The other day I was with a student and had what you might call an epiphany.
I was explaining the difference between practicing for learning and practicing for performance.
Not all practice is created equal and there are different mindsets for whatever you may be working on. You should have a clear vision on what your focus is at any given moment in your practice session.
As it often does in a lesson, the subject of mistakes came up.
This particular student was rather frustrated on the scale passage we were working on and got aggravated every time they made a mistake -- rightfully so.
This is what led to our discussion of practicing for learning and practicing for performance... and in both cases... how mistakes can actually be a good thing.
That's right, people.
MISTAKES CAN BE... AND OFTEN ARE... A GOOD THING
This may not make sense at first, and I understand. We've been taught our whole lives to eliminate mistakes. This leads most of us to develop a deep-seated fear in our subconcious.
Now I'm not an advocate for sloppy guitar playing, and this is not an excuse for you to get lazy in your practice habits.
But think about it...
What are mistakes?
When it comes down to it, they are just an indicator that something isn't right. And that, my friends is a good thing.
It let's you know where you need to work harder... where you need to really pick things apart and figure out what is going wrong.
Now, depending on whether you're practicing to perform or practicing to learn, you will treat your mistakes a little differently.
I'll bet at this point you're thinking about practicing to learn... it's fairly obvious why pointing out your mistakes is a good thing, right? You have to make sure you're learning the correct way.
One not-so-obvious thing is that pointing out your mistakes is only half of it... you must get good at coming up with solutions to fix your mistakes, too. And you need to learn to get creative with those solutions.
But what about mistakes in performance?
Aren't mistakes a bad thing when you're performing?
Yes, you do want to avoid mistakes when performing. It's why we spend so much time practicing, right? After all, a bunch of sloppy mistakes will definitely ruin a performance.
But, you have to remember that perfection is a myth... a unicorn... the preverbal 'pot of gold'
Mistakes are going to happen in a performance whether you like it or not. Some are worse than others, and some may even become "happy accidents," where you totally hit the wrong note but it ends up sounding amazing.
That being said, the practice mindset of performance is where you get you're work done. When you're practicing for performance you want to find a way to turn up the pressure on yourself a little. Something as simple as recording yourself on your phone is a good way to stir up your nerves.
The goal is simple: Shoot for a near-perfect recording and don't stop for mistakes. When mistakes occur you want to learn to recover as quickly as possible.
What you want to practice here is what I refer to as, "noticing your mistakes before they happen." Sounds weird, right? I agree, but it is a thing. As you work on being aware of your mistakes, you eventually get to a point where you can start to recognize the tiny fluctuations in your state of mind while your playing, and you can actually see a mistake coming and stop it from happening.
Mistakes are unavoidable. They will always happen and we must first learn to accept that, and second learn to let go of the fear of making mistakes. Use your mistakes to your advantage in your practice sessions.
Don't look at mistakes as something to be ashamed of... instead, embrace your mistakes and see them as opportunities to improve.
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