Why do we Apologize for 'Wrong' Notes?

It happens to all of us, we hit a wrong note and out slips an "oops, sorry!" as we play on. I know I'm guilty of this, particularly when playing a duet or accompaniment, and I hear students apologizing *all the time* in lessons for missed or wrong notes. 

So why do we do this? My feeling is that this tendency points to an underlying fear of making mistakes, or of letting our teacher or fellow musicians down. In today's post, I'd like to offer some alternatives to apologizing and try to reshape some of our thinking around those inevitable hiccups. 

You may be familiar with the Bob Ross quote pictured here, or at least have seen it floating around the internet. I know I've seen this 'happy little accidents' thinking applied to all sorts of life situations. And I do think that this can be really beneficial thinking for artists & musicians. 

So what can we do when we make a mistake instead of apologizing?

'Jazz it Up'
This is the musician's version of a 'happy little accident.' A note happens that you didn't intend, so what can you do? Respond with curiosity. Laugh. Enjoy the unexpected. If you're in a practice session and have some freedom, maybe follow where that unexpected note leads for a second, and then play on.

Demonstrate Music Fluency
Creating or improvising a solution to get back on track in a piece reinforces your musical fluency. My personal goal is to try to do this without letting an apology slip out, because if we can improvise a solution, the apology is the only thing that signals to a casual listener that there was a mistake in the first place. Don't tell people when you mess up, and they probably won't notice. This will build a good performance mindset for thinking on our feet.

Perfection is Rare 
Like, really really rare. There is ALWAYS something we can continue to improve on. Even in pieces we've worked on extensively. When you're practicing, don't hold yourself to an unhealthy standard of perfection every single time you sit down to play. Be patient and kind with yourself, and enjoy the journey. If you're having a session full of 'happy little accidents,' give yourself space to be creative, humor to make mistakes, and patience to work through the challenging sections.

For piano parents, encouraging your students to be curious and find humor in their practice sessions will increase their enjoyment while at the piano. Naturally, we want to keep improving, and grow to be more consistent with playing the notes we intend to play, but we want to do this with positive self-talk and healthy internal dialogue, so that music, while providing some challenge, also becomes a safe place to land. So have fun, and when a musical little accident comes along, let's not apologize for it, and maybe see where it leads.



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