I recently observed some primary school students during a group keyboard lesson at their school. Their keyboard teacher had asked them to practice a song with their headphones on.
The first student to reach the end of the song, fist-pumped the air and cheered “no mistakes”. Then the second student to complete the song did the same, “no mistakes” and so on it went as all the kids in the group completed the song. (I suspect some of them performed this ritual whether they had made some mistakes or not.)
It reminded me of a phrase one of piano teachers, Prof. Anthony Glavin at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, was fond of saying…
“The man who never made a mistake never made anything”.
So it was a curious thing to observe the way of thinking that has become so entrenched in the psyche of these young students. For many people, fear of making a mistake has evolved to the point where the pursuit of excellence as an ideal has been replaced by what could be summarized as “passable is good enough — as long as I can say I didn’t make a mistake”.
Mistakes are both necessary and beneficial
At the risk of stating the obvious, there is a difference between doing something really well, and doing it without any mistakes.
And we must encourage and empower young people to aim higher by teaching them that it is not only OK to make mistakes on your journey towards achieving your goals — it is both necessary and beneficial.
Mistakes are how we learn. We can only achieve greatness by making mistakes.
To use a business analogy; there is a well-known story about a young journalist who is sitting next to a highly successful entrepreneur on a long flight.
The young journalist had long been an admirer of this man’s achievements and successes, so he turned to the entrepreneur and asked, “What is the secret to success?”
“Make decisions” was his reply.
Somewhat troubled by this answer, the young journalist thought about this for a few minutes before asking, “But how do you know if you are making the right decisions?”
“Experience”, said the entrepreneur.
“But how do you get experience?”
So mistakes are more than OK. Mistakes are good.
If you play your heart out when performing a piece of music, yes, you might clip the occasional wrong note, but you will transport yourself and your audience in a way that a “mistake-free” performance never could.
The music is in the expression, not just the notes.
Perfectionism has its place, but don’t live your life always trying to do everything perfectly. More often than not, just letting go and being the best, most authentic version of yourself, warts (or mistakes) and all, is what makes you unique and remarkable.
No one else can be a greater you than you.
So kids (and adults), go out and live your life. Make some mistakes today.
Til next time,
Brendan Hogan L.Mus.A, A.Mus.A.
Piano Teacher & Musiah Inventor
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