Make Loud Mistakes

Exaggerating mistakes can be a surprisingly valuable approach to our flute practice. Here, I offer practical strategies to learn through your mistakes

make loud mistakes

Everyone is probably familiar with the adage “learn from your mistakes,” but what if I suggested a slight tweak to that saying? As flute players, we should learn through our mistakes. The traditional advice implies that we should simply note what our mistakes were and avoid them at all costs. The latter suggests that perhaps by repeating our mistakes, exaggerating them even, we can learn important lessons that will not only stop us from mindlessly make those same mistakes but may prevent future ones! 

All it takes is a bit of reframing—learning to view our mistakes as opportunities for learning rather than frustrating obstacles. In this blog we’ll explore how exaggerating mistakes during our practice can lead to valuable insight into our playing. 

So… let’s make some mistakes!

Understanding the Value of Mistakes

Learning music can be demanding. Music students are taught very early in their careers to aim for excellence and precision in their performance, and are trained to avoid mistakes at all costs, viewing them as a sign that they haven’t practiced effectively or enough.

And while this is true when it comes to performance—of course we don’t want to make mistakes in a performance—this is problematic for many reasons. Striving for perfection can put undue stress on us as musicians and humans (because we’ll never obtain ‘perfection’) but the fear of mistakes will also cause us to overlook their value.

Permission to fail

The Inner Game of Music author Barry Green noticed that when he asked his bass students to demonstrate their mistakes to a classroom, they would often find it difficult to recreate the mistakes. Green suggests that this was due to the fact that students had given themselves permission to fail. By releasing themselves from the stress of having to get it right, students managed to… well, get it right. He suggests “Give yourself the serious job of getting it wrong, until your ‘concern for getting it right’ goes away.”  

By giving ourselves permission to fail, we release ourselves from the fear of mistakes. Green quotes Gestalt psychologist Fritz Perls who says ‘trying fails, awareness cures,’ adding we can create so much tension in our playing when we try too hard. “This kind of trying results from doubt. If we didn’t doubt our ability to perform the task at hand, we wouldn’t need to try. You don’t ‘try’ to sit down and pick up the paper when you get home from work, do you?” 

This tension can be particularly noticeable when playing a piece with a ‘difficult’ bit, you know, the sort of section where it just seems like everything we’ve ever learned goes out the window and we’re left with a hot mess, no matter how hard we practice it. This is because we know it’s hard, and that causes us to try harder to play it correctly. So, instead, try giving yourself permission to flubb the whole section and you might be surprised.

Reframing Mistakes

It’s too easy to see mistakes in our flute playing as setbacks or failure. But it’s worth reminding yourself that errors can be valuable opportunities for growth and improvement! They are teaching moments that can tell us so much about our flute playing.

This is of course easier said than done, because it requires a complete shift of mindset. But instead of responding to mistakes with a reactionary emotional response (frustration, embarrassment, fear or anger), try taking a step back and asking yourself “what does that mistake tell me?” 

How to Learn Through Your Mistakes

Just like anything else, learning to reframe your mistakes will take practice, and even still even the best practicers will still find that emotional reaction still rise to the surface. But the more you practice asking yourself what you can learn from than mistakes rather than belittling yourself over them, the better you’ll get at it. 

Here are a few tips on how to make the most of your mistakes in the practice room. 

Step 1: Identify the mistake

Start with a section or excerpt that causes you repeated trouble. Try to identify the exact issue. Don’t settle for vague statements, you want to know specially what happened.

So for example, don’t say ‘I always mess up that run’. Instead, determine exactly where your fingers slipped up. Which note? What do your fingers do instead? 

While that might be easier on technical errors, this same approach applies across the board. If your sound on a note isn’t what you’d like, find out exactly what the issue is. Don’t just say ‘that E is always rubbish’, explain to yourself what was wrong with that E. Does it crack? If so, in which direction? Is it airy? Is it flat? 

Step 2: Identify the root cause of the mistake

Now that you’ve identified the problem, you need to dig further and find out the root cause. Otherwise, focusing on avoiding the mistake without understanding the root cause is a bit like treating a symptom rather than the illness. 

Maybe you missed a G# in a run. Did you miss it because the previous run had a G natural, so your muscle memory is confused? Or is it because your left hand pinky struggles to stretch to the G# key in time? The mistake in both of these cases is the same (a missed G#), but both have very different root causes.

And in some cases, the root of the problem might be deeper than you think. For example, if it’s because your pinky is struggling to reach the G# key, that probably means it’s a posture issue. Is there enough space between your flute and shoulders? Is your left elbow too high? See if you can pinpoint the origin of the mistake.

Step 3: Exaggerate your mistake 

With all this new information, try exaggerating mistake. If you’ve determined that it’s a posture issue, make the posture even worse and try again. What happens?

The point is to really feel the difference between what you were doing and an even more ‘wrong’ way of doing it.

Step 4: Stop trying so hard 

Try playing the section or excerpt again, armed with your new information but giving yourself permission to get it wrong (because, remember, getting it wrong only means you have something new to learn!). 

What happens? Chances are you probably play it much better.   

Everyone Makes Mistakes

To make mistakes is to be human. You will make mistakes, everyone does, but the difference between good musicians and excellent ones lies in their approach to the mistakes they do make. 

The musicians who view each error not as a failure but curiously as an opportunity to learn, will progress so much further than one who focuses on avoiding mistakes at all cost. By embracing what mistakes can teach us, we release ourselves from the pressures of unachievable perfection.  

Share Your Mistakes Proudly With a Supportive Community!

If you’re looking for a supportive flute community that encourages mistakes as learning aids, I invite you to sign up to the Flute Nerd Lab. This new, vibrant flute learning community is designed specifically to be a safe space for adult flute players to grow, and that includes encouraging members to make their mistakes loudly! 

The Flute Nerd Lab was built for players who are looking for a a supportive network of peers and mentors. Together, we’ll explore unique approaches to practice through weekly challenges, share experiences in loads of regular live events like coffee chats and workshops, and celebrate each other’s progress. Join flute nerd family today!

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