How Failure Breeds Success in Music

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Hi, I’m Robert Estrin and this is LivingPianos.com. The subject today is about how failure breeds success in music. When you see somebody who is accomplished on the piano, you might think it’s easy for them. Things must just come naturally to them. They’re so talented! But if you see behind the scenes what it takes, it’s the people who can fail again and again and again, and yet keep trying who become seasoned artists. This isn’t just in music. This covers a wide range of activities.

As a child I took a vacation with my family to the Finger Lakes and we had an opportunity to water ski.

I wanted to stand up on the skis. I tried and I tried. I’d start up and then bam, I’d be down. I was relentless, trying it again and again and again. I didn’t want to give up. I really wanted nothing more than to be successful. I even stood on the skis outside of the water tied to a tree to try to get the sense of it! Try as I might, I could not seem to stay up on the skis in the water. My sister today says that at the time, they didn’t have skis that fit me. Maybe that’s true. Or maybe she’s just being kind, because I guess it could be an embarrassing situation. Although I wasn’t embarrassed. I just wanted to water ski so darn badly! Eventually they had this contraption that was supposed to hold the skis together and then lift up. I used it and it held the skis together, but it never lifted up! There I went halfway around the lake, hunched over. That was the degree of success I had in water skiing. Many years later, I was on a boat with friends and they were offering water skiing. I tried it again and I was finally successful!

How does this relate to piano?

As a child, my hands were very weak. I have small hands even now. But as a child, I could barely reach an octave. Even in my teens I could only reach an octave around the keys. I was playing some pretty sophisticated music and I couldn’t even reach an octave! I rose to the occasion to play the whole Debussy Children’s Corner suite when I was 13 years old, which was really an achievement for me. There was a strong B-flat octave at the very end of the suite (Golliwog’s Cakewalk). And it just sounded anemic. My father actually had me leave out the octave in the left hand at the end and use all my fingers on the key in each hand to get some power to end the piece strongly. That was a really good workaround. I had to struggle for years to develop strength. When I was in Salzburg, Austria, in high school, I spent a summer studying at the Mozarteum. This was a time when I really practiced a lot. I was working on the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6. I spent hours and hours practicing to the point where I had cracked, bloody nails. I was just trying to develop strength. That piece ends with a huge octave section that you’ve probably heard before. So that’s what I did to try to overcome natural weakness.

Other pianists might have completely different obstacles to overcome.

I remember one of my father’s students who was very talented from an emotional level. He had fire in his playing! It was a pleasure to listen to him. But his brain didn’t always cooperate. So his challenge was just holding the cohesiveness of the form together. Holding together an extended work or a whole program was very difficult for him. He had the fire, the passion, the technique, but musical intellect was his challenge. So he worked very hard. He’s a seasoned artist with a career. Everybody has to find what failures they have and build upon them. It doesn’t all come naturally.

It’s how you deal with failure that makes the difference.

If failure makes you feel defeated, and you stop trying, you won’t ever overcome weakness. But if you choose to fight on and not accept failure, that’s the secret to success! It doesn’t happen easily for people. It just seems that way on the outside. So remember, if you’re suffering from failure in your playing or in anything in life, just keep persevering! You can learn from your mistakes as to how to solve them appropriately in the future. The more things you try, the more things you know that don’t work. Thomas Edison once said of his struggle to invent the light bulb, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” That’s what it is with the piano. You try, and keep trying, until you find the answers that solve your problems so you can overcome failure in your music. I hope this is helpful and perhaps even inspiring to you! Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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9 thoughts on “How Failure Breeds Success in Music”


 
 

  1. As a perpetual and old Beginner I find piano challenges everywhere. I am learning short pieces, teaching myself simpler arrangements and having a bit of success with the First Movement of “Moonlight” sonata. When I reach the end I am so tired which brings me to my question – what is the most physically demanding piece you have played? Does hand stamina improve over time?

    Thank you.

    1. The most physically demanding music on piano are those that have many large leaps. Although music that has continuous fast passages can tire your hands. The Liszt 14th Hungarian Rhapsody is physically demanding with many fast chord leaps. Shorter etudes can also require bursts of energy such as Scriabin Etude in D-sharp minor from opus 8: https://youtu.be/6cslk4xvdv8?t=375 But the Liszt 6th Hungarian Rhapsody has a HUGE octave section at the end which is extremely physically demanding: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxRq07yVLfo&ab_channel=LivingPianosVideos

      1. Failure to water ski did not lead to my success. I couldn’t get up on the ski. I had to swim back to shore. The fact that I spent only one day at the lake, and didn’t live anywhere near didn’t help. Just looking at it from a different angle. Success after failure only comes if you can pursue it until success comes.

    1. Funny you should mention that. I wouldn’t say that all my relationships before I met my wife were failed, but I did learn what worked and what didn’t work, and have had a blissfully happy marriage for 40 years now!

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