Robert Estrin - piano expert

What is the Worst Mistake on the Piano?

Learn what's the worst mistake you can make on the piano

In this video, Robert tells you the worst mistake you can make on the piano, with some very interesting context.

Released on December 7, 2022

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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

The first thing is you must differentiate when you are practicing and when you are performing. Not only that, you must practice performing. That's right.

Welcome to Robert Estrin here with what is the worst mistake on the piano? You might think there are a lot of different mistakes that could be terrible. And I picked one particular mistake that I think is worse than any of them. So what kind of mistakes are there on the piano? Well, you can hit a wrong note. I'm gonna demonstrate all these mistakes with Clare de Lune because you all are familiar with it. So wrong notes are certainly bad. I'm not sure if you all caught it, but there was a wrong harmony there. So that's bad, isn't it? Of course you don't wanna play wrong notes. What about wrong rhythm? A lot of people play wrong rhythm, particularly in Clare de Lune. You might hear something like this. That was also wrong rhythm. But since you've widely heard this piece with wrong rhythm in the past, maybe it doesn't just jump out at you. What about somebody who plays with an ugly sound? That's a terrible mistake, isn't it? Another mistake, smearing everything with pedal.

Some people think they're playing really musically when they use a lot of pedal because it can cover up a lot of inadequacies. If the fingering is bad and things aren't as connected as they should be, the pedal to the rescue. But of course you sacrifice the cleanness of the playing. So what the heck could possibly be worse than wrong notes, wrong rhythm, ugly sound? Well, the most insidious problem on the piano is hesitation. That's right. Why is hesitation so bad? Have you ever been to a film where there's a jump cut in the middle of the film? There's a mistake in the editing where a scene jumps back or forward a little bit. It's jarring, you know what? Even if you weren't paying attention to the film, it draws you in. And so it is in musical performance. So if somebody's playing and then suddenly they make a mistake and they hesitate for a moment, go back a little bit, this is what happens. It takes you out of the moment. It draws you in more than other mistakes.

Now here's why it's so critical.

In your practice, when you make a mistake, you're probably in the habit of stopping and correcting it, which is the appropriate thing to do. But in performance, the show must go on. You have to keep moving because what you just heard, everyone will be disturbed by it. If that just makes you look bad, it takes the joy out of the musical performance for the audience. They're trying to just soak it in and enjoy it. And they might be able to overlook little mistakes, crack notes, maybe even a sound that's less than ideal, or rhythmic inaccuracies. But boy, once you go back a little bit, jump from place to place, lose the continuity, it ruins the musical performance. So what can you do about it? Well, the first thing is you must differentiate when you are practicing and when you are performing. Not only that, you must practice performing. That's right. So most of the time when you're practicing, you make a mistake and you go back and you correct it as well you should. And as I've explained, this is a multi-pronged exercise.

First, number one, get out the score, find exactly where the correction is and take note of it and work out the correction until it's solidified and repeatable. Then go back to the beginning of that phrase and pass that point several times until it's smooth. Are you done? No, you're not done yet. Believe it or not, you must go back to the whole beginning of the piece or the beginning of that whole section because even though you've made the correction and you've even put the correction into a musical context starting a little bit before, if you are used to missing from starting from the beginning, you will probably miss it again unless you're present at that moment, oh, this is where the correction is. You've got to think it through. So it takes all of that work to make the correction.

What I was talking about, practicing performing. Now, how can you do such a thing? The easiest, safest way is doing it by yourself, for yourself. Now to have the discipline, take your phone or other recording device and set it up and say, this is a performance, no matter what, you're not going to stop, you're not going to correct anything, that's not the appropriate time to make corrections. Nobody wants to hear you practice in the middle of a performance. Once you get comfortable performing by yourself or for a machine that records you, then you can take close friends or relatives and say, hey, I just want to play through this, it'll do me a world of good, do you mind listening? And be sure you play through, don't take advantage of people who are good friends and will forgive you by going, oh, I know I can do this better and starting over. No, you could always do another performance for them later or another day, but take advantage of that opportunity to see how you will recover. You have to practice recovering from mishaps.

Guess what? Everybody has them, there isn't a pianist alive who doesn't have a finger slip or a memory insecurity at some point in the performance. And you must learn how to deal with it. And the only way to do that is by practicing performing. So the two lessons are avoid hesitations by practicing how to eradicate them with the three-prong approach of finding the place in the score and working out the correction, going back to the beginning of that phrase and being able to get through that several times and then going back to the whole beginning of the piece or the section and being able to get through that. And the second thing is practice your performing so that you can play from the beginning to the end of the piece without losing continuity, without hesitations. I hope this is helpful for you again. Robert Estrin here at, your online piano resource. Thank you for all your subscribers. We'll see you next time. One moment.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Ramona Walter * VSM MEMBER * on February 1, 2023 @11:42 am PST
Thank you so much for helping me with the mistake of "hesitating:. I'm learning a whole new method of practicing. You are great !
Robert - host, on February 1, 2023 @12:51 pm PST
So glad this resonates with you!
ALI * VSM MEMBER * on December 11, 2022 @2:13 pm PST
Great advise. Yes, I am guilty of this. And, one point to consider, don't make a face if you do play a wrong note.
Robert - host, on December 12, 2022 @8:17 am PST
Not only should you avoid indicating to the audience when something goes wrong in a performance, but afterwards, if you get complimented, you should thank them. These actions show respect for your listeners.
ALI * VSM MEMBER * on December 12, 2022 @2:48 pm PST
Yes, I agree with you. I do get compliments all the time. Thank you for responding.
Douglas Johnson * VSM MEMBER * on December 8, 2022 @9:09 am PST
What kind of piano light will provide the most light to the music?(Baby Grand Piano)
I have one with 24" wide but I would like more brightness.
GARABED69 * VSM MEMBER * on December 7, 2022 @2:17 pm PST
Wonderful advice . I am guilty of it , you make it clear how rectify the issue
Robert - host, on December 8, 2022 @1:03 pm PST
So glad this makes sense to you!
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