Wrong notes! You made another mistake!
What do you do when you make mistakes as you practice? Do you find the same errors happening over and over again, even after you thought you corrected them?
What most of us do when we have made a mistake is to go back to the spot and play it many times, trying to make it not only correct, but also reliable and secure.
That’s a good start, but it is actually more like applying a bandaid to the problem and not really finding a solution. I suggest a four step process to my students (and it’s the one I use too!) to make those wrong notes right.
Step 1: Find the mistake.
My students become used to this question in their lessons when they make a mistake: what exactly was wrong?
I have found that much of the time when we realize we have played something wrong, our first response is to go back and do it over. This is good practice, but it skips an absolutely essential step. We must know what exactly was wrong.
Was it a wrong note or an incorrect rhythm? Did you misplace your fingers or stumble at a transition point? Did you miss a pedal or lever?
If you get in the habit of asking yourself these kinds of questions after you notice an error, you will have learned how to save yourself hours of needless practice time spent in trying to fix something without knowing what that something is.
Your best tools to use for this are ones you already have.
Your ears are your first responders. They tell you when a mistake has been made. But you should practice sharpening your listening skills. When you have made a mistake, before playing it again to correct it, take a moment to identify precisely what the mistake was – which note was wrong, where the buzz happened, etc. This kind of critical listening is also a form of ear training, learning to identify what you hear.
Also use your fingers to help you identify an error. You can feel when they have stumbled or seemed awkward. Why did that happen?
And lastly use your eyes. Does something on the page look confusing? Does what you see not match with what you played or with what you expected to hear? Reconcile the printed page with your understanding of the music.
Step 2: Focus on the problem.
Dive deep to look for exactly where the problem is. For instance, the wrong note you played may only be the symptom of the problem. Perhaps a fingering issue led to the wrong note. Rarely is an entire measure or passage the problem. A passage may be difficult, but usually errors are rooted within a single beat or placing. Don’t be content to merely play the passage over. Shining a laser beam on the precise problem is necessary if you really want to fix it. Which brings us to step three…
Step 3: Fix it.
Once you’ve done the first two steps, you will find that this is the easy part. You can use your repertoire of practice techniques to fix the particular issue you identified. Since you know exactly what the problem is, deciding how to fix it is really a simple matter. Then you just have to do it. Then you’re ready to…
Step 4: Fit it in.
Once you have made some progress fixing your wrong notes or any other mistake, you need to connect that former problem spot with what comes before and after so you can make a seamless transition. The most important part of this process is to practice avoiding the flinch. You know what I mean by the flinch. It’s the way you mentally (or maybe physically) hold your breath or close your eyes or stiffen up as you get to that spot.
Instead, try talking yourself through the steps you need to take to perform it correctly. Give yourself some positive and helpful words to coach yourself through the spot. Remember to breathe, relax and let it happen!
Need more ideas for practice techniques? I outline over 50 (yes 50!) of them in my Kaleidoscope Practice book. Check it out and fix those wrong notes for good! You’ll find it on harphappiness.com. (And My Harp Mastery members, remember that you already have access to this book!)