Messing Up

Apr 28, 2023 | Welcome Column

(The daily grist quote on the splash page you just clicked is from Ludwig van Beethoven. He was a really great musician and I wonder what he would have thought of bluegrass music).

We all do it. No matter how good a musician you are, you will mess up occasionally. Maybe you will slide through and cover the error and nobody will notice. Maybe it’s just a casual jam and nobody will really care as long as the music keeps flowing in a rhythm groove. If you’re on stage the worst that can happen is that you’ll have to start again and get it right. Getting it right is what’s important and your audience will still support you if you do that, especially if you can charm them with a bit of impromptu banter. The late John Prine was a master at it:

I’ve played breaks I thought were absolutely terrible yet people complimented me on them. We hear what we want to hear sometimes and if the music has a flow and a soul it doesn’t necessarily have to be what the musician intended to sound good. Maybe it won’t sound good to you but if you put your heart into the music it might sound better to most people than what you wanted to play. As my friend Dan Levinson said “There are no wrong notes in music, just notes you didn’t intend to play. If you don’t like the note you just played, well don’t play that note next time” (I paraphrase but the quote has always stuck with me because it’s so true).

We have to be relaxed when we play music if we want to get our best out of it. When music collapses we call it a train wreck. The experience of causing a train wreck is not fun. My suggestion: start again with grace, as Prine did in the video, or call a train song to substitute for the wreck of a song that nobody wants to remember.

Messing up is good for you. It makes you realize that you don’t play as well as you thought you did. You need to go back to the woodshed and polish that tune you thought you knew. Next time you’ll nail it at least well enough that nobody notices how badly you actually played.

Messing up means you’re human. It doesn’t mean you’re lazy or that you don’t care about the music. Sometimes you mess up because you are trying to reach higher and stretch the music to the limits of your capability. You might be trying to play like your bluegrass idol.

But if you fall short don’t worry. They mess up too! Listen to enough live albums and you realize that professional musicians are human, just like you. And some of the mess ups you might hear from the pros are whoppers!

CBA Music Camp starts in a couple of months. Have you registered yet?



Read about: