I have no idea how many times I’ve heard “I always make that mistake!” Students say it frequently. Truth is, I have even been known to say it. There’s one measure in Cosi fan tutte that troubles me every time I’ve played the opera. ONE measure. EVERY time. One measure out of a nearly three hour opera. Four seconds of music. It’s tricky for me. But I’m required to play it well. I can’t tell the conductor (and audience), “Oh, sorry, but I make that mistake every time!”

So what should one do about it?

Um … easy-peasy: FIX IT!

Fix it so you can’t get it wrong.

That measure is as important as all the other measures in the work.

Saying, “I always make that mistake” seems to give some students (and even me) some sort of permission to mess up. That needs to stop.

I teach my students to isolate the problem. Stop starting from the beginning of the piece. There is no commandment that says, “Thou shalt always start from the beginning.” Go directly to that measure. Spend five-thousand-seven-hundred-and-twenty-three minutes with it. (Yes, I make up goofy numbers like that.) Don’t stop until you can play it perfectly five times IN A ROW. Then make sure you can do the “five times in a row” rule for four DAYS IN A ROW. Make it ten times in a row for a week if you really want to know you’ve probably got it right. Make it a month if necessary. After you have fixed it you should then work on connecting it to the preceding and following measures. Add a measure (or even just a few notes if necessary) one at a time so you know you have it figured out: sometimes it’s the getting there that makes a measure more tricky, after all, and sometimes the following measure causes us to slip up for some reason. Think of each measure as a link in a chain. Make sure that all those links are strong but then make sure they are fully connected so that chain won’t break.

But the point I’m trying to make here:

That measure matters!

Do the rest of the measures in the piece matter?

Yes. Of course they do. That’s a silly question. And a distraction. If a student responded to my “isolate the problem and fix it” with “but the other measures …” I’d probably sigh and explain it all again. That difficult measure has to be fixed in order for the piece to be correct. That measure has to get more attention. Period.

Hm. I wonder if we can connect this to any other issues that are happening at the moment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.