Playing Through – The Art of Owning Your Mistakes

In the horse world, when things go wrong, there is a two-word saying and it goes like this; ‘Ride through’. In other words, you just keep going. Nothing is ever accomplished by remaining on the ground in a slumped heap. No matter how bad it hurts.
True of all sports.
True of the Fine Arts.
Never more true with a stringed instrument.

To be clear, no one is advocating dancing on a broken ankle, or playing the cello or violin with a strained wrist. No one is asking you to aim for the Make it Worse Award.
But sometimes stuff, well, just happens!

Our injured Pride

Granted, you can strain a wrist either over-practicing or utilizing incorrect technique, nevertheless, stories of catastrophic injuries in the violin or stringed playing world do not exactly fill the nightly news. Pride, however, is often the most fragile body part of them all. Perhaps you played the wrong note right in the second bar of your solo moment! Perhaps you didn’t make it to the next round of auditions. Or get notified of the audition in the first place! Sometimes, life just doesn’t seem fair! That girl who sits next to you with her viola and claims she never practices, just got into the high school music Conservatoire program up at Walnut Hill School for the Arts! The guy who got that coveted summer school place at Julliard last year, never talks to anyone, Ever. He’s so quiet. Why him? It’s just not fair. Why can’t that be me?

Fight or Flight

When something happens, it is tempting to blame others. This is a natural outcrop of our very human Fight or Flight response; the ancient built in response signaling us to not stand in the way of that stampeding herd of woolly mammoths.

It’s Not Fair

Our adrenaline kicks into gear. We want to fight back or hide from the thing that has just happened to us. So, even if not publicly, somewhere inside, we throw down our violin bows, further pancake that B Flat, or just plain threaten to quit because things are too hard. What is the point? I’m never going to get anywhere with this violin thing anyway!!

The Blame Game

Well before you get your C Sharps in a twist, take a deep breath. Slide that bow back into the case and your stringed instrument along with it. Back-away-very-slowly from quitting, Below, are ten steps young, musicians can do to benefit from their mistakes, or negative event.

Empower The Moment

You’ve probably heard the mantra; there are no mistakes, so many times it seems clichéd. But it is true. Sure, can you do something wrong? Yes, of course. Do seemingly undeserved negative experiences happen? Of course, they do. But beyond that initial moment of hurt feelings and disappointment, what you do with that experience is down to you. You are in the driving seat! Fully in control. It is what happens afterwards that can really make the difference. This is where you can make a mistake work for you, or against you.

What Happened?

Spend some time in reflection. There’s a difference between dwelling on the negative experience and processing them with a purpose. The former releases the same negative adrenaline as the initial experience. The latter empowers you to turn that experience to your advantage. To be pro-active. In other words, to examine the event, taking an honest look at your involvement in the outcome.


Successful people make mistakes. They understand it is all part of the learning process. What’s more, they are not afraid to make them! This makes them not afraid to try. More tries increase the odds of more success in the long term. Adding up to a very simple math everyone is capable of understanding.

Stand up to Rejection

No one like to fail. No one likes to feel or to be rejected. But from amateur to seasoned professional, the arts and entertainment industry is based on selection and rejection. Not everyone can get ‘the’ part. If there are only three opening spots for violas in the local symphony orchestra, and twenty five audition…If you have set your sights on the top spot conservatoire music program in the country, and they take only a handful of students each year, then the odds against you getting in, are somewhat stacked against you. That’s the reality.

Why Try?

So why even bother? Because by not being afraid of so-called failure, or mistakes, enables you to make the effort and try in the first place. To take those extra lessons, to consciously develop the talent necessary to be competitive. You may not make it this time around, but you can certainly take the entire experience and apply it to the next attempt.

What did you Learn?

After the initial upset has settled, ask, what did I learn from this? If I didn’t get into the music college of my choice, did I apply early enough, as soon as applications opened? Conversely, did I wait until after the New Year when everyone else is trying to cram their applications in also? Did I make First String this year? If not, then why not? What do I need to do in order to ‘up my game’, taking things to the next level?

Seek Advice

The success bound seek advice. They are not afraid to ask, to seek constructive criticism knowing there is always something to be improved upon. Beyond the obvious, more practice, what else might you need to work on? Has your violin playing become a little flat, lacking in enthusiasm? Perhaps it is time to ask for more challenging pieces, or to set new, attainable goals that drive renewed enthusiasm.

Always Ask

Ask those who know you best for honest answers. Does your stringed instrument need an upgrade or badly needed repair in order to reach the rich, more complex sounds required in advanced playing? Are you getting enough sleep? Or are you distracted by a plethora of smart phones and other devices pulling you onto your friends’ Facebook and Instagram pages before bed? Is there a bow technique needing closer attention? A new, more demanding style of playing requiring shorter, more intense practice times? Or were you just out-experienced and out-classed? It happens. It’s okay. You go through all the above to work out why.

Back on the Strings

You figure it out, and you get back to it! No need to overthink. It’s not rocket science. Sometimes, things are only as complicated as we make them. Put what you have learned into practice. Remember, you’re in the driver’s seat. Now is the time to implement any changes needing to be made. Taking ownership and learning from our mistakes is one thing. Implementing the lessons learned is another. Make honest adjustments to include re-setting some long or short term goals. Improvement in certain areas may make it to your list.

Time for Review

Review your progress. If you have asked a mentor or your music teacher to hold you accountable, are you continuing to make progress? If time keeping has been an issue for you, have you taken steps to improve your time keeping? Are you now showing up for string lessons and rehearsals on time? Are you practicing with renewed energy? Perhaps next time, believing you listen and concentrate more, your teacher will tell you about that conservatoire audition or advanced playing workshop. Maybe next time, you will be the young musician the rest of the orchestra is whispering about.
It can happen.

How you Move Forward Matters

We all make mistakes. All of us. We have failures, shortcomings, misses near and far. The successful ones pick themselves up. The really successful ones figure out what went wrong. The really, really successful ones implement the lessons learned, practice and review.

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