When you are playing the piano you can say you are making mistakes when there is a set progression or notation that you have to follow or a set pattern that you want to play and you fail to do it exactly.
Improvising and mistakes
If you however improvise, you can not really say you are making a ‘mistake’ because you are improvising, and in improvisation, you can actually play what you want to and if a note sounds strange or not the ‘right’ tone as it should be, then as our jazz instructor always said: “it's just a halftone away’.
So you literally just move to the very next half a tone up or down, and immediately the tension which was created by the so-called ‘wrong’ note is resolved, and actually becomes part of your improvisation which actually enhances your playing!
So the ‘wrong’ note treated instantaneously correctly becomes a plus.
Classical written music, patterns and scales – this is where you need to get things perfect!
The problem of making mistakes is mostly in classical music or in specific lines, patterns or scales you are playing.
Here one needs to play it exactly as it’s written or as it is expected to be played.
There is a discipline needed in being exact.
Fingering: often the primary cause of mistakes
The reason why people often keep making mistakes is because of wrong fingering practised or because of not giving attention to the fingering from the start and they keep changing it.
Continuously changing fingering creates a problem for your muscle memory.
If you have a specific piece of music and there is a certain part with fast running notes or melody and there is specific fingering, you should learn this part very accurately with the correct fingering.
Repeat it every time with the same fingering so that you not only remember it with your mind and your ear but also with your fingers and your muscles.
In this way you will not make that mistake anymore.
Why do I keep making mistakes? Yes, fingering is often the culprit as discussed above.
There are also some students who have a problem with rhythm or timing which should be sorted and the teacher can help to find a suitable solution.
Besides fingering, here are some mistakes you are making along with advice and solutions:
Mistake #1: Not knowing your piece of music
When one plays music from notes or a score, one always has that possibility of making mistakes, until one has worked through the whole piece, and you know that every little part has been practised thoroughly.
Without really knowing your piece from the first note to the last, one will always make mistakes.
The answer is to really know your piece and not to keep practising ‘over’ the mistake.
Stop and take time out to dissect the mistake and correct it. Very important is to correct it, else it will come back again and again.
Mistake #2: Fear of a passage or technical difficulty.
How do I deal with the difficult area?
Sometimes there are mistakes because the player is fearful of a certain passage and will rather just stop playing.
So there is a stop in the music.
At that point you need to determine – ‘Where is the problem? What is the reason?
What am I fearing?
What is the specific part that I need to work on?
It's really important that when you play your piece, and if there is a specific point where you always make a mistake, that you stop and correct it.
Just playing through it once again, hoping it won't happen again will not help at all because it will happen again and again until you sort out the problem.
Just playing over mistakes or ‘stops’, does not help.
The ‘mistakes’ actually get practised over and over instead of being dealt with.
You have to stop.
Deal with it once for all and remove that possibility of ‘mistake’.
It is possible.
You do not have to repeat and repeat mistakes.
It does mean one has to apply your mind to the issue and correct it.
Believe that you can do it!
Solution #1: Mark all the mistakes or difficult areas on your music
A good way to sort out the ‘mistake’ you make, is to mark it on your written piano piece.
Mark every ‘mistake area’ clearly on your music.
Then it's important to break up the specific ‘mistake’ that you are working on.
Try to see “why am I making this mistake?”
It could be changing fingering each time you play, or wrong fingering, or it can just be a difficult technical passage.
Mistakes could be there because you do not know the notes well enough or its just not committed enough into your mind, memory and fingers and ear memory.
What you can do to resolve the ‘mistake’ is to take that marked part where you make the mistake and unravel it or take it apart or dissect it.
It's like when one is knitting a jersey and you slipped a thread or a stitch.
You will need to stop and unravel the knitted part right up to where the mistake was made, else the whole jersey will eventually rip apart.
It's the same with your piece.
You will never be able to play it perfectly and enjoy it if you do not fix the problem.
So take it apart.
Solution #2: Take the “mistake” apart
So to repeat, if there is a mistake, stop, mark it on your book and then start working on it.
Start just a little bit before the ‘mistake’ and you end a just a little bit after the ‘mistake’.
Then practise what is needed, probably first the one hand and then the other.
See if the problem is a chord, or fingering or technique.
It's important only to practise the problem part and not to be tempted to carry on playing the rest of the easy piece.
The problem part needs to be practised and worked on in isolation – a few bars at a time.
Solution #3: Practise hands separately
You can practise each hand separately and then both together.
In some sets it's best to do both hands together from the start.
You will have to try to work out with your mind which will work the best to fix the problem.
I normally practise hands separately, and then together in a problem area.
Solution #4: Use the metronome
Using the metronome for the fixing or correcting of mistakes is always wonderful. (See our article here as well on how to practice with a metronome)
It's like a teacher or a trainer when you are not having your teacher right next to you.
Set your metronome to a slow speed so that it’s ticking with each note.
Then move it up with 2 notches each time, thus increasing the speed.
It helps you to be focussed and repeat the passages while having to give attention to the metronome.
It truly becomes like a friend in helping you fix technical issues and implanting muscle memory into your fingers.
Solution #5: Importance of using your brain and not daydreaming while fixing the issues
Importance of concentration and using your brain in correcting mistakes is vital.
Just repeating passages without giving proper mind, thought, and attention will help, but the repetition of mistakes will probably not be removed this way.
The student will have to apply their minds and have the motivation or belief that they can, to remove the mistake forever.
Make sure you are only doing short passages and do concentrate to have it perfectly done, else why even do it?
Solution #6: Repeat 7 times faultlessly
What I did with my students and myself, for that matter, was to motivate myself to play a certain passage with a ‘mistake’ very slowly but surely, perfectly for 7 times.
If the student can play it 7 times consecutively, without a fault, it's normally solved.
But each time the student makes one little mistake, they have to repeat by starting the 7 times all over again from nr 1.
I really found it motivating to discipline yourself to concentrate and by doing it correctly for 7 times consecutively.
Do try it!
It becomes a great thrill when a ‘mistake’ passage or a difficult technical passage is conquered!
Solution #7: Believe that you can do it – yes, you can stop making those mistakes!
Remember, always making a mistake – is not going to go away by itself!
Sorry to break you this truthful news, but every pianist had to find this out.
It has to be isolated and diagnosed and sorted.
Unfortunately you will have to work on it.
Look at it this way: You really want to play the piece beautifully and enjoy it, so it's best to do the effort and just fix the mistakes!
You only need one or two stubborn ‘mistakes’ that are not sorted to make the whole piece sour.
So think, plan, practise and put in the effort and it will sound beautiful after a while.
You will feel happy and have much more confidence in playing.
The wonderful news is this. “You do not have to keep on making the same mistakes”.
You can play your piece without a ‘mistake’.
It's not only possible but it's worth it and a great pleasure to be able to play right through your piece with great peace and joy and no stopping!
Do it, you can!