Kept a running ”Mistakes” tally yesterday during teaching clarinet; each kid (and me, of course!) received a tally for each squeak, wrong note, missed entrance, etc… Besides laughing ourselves silly we figured out a few things:
1) some mistakes actually sound really cool. There is nothing like an epic squeak on a high note to clear the air!
2) most mistakes are part of the process and expected, so it pays to just get onto the next note.
3) each mistake is actually an opportunity to learn something neat. The things we learn in those moments usually “stick” more than the successful stuff.
4) teachers are totally not exempt from mistakes, and showing these as they occur loosens up everyone so learning can occur .
5) allowing for mistakes makes them less likely to happen, a frustrating paradox that is really fun to play with!
Some of my younger students have little signs of budding perfectionism: they stop when they make a mistake and sigh or exclaim in frustration, they make offhand negative comments about themselves, or their shoulders are way too tense for a sixth grader. I see these little tics and know that they can grow into crippling performance anxiety, diminished capacity for creativity, kids who quit making music because it stops being fun, or physical injury from tension. To erase this from their budding musicianship I just shift the kids into play mode; I high five their mistakes, we jump around during warm-ups, I make a huge mistake and celebrate in front of them, we tally mistakes and make discoveries.
Chasing achievement only means pushing it farther away; you may achieve short-term gain of learning a piece, but you’ll pay a big price. Relax into “Play Mode” and the musical discovery and proficiency chases after you!