 pm PST
There are actually quite a number of top tier pianos being manufactured from many companies around the world including Mason & Hamlin, Fazioli, Bechstein, Bluthner and others. The fact is, for an artist to be represented by a piano company, they have to have concert grand pianos in nearly every city in the world. The cost is prohibitively expensive, so there really isn't any choice for touring concert pianists except for the piano they choose to have at home.
Grace Chen on October 10, 2013 @11:28 pm PST
thanks for posting this.... I just have this problem... when audience say " you are great! I did enjoy your performance... I was touched..." I will say: " no... did not you notice, I was flat in the xx note, when I sang xxx.." I have been terrible for quite a period of time. I wont do that again in my next performance of Nov. 16...
John Bosko on October 10, 2013 @9:08 pm PST
Right, thinking positively about ourselves as music players is important. Thanks Robert!
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