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freak-outs at mistakes during music practice, how to handle?

(21 Posts)
areyoutheregoditsmemargaret Fri 09-May-14 11:17:11

My dcs, 9 and 7, are learning piano and guitar respectively - early days but dd1 in particular is very keen and (I think) turning out to be quite musical. My problem is both, when practising - and we're talking 10 minutes a day here, it's impossible to find time for more right now - have a tendency to freak when they make a mistake, yell, scream, cry and go right back to the beginning. This means that the first bars of any piece are practised to death, they never reach the end because inevitably they slip up.

I have, of course, pointed out that mistakes don't matter, they're the only way to learn but dcs just yell and cry. I think it's fair to say both have a perfectionist streak smile. Anyway, any advice on how to steer them through this would be appreciated.

Lancelottie Fri 09-May-14 11:19:18

Get them to start with the final bar. Seriously. My own flute teacher used to do that when we practised group pieces: 'Right, ladies, let's have a splendid finale! Last chord everybody!'

morethanpotatoprints Fri 09-May-14 11:25:34

Yes, as Lancelottie says.
Then get them to start at a particular point in the middle.
This is a good way to get exam or performance pieces to standard when the time comes as well.
Its difficult but try and get them to see that even the best musicians make mistakes. Maybe look on youtube to see if you can find some musical bloopers.
My dd was like this when she first started, they'll soon get into the swing of practice. Mine does 4-5 hours a day now and no more things get thrown across the room and no screaming or yelling. grin

titchy Fri 09-May-14 11:25:53

Yep - just tell them they have to practice the last two lines, so if they make any mistakes at least they're only going back one line. And do try and persuade them to practice any difficult bits bar by bar!

JulieMichelleRobinson Fri 09-May-14 12:05:25

Here's a famous pianist expecting the wrong concerto entirely...

And a playlist of mistakes (some deliberate, most not) from famous people, together with quotes in the introductory spiel.

areyoutheregoditsmemargaret Fri 09-May-14 12:14:32

thanks chaps, will show them that - they'll watch anything on youtube!

And good to know it improves, though I think we're some way off 4-5 hours a day.

Lancelottie Fri 09-May-14 14:43:41

Oh god, DH (very good amateur musician) has never quite lived down playing an entire piccolo concerto one bar behind the rest of the orchestra.

Well, not until he had to play the tam tam (vast gong thing) at the crescendo of a piece and walloped it a bar too early... drowning out the rest of the choir and orchestra completely.

1805 Fri 09-May-14 20:20:15

depending on how they do in maths/spelling tests, you could ask them if they would be happy getting 38/40 in a test, then count up how many notes are in line 1 and "allow" them say 2 or 3 mistakes per line, as long as they get to the end of the line. Obviously adjust the figures appropriately.
That usually gets them carrying on better. Or sometimes I ask them to try and "fool" me by getting me to not notice any mistakes they make. Or, I play it to them making subtle mistakes (which hopefully they won't notice) and point out that small mistakes are worth bluffing through.
Now before people shoot me down, I must point out that these techniques are used to treat specific problems (stopping at mistakes all the time) and I do not not encourage a slap-dash attitude to fudging over tricky bits.

JulieMichelleRobinson Fri 09-May-14 21:12:33

I insist that my students play a piece through once before we work on it, and again after we've tackled a section. Their pieces are short enough to do this with, and it shows them how working on this one bar can improve their whole piece no end. It also means that they get into the habit of sometimes not stopping because they went wrong.

My mind went blank 16 bars before the end of the Bartok Romanian Dances in a public recital last year (first concert in eight years and only piece I was playing from memory because I'd been given very specific programming requirements) - I just improvised until the end. The only person who noticed was the pianist, who had the score in front of him. And that includes the three colleagues (violin teachers) in the audience. Learning to improvise can be a good idea!

morethanpotatoprints Fri 09-May-14 21:27:50

I know the OPs children are beginners but the sadest thing I saw was a grade 5 piano player cry during a competition when she played a wrong note.
The only reason for this was her dad accompanied her to her lessons and had told his dd never to make a mistake, just as her teacher had encouraged her to carry on through mistakes as they happen to the best.
The poor child looked at her dad and burst out crying.
My point is its important how we handle things like this as parents and I think1805 has a good idea there, I may steal this when dd starts getting frustrated again.

SanityClause Fri 09-May-14 22:13:22

Get them to stop, think, then play just the phrase they were having difficulty with. Get it right three times, then add the phrase before it.

Practising at home is a time for perfecting things, but they also need experience of just styling it out when they make mistakes, so once they know the whole piece reasonably well, let them give you a performance, with you seated as an attentive audience (rather than listening with one ear while you do the washing).

StarDustInTheWind Sat 10-May-14 08:45:22

I think kids see "practising" as playing the whole thing again and again, and again... practise should be - pick out the tricky bits, practise those, add in more, and sometimes play it through..... or else it is just playing the piece - not practising....

We do practise and then playing of the piece with an attentive parental audience... right through, no stops for errors if possible...

music and overall musicality are what count, not the odd technical note error... this is one of the main things that need to be learned by young children who play any instrument.... who cares if you get a note wrong if the whole thing sounded beautiful....

1805 Sat 10-May-14 11:42:07

areyouthere - take heart from the fact that quite a few children do this! Perfectionists find it hard, but I find that getting these children to think of it as fooling the audience rather than making a mistake generally helps them. I also tell them that bluffing is a necessary skill because even international soloists make mistakes, but are just very good at covering them up. After all, making a lump of wood/metal sound beautiful is a weird concept fraught with challenges! No one is perfect, but you can learn to SOUND pretty perfect. I think much of music is about mindset. I could go on for hours about this, but will stop now!

areyoutheregoditsmemargaret Mon 12-May-14 13:28:27

Thanks everyone for brilliant advice

Netguru Mon 12-May-14 13:33:43

Used to teach flute. Agree with everything said.

Play once through to find the mistakes. Pencil them in. Go back practice each three times alone then bar either side too. Then play through again.

Very young children (flute tended to start at 10) so help them understand that carrying on after a mistake is difficult and they are very good if they can.

ReallyTired Mon 12-May-14 13:35:36

Music practice is difficult. Do you have a note book where you can note down the sections are difficult. Both the guitar and piano have complex chords and there is fingering to help the player. There are ways that you can break down a difficult bar to make it more achievable.

For example;

*Sometimes clapping the rythmn (without playing the instrument) can help.
*Or just play the melody line and then add the harmony.

Encourage your children to work on easily achievable targets. Ie. if your child is trying to play the correct rythmn then don't worry too much about dynamics.

Let them know that mistakes are not bad. It takes years to become an accomplished musican.

morethanpotatoprints Mon 12-May-14 22:22:49


I do wish you would go on grin
My dd used to be a perfectionist a few years ago but has it sussed now.
I totally agree with your mindset comment.
My dd has worked for 5 hours today, it wasn't hard and she totally enjoyed it. She loves ripping up study books and playing scales like she's on acid.
learning new pieces is challenging and she loves jazz and improvising with her dad.
It has never been accepted that it is hard, just some things require a different practice strategy.

1805 Tue 13-May-14 10:33:46

Morethan -

Your dd sounds really motivated and happy doing what she is doing which is great.

I also avoid thinking things are difficult, but more of a 'journey' or 'pathway' with challenges or tests along the way. Cue a reference to computer games if necessary!!!!

As a teacher it is so important to be able to adjust your teaching style to fit each individual pupil.

Good luck to dd.

morethanpotatoprints Tue 13-May-14 12:12:36

Thanks 1805

I like your style, what do you play/teach?

I'm not sure her beliefs are completely innate though at all. I think good and bad attitude tends to come from dh tbh. grin

Theas18 Thu 15-May-14 15:27:06

coming late to this but agree with the last bar starting point, or even better and more advanced start and just do the really hard bits-- loads.

The " freaking out at mistakes" is actually a huge thing for a lot of very able kids and it's positively crippling in all areas.

DS did some art with his 11+ tutor because he felt he was " bad" at art . I can now see the complex psychology involved- do the art, make mistakes in the art, and don't care about them- it's art , it " doesn't matter" and mistakes are painted over/chopped off. The very same attitude had to be used for 11+ mistakes don't matter, at least they don't matter enough to make you freeze and not finish the paper etc.

For perfectionist musicians it isn't probably till they are technically very able that it clicks that it's not perfection that matters it's the music and the story that it tells. Perform well and wrong notes wont be noticed and dodgy counting done with confidence wont disrupt the flow.

I think my kids found this when singing... many many services " performances" if you like as they had a congregation, but don't on never enough practice and sometimes sight reading.

areyoutheregoditsmemargaret Thu 15-May-14 15:48:39

Really grateful for all the advice, to someone like me without much of a musical background and beginner kids, music is intimidating. I'm daunted by all the people on here and in rl with dcs at grade 8 in 3 instruments etc and probably my dcs are too. Baby steps!

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