Why You Should Make Purposeful Mistakes In Practice

One of my biggest breakthroughs in my horn playing came around a decade ago when I was studying with a great horn player and teacher that I’ll simply call Mr. P.

Mr. P helped me fix (or start to fix, at least) the numerous problems that I had in my playing with a variety of approaches. One of his approaches that really stuck with me and that I often use today was what I’ll call “Purposeful Mistakes”

Purposeful Mistakes

I have no memory of what exactly we were working on (probably Kopprasch of some sort), but I was messing up something (articulation, most likely) and after a few minutes of working on it, his eyes lit up and I got his highest compliment – “good”.

I thought that we were going to either move on or that I was going to do it again, but he immediately said: “now, do it wrong again.”

I (of course) nailed the wrong way the first time.

In my head, I get a compliment for being able to do it wrong so consistently, but I don’t think that actually happened.

Without missing a beat, he said “Okay. What was different?”

Why You Should Make Purposeful Mistakes

What Mr. P did was he basically forced me to be aware of both what I was playing and how I was playing it.

In order to play the same passage correctly and incorrectly – on command – I had to pay attention to all sorts of things. My embouchure, air, tongue positioning, articulation, etc. all had to be monitored and adjusted according to what I was hearing.

I, of course, knew that I should pay attention to these things, but framing it as simply “play it right, and then wrong, and then note what is different” had never occurred to me. It, like many of Mr. P’s teachings, was both simple and useful.

On a deeper level, connecting the mechanisms of playing to the actual sounds being produced meant that I wasn’t just a bystander to the sounds that came out of my bell. All the variables that go into making a single note can be monitored and adjusted if you know where to direct your attention.

This was, as you can image, a pretty awesome revelation.

Try It Out

Next time that you finally conquer that challenging measure in an etude or solo piece, don’t move on so quickly.

Instead, spend some time playing the “good” and “bad” versions. Really focus on internalizing the differences in sound and feel between the two, and see what concepts or techniques that you can apply to other repertoire.

After all, to be a good horn player you must be a good problem solver.