During a piano lesson the other day, my teacher said to me, “you strike me as the kind of person who doesn’t like to make mistakes.” What he had observed is that when I was trying to play a song, rather than play a wrong note, I would stop and think and then continue playing. I don’t believe his point was to insult me, rather to point out that I might improve faster if I allowed myself to make the mistake, rather than letting my perfectionism take over.
Yesterday morning, my music theory teacher said something about mistakes, too. He said, “If you are pushing yourself where development happens, you are going to make mistakes.” When you are in growth mode, that’s where mistakes happen. If you weren’t trying to grow, you wouldn’t make mistakes. There would be no need. People don’t usually make mistakes inside their comfort zone, that’s why they like to stay there.
Mistakes are how we learn. If I sit down at the piano and play a new scale perfectly the first time, then that’s not where practice needs to happen. I already know the scale. (Music is weird like that. If you know one scale and have a good musical ear, it’s not too hard to play all the other scales without much practice.) But if I sit down to play a new piece of music and I can’t get through it without making mistakes, then that’s where I need to place my focus during practice.
Practicing the things that cause you to make the most mistakes will cause you to make the most growth. It sounds intuitive, and it is, but I love to spend my practice on things I’m already good at. It gives my ego a little boost, but it sure doesn’t grow my skills as a musician. My piano teacher is right. I hate making mistakes.
Make more mistakes. Be bold in your mistakes, too, for maximum growth. Not everything in life is a performance. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Mistakes are authentic. Mistakes are how we grow as artists and people. Toss perfectionism out the window and play the wrong notes once in a while.