Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Hide Mistakes in Your Musical Performance

Practical tips for an ''almost'' perfect performance

In this video, Robert gives you practical tips to hide mistakes during performance, so that your audience will barely notice them.

Released on August 13, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to Virtual Sheet and Living I'm Robert Estrin. Today's subject is how to disguise mistakes in your performance, that's right. You know, obviously we all practice so that we won't make any mistakes, but after all we are human, and I don't care who you are and how accomplished you are there are going to be times when things don't go as planned. There are a myriad of reasons for this. Maybe there's a problem with the instrument you're playing. Maybe there a distraction in the audience; it could be almost anything. A finger can slip, you know; things do happen. Your memory might fail you if it's a piano performance from memory. It could be many, many different factors.

Now the way that you really must think about a musical performance is with continuity and that is the secret of disguising any mistakes. Think of it this way; imagine a locomotive, a big, heavy train pulling a bunch of cars. Imagine it got off the tracks. This could be a total disaster, and just a imagine the wreckage that would ensue.

But if it manages to get back on those tracks, just flips off those tracks for a moment, and then manages to just get back on the track, it would a minor blip. It would be a very frightening moment for the engineer, but other people on the train might not even realize anything had happened. That's the same thing in musical performance. You must keep it moving.

Another analogy; you are watching a motion picture. Now in the olden days when they had actual film sometimes there would be a glitch and a momentary thing disrupts the picture and the timing would be off for just a moment and it's very jarring. In fact, if you were watching the movie and in the middle something happened and you were zoned out and weren't paying attention; you were thinking about other things, and if suddenly the time element just shifted a moment and either skipped or went back a moment it's jarring. It gets your attention.

So it is with a musical performance. Let me demonstrate by playing the beginning of the Appassionato Sonata of Beethoven and I'm going to purposely make a little mistake and then I'm going to be jarred for a moment and I'm going to go right on, but I'm going to take a moment where I lose the continuity of the timing. And listen how totally apparent it is.

Anyone in the audience, even if they have the most rudimentary knowledge of musical performance, will say, "Oh, my gosh; there was a mistake there." It's so obvious, because the timing is affected.

Now I'm going to make a similar mistake, but I'm going to keep on moving. And here's what you must do in a musical performance. You must keep your fingers going and keep thinking where you are in that performance. And I can tell you that there will be times in a musical performance if you play enough of them where you'll get completely discombobulated for a moment; and you must keep the music moving.

Now this is really essential if you're playing with other musicians, because if you lose your timing, then you're not going to be together with the rest of the group. So watch how much more tolerable a similar mistake is when the timing is maintained.

Now for any of you Beethoven purists, anybody intimately familiar with the piece, it's still pretty jarring. But for those no intimately familiar with the piece they won't notice at all. More than that, if it was in the middle of a long program the listener might almost think, did that actually happen or did I just imagine it. Sometimes you wonder if it was you or the performer, because if everything just continues going normally you forget about it. It's inconsequential, and that's the idea.

So this isn't about trying to make yourself look better than you are; it's not an ego thing. It is a gift to the audience, so they don't have to suffer through any problems you're having. They can just continue enjoying the music without being distracted by the piece, being keenly aware and taking them out of that magical moment.

So that's it for trying to hide your mistakes. Keep moving at all cost; the show must go on. All right, thanks for joining me. Robert Estrin here at Virtual Sheet and Living
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Douglas Baker on June 18, 2017 @1:05 am PST
That was really encouraging Robert. Thank you.
Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on June 14, 2017 @3:49 pm PST
It's quite a scary moment when such things happen. Many years ago I was performing the Bach double violin concerto (had the 1st violin solo part). At one point in the first movement, I temporarily lost my place towards the end of a long passage...but fortunately I was able to come back in correctly in the next entrance for my part. The rest of the piece went off as we had rehearsed it and it appears no one in the audience noticed what happened. Even the conductor of the accompanying string orchestra didn't notice. That was a good result, but I'm sure that I couldn't have reacted so well if I had not had a great familiarity with the overall composition through much rehearsal and repetition. If this had happened in a first glance sight reading situation, I doubt I would have been able to recover as well.
Robert - host, on June 15, 2017 @11:45 am PST
You were able to rescue the performance because you were well prepared. Intimate familiarity with the score can be a savior in musical performance!
Joanne on June 14, 2017 @10:36 am PST
I listened to Robert's tips on this subject back in 2014 and his pearls of wisdom couldn't have come at a better time again.
I play the piano and recently took up the harp. Along with my teacher's other 12 students we had a group harp recital yesterday. I agreed to play a piece and of course, after 8 weeks of lessons, I did mess up. Playing as a newbie in front of an audience and 12 other seasoned harpists was intimating. But I luckily remembered Robert's words..."the show must go on....keep moving forward." So I sort of reinvented the first song, (I'm hoping my teacher in the back was smiling) aced the second and got a great applause from the audience knowing I was a newbie. Bravo!
Thank you Robert for your always great information and follows through not only with music but life experiences.
Onward to the next challenge and positive hand placements and confidence!
Fulvia Bowerman * VSM MEMBER * on August 28, 2014 @2:05 pm PST
Great when it comes to performances. Now how about during practice at home, should I stop and repeat maybe the previous bar and the next one, many times? My eternal problem has been that no matter how well I know a piece, even a simple one and well memorized, I will be making one mistake, and it is not consistent where it will happen. It is a puzzle I have not been able to figure out why and how to fix it.
Robert - host, on August 28, 2014 @3:05 pm PST
Practicing is completely different from performing. You generally should stop, correct the mistake, solidify the correction, then go back and pass the mistake. Sometimes however, you may want to practice performing with no one there just to see if you can go through a piece with out stopping - but that is the exception in practicing.
Juan Manuel * VSM MEMBER * on August 27, 2014 @5:17 am PST
This is one of the most important recommendations for all of us who perform. Thank you, Robert !
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