Pete's Blog

Mistakes

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My young students are a highly motivated, if occasionally over-scheduled, bunch and sometimes music throws them for a loop. These are kids who have been taking tests since they learned how to write, after all, or even before. So music's non-empirical side can be confusing. They've been told since Day One to check their work. A paper is put before them reading "Two plus two equals BLANK." They are instructed to fill in the answer, then think about whether it's right or not. If they put "Five," then erase it and put down "Four," they get full marks. Music doesn't work like that. When you realize you've made a mistake that mistake is already in the past. On making a mistake playing for me the successful school-kid invariably stops, goes back a bit, and tries to play the passage correctly, not realizing that in music this just makes things worse by stopping time. The idea they don't get is that music exists outside us and goes on by itself. Playing music is about making something else - not making ourselves, which is the focus of most of the rest of their education. What you can do, I tell them, if you catch the mistake quickly enough, is rewrite the problem, from "Two plus two equals five" to "Two plus two equals five minus one," by adding a note or tweaking things one way or another. The difficulty with this for most well-educated kids this that this deviates from The Path as it has been Set Down. So then I tell them that if you keep on playing the whole thing tends to come around again, giving you a second chance to get it right, and thus full marks. And if you make the same mistake again, deliberately, because you liked the way it sounded, you make the Honor Roll.

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