Great Performers Make Mistakes

Helping students who are naturally timid become confident and beautiful performers is an exhilarating and challenging task for a teacher. So, how do you get your students to realize that their contribution to musical society is valuable? Understanding where the source of timidity is coming from can make it easier to figure out a resolution to the problem. For example:

1. A perfectionist student may be concerned with making “mistakes” and focus more on the notes and timings than on the musicality.

2. If a student has a parent who calls out mistakes instead of focusing on the positive then he may become a lack-luster performer.

3. A shy student often has difficulty projecting himself emotionally or dynamically because he does not feel comfortable with attracting attention.

4. Teachers who squelch a student’s natural desires to create and explore can dampen the child’s inherent confidence and belief in his abilities.

And so forth…

Teachers have the important role of instilling in their students the “OK-ness” to make mistakes; be it through fun games and exercises, positive comments and encouragement, setting goals with students, or including parent participation, etc. The freedom to express music without constraints on perfectionism is essential to molding confident and musical students.

Create opportunities for students to “practice making mistakes.” Some ideas include:

1. When a student first plays a piece at the lesson consider it a “performance” and do not allow him to stop. If the student stops to fix a mistake quickly call out “keep going.” The student must pick up from where he left off and NOT go back to fix the mistake.

2. Sight reading exercises are great for practicing letting go of minor mistakes. Sight reading is not usually as “personal” to a student since he has not invested time and emotion into learning the piece. When a stumble occurs teach him to keep going and to focus on making beautiful music. He should never stop and fix a mistake!

3. In preparation for a recital create many opportunities to distract or throw off your student’s performance. If a mistake occurs remind him to “keep going” until the end of the piece. This is also great concentration practice!

4. Make a game where each time the student makes a mistake yet keeps going he gets a reward (money, M&M’s, etc), but each time he makes a mistake and stops the reward is removed.


For some students learning to be OK with mistakes will take continued effort and encouragement on the part of the teacher. But, the ultimate reward for following through on this lesson is a confident and musical student.

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