How Mistakes in Performance are Like Driving on Ice!

Piano Lessons / music performance / How Mistakes in Performance are Like Driving on Ice!

Welcome to I’m Robert Estrin with a really interesting subject today, “How mistakes in performance are like driving on ice”. I’ll never forget when I was a young child starting piano lessons with my father, Morton Estrin. While he taught piano at Hofstra University, he also had a huge teaching studio attached to the back of our house. We had a terrace on top of it. We had a lot of fun there. That’s a subject for another video! But what I want to tell you is about recitals my father had in his studio. Monthly, he would feature different students. Some of his students were incredible concert pianists who went on to illustrious careers.

In June, he would have his student recitals for everybody else who were not up to the level of playing a whole recital. That’s where I first got my feet wet in performing. I remember how terrifying it was because you practice and practice. You get used to playing your pieces. Then you get in front of people, and everything feels totally different! Something goes wrong, your hands are sweating, and everything seems surrealistic, exaggerated, almost like being in some kind of dream state.

But it can be like a nightmare when something goes wrong.

So, how do you deal with such a thing? And what am I talking about, mistakes being like driving on ice? It’s a very good analogy. Before I tell you about this analogy, let me share something with you I’ve mentioned before about mistakes in performance and how to deal with them appropriately. The way I sometimes describe it is, if you just keep going, most people aren’t going to notice mistakes. People who are intimately familiar with the score will probably notice. But even if they are:

If you keep the music going, that’s key because it keeps the performance enjoyable.

That is the important thing. It’s like going to see a motion picture. If you were watching a film and suddenly there was an edit which jumped back or forward even a fraction of a second, it would be jarring. And that’s what happens if you lose your rhythm or continuity in a musical performance. So, how is this like driving on ice?

If you’re ever driving a car on ice, as soon as it happens, it’s an unnerving feeling, because when you turn the steering wheel and nothing happens. Press the brake, no response! And so what do you do? Do you just go wild trying different things? Do you put the car in reverse? No, you don’t put it in reverse! You don’t start over-steering or hitting the brakes like crazy. Instead, you realize that you’re just going to keep going in that direction like it or not. Eventually, you’re going to hit dry ground and you’re going to gain control of your car.

It’s exactly the same thing in musical performance. Something goes wrong. Of course, it’s horrifying, just like driving a car and losing control. Even though your life isn’t in danger, you don’t feel that way. You feel like your life is flashing before your eyes! You’ve got a whole audience looking at you and even though everything went perfectly in practice, suddenly you find yourself in this horrendous situation.

The best thing you can do is keep your fingers moving.

Keep any part of the score you can remember, even if it’s a mishmash of notes, until your fingers and your ears can piece together where you are, and you keep moving forward. That’s the secret for getting through mistakes in performance. You never stop and correct them. This creates a real problem because in practice, of course, you always stop and correct mistakes because that’s what practicing is about. Performance is a completely different situation. I’ve talked about the necessity of practicing performance. You have to practice performing or else when it finally happens, you’re not ready for it. You can first try recording your playing on your phone or other device as if it’s a performance and see if you can generate some excitement that way. Then play for family members, trusted friends, then maybe groups of people, until finally you’re ready to do a live performance. At any time, even if you’re with a group of friends and something goes wrong, don’t stop and say, “Oh, I can play this perfectly. Let me start it over.” No.

Make it a performance!

This is an ideal opportunity to iron out what you’ll do in an actual performance when something inevitably goes wrong. And I’ve got news for you. You might think that concert pianists know the music so well, nothing ever goes wrong. That’s not true. There are always catastrophes! I don’t care how much you practice and how great you are, things will happen, whether it’s memory or something, where the piano doesn’t feel quite right and you find yourself in the wrong place, not feeling comfortable.

So, remember, just like driving on ice, don’t freak out! Just keep going until you get some traction in your music, just like in the car, and you’re going to be just fine. Try it the next time you perform. I’m very interested in any of you who have had this kind of experience. And for those of you who haven’t done this before, and you try it, let me know how it works for you. I’m really interested! Again, I’m Robert Estrin here at, Your Online Piano Resource. See you next time!