I grow weary of the four words, “I always do that!” They nearly always occur as a student’s excuse for making a mistake. It’s as though if he or she always does that there’s no reason to fix it. It’s “just the way it is”, after all, and I suppose I’m just supposed to look the other way.

Can you imagine if we used those four words in other areas of our lives?

Try telling a police officer who pulls you over for speeding, “I always do that!” I suspect you’ll still get a ticket.

How about getting a wrong answer on a math problem and telling the teacher, “I always do that!” You’ll still be graded accordingly.

So why is “I always do that!” okay to tell a music teacher? Try something new …

First, don’t accept the “I always do that” excuse. Attempt to fix the problem. Slow down. I really mean that! S L O W D O W N !!!

Get it?

If you make a mistake, stop and think about WHY you are making the mistake. Sometimes it helps to say something out loud. I’ve been known to say, “Don’t play an A flat there!”

Really.

Sometimes I have to tell myself what I’m doing wrong in order to really fix the issue. Perhaps a more positive approach would be to yell out “A NATURAL!” That would work too.

Whittle things down to a manageable and FIXABLE portion of music. If you “always do that!” in measure 14, stop working from measure 1. Start with ONLY measure 14. Fix the issue. (SLOW DOWN! Remember?) Take it as slowly as you need to to play it perfectly. Yes, it might be miserably slow, but if you don’t fix the problem it will remain a problem, yes? After you find the tempo that allows perfection, play it five times IN A ROW perfectly. Then move the metronome up a notch or two. Do the five times in a row thing perfectly again. Move the metronome up a few more notches. Repeat. Do this for a while.

But you aren’t done yet!

You might have fixed measure 14, but you’ve not linked it up to measures 13 and 15, have you? So do that next. You might have to slow down again. Use your metronome. The five times in a row rule applies again. You get the idea. After that are you finished? Nope! It’s time to link those three measures up to their next door neighbors! And yes, that five times in a row rule applies yet again.

Trust me, if you do this diligently the “I always do that!” line can disappear from your vocabulary.

Accuracy matters. Greatly. Don’t settle for less.

2 Comments

  1. My revered flute teacher, Tom Nyfenger, used to talk about how we humans are learning machines. We “learn” mistakes and bad practices just as readily as we learn good things. Sometimes glitches “just happen” in a particular play-through of a piece. That’s one thing. But if you regularly make the same mistake in the same passage, and if you don’t set out to fix it, then what you’re doing is teaching yourself to make that mistake. The more you repeat it wrongly, the more difficult it gets to eventually unlearn the mistake.

  2. That’s what I teach my students as well. They hear that a lot!