Learning to Keep Score

Isn't amazing how, as you get older, you start be less and less bothered by the occasional mistake.  With age do we become more tolerant, more understanding, more empathic, etc…?

When you quit college/conservatory you are often preparing for auditions where every missed note is potentially the end of your day.  I remember doing a excerpt master class with Dale Clevenger in undergraduate school. ( a few years ago…)  During the master class he had a chalkboard on stage behind us, and he would make a mark on the board for each mistake that he heard during the excerpt.  The mistakes could be anything from intonation, tempo, rhythm, etc…  Now, there are two parts to this story because the fact that you know every mistake will be noted, and that you will hear him scratching the chalk on the board while you play is very nerve racking.  Those few minutes with him doing that were more stressful than any audition I ever took afterwards, and that was the point, of course.  My only real success during the exercise was that he didn't give me any marks for Siegfried's Short Call, the same can't be said for Tchaikovsky 5.  Be that as it may, when you are young you are taught to count the mistakes.  Keep a running tally, repeat the phrase a hundred times until it is perfect (does that exist?).


Once you win a job things change, but only slightly.  During your trial period it takes a very special person to not over think every little error, and its possible impact on your tenure.  So you are still counting missed notes, amongst many other things.  You would think that once you have your tenured contract in your hot little hands that you might relax.  Well, depending on your mental resistance, you might start to really relax and enjoy the amazing job which is being a professional musician.

Personally, I found that it took years for me to get over mistakes.  I learned quickly to not keep them in mind during the rest of the concert, but afterwards I had some terrible sleepless nights "replaying" the mistake over and over in my dreams.  This happened even over the littlest error.  After 22 years I sleep pretty well after an "off" night.  Maybe it is possible that with age we are philosophical about mistakes.  I know that I analyze why the mistake occurred much better than 20 years ago.  That is only logical, but as a "rookie" you are not always the most objective observer.

As a student "keeping score" and learning how to keep score are vital to our development.  With experience comes more nuance in our analysis.  I suggest doing the following:

1. Play a run-through of your concerto movement, etude, scale, excerpt, etc….

2. Take a notebook and begin to write down everything mistake that you remember.  If unsure of your memory record your  performance and play it back. Just be aware that unless you have a portable studio with you that the quality of the recording will not do justice to some aspects of your playing.

3.  Leave space after each error for your own comments/crtitiques.  Then continue with a plan to correct that mistake.  If you are unsure take your paper to your lesson and present the problem to your teacher for  their analysis.

4.  When you schedule your next "run-through"  compare notes between different versions to see how you have progressed.

This is slightly different than a practice log, or at least more detailed than some I have seen or heard about because this a log book to track a performance not day by day work.  Give it a try.  It may not be a useful tool for everyone, but it would be good to start keeping your own score and not just letting your teacher do all the work.

The next time you practice Till Eulenspiegal give it a try.  If you do this for a week you will have 7 versions performed with comments for every single one.  Be your own chalkboard and make a mark in your own book, and then find the solution.

© Bruce Richards 2012-2019