Why Mistakes Are So Important

June 24, 2015

 

We all know the old expression, “Practice makes perfect.” As a teacher, I definitely like to preach this sentiment as much as possible, and I think pretty much everyone can agree with it no matter what it is you’re trying to get better at. Where all the debate and confusion comes in, however, is what exactly is supposed to be going on when you’re practicing. A lot of people have this assumption, that since practice makes perfect, the more time you put in, the more likely you will get perfect, and therefore people just haphazardly throw themselves in a practice room waiting for the perfect to all of a sudden hit them.  As I’ve written in previous blogs, there are a lot of different ways to go about practicing, and what may work for one person, may not for another.

In this blog, I want to talk about something that I think can hold true for pretty much everyone and it is something that for some reason people see as counterintuitive to practice. This idea is the welcoming of mistakes. I believe when you practice, obviously the goal is to eventually play mistake-free, but I don’t think that can happen until an enormous amount of mistakes are made. The perfect isn’t just going to happen all of a sudden once you hit a magical number of hours.

If you ever watch a guided missile, you’ll notice that it doesn’t go directly to its target. The missile will get a little too far to the left, and then correct itself, and then maybe go a little too far to the right, and then correct itself again. Your brain works in a remarkably similar way. Even if your brain knows what the end goal is, it’s going to make mistakes getting there. It is up to you as the practicer to help guide it back on its desired path. What’s great though is your brain is a great learner and these actions actually help solidify the path even better. The thing I always tell people is that when you’re practicing, your brain needs to learn what not to do just as much as it needs to learn what to do, and these two things actually help make each other stronger.

This is why spending so much time practicing is helpful. The more time you practice, the more mistakes you’re likely to make, and the more your brain can learn what not to do, and solidify what it’s supposed to do. This is, of course, if you know how to deal with those mistakes. 


The key to this is just to immediately recognize when you make a mistake. Almost have an inward conversation with your brain. “Ok brain, we did this, we are supposed to do that.” It seems really silly, but this has proven time and time again to be effective for all of my students. There are even studies showing that teaching your brain exactly what to do by showing it what not to do actually helps let your brain work on things subconsciously when you’re not participating in the activity. I definitely don’t mind getting better at guitar while I’m asleep or playing video games.

The real takeaway point here is you shouldn’t get so frustrated with yourself if you make a mistake while practicing, as I see so many people do. Just take it as it is, realize it was a mistake, and know that recognizing it is going to help you get things right more often. It's all part of getting better.

Any experiences with this, or anything you want to add? You can always email me at the address below. 

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Happy Practicing!

Mike Lowden
Guitar Instructor, Co-Owner
mikelowden@fallsmusicschool.com

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