It’s OK. Play a wrong note.

Last spring we heard an excellent talk by Edwin Gnandt (Professor at Ambrose University College) on the shifts in piano playing and teaching from the Romantic Period to the current scene. A summary can be found by clicking here.

Last week Edwin gave pretty much the same talk at the APTA Conference but with a few extras tossed in. I took copious notes – again. Here are some tidbits that either didn’t make their way into my first post, or that he added on for this talk. He told us the facts without value judgements. The pontificating is mine :)

  • Composition – all pianists were also composers. This has been lost in the general education and skill set of pianists today. Composition is a completely separate major in Universities and Music Schools. Not being one myself, but in awe of those who are, I still hasten to defend the position that this is not a completely bad thing. Anthologies are full of pieces that should never have been published. Still, the exercise is probably a good thing.
  • Asynchronization – the Romantic practice of playing the Right Hand melody after the Left Hand bass line. It was a form of expressiveness and rubato. It drives me crazy when I still hear it today – and I go to great lengths to get my students to get those hands precisely together. And then – horrors – I hear myself doing the same thing.
  • Memorization – caused a big stir when performers started playing without the score. They were accused of disrespecting the score. Today memorization is embraced so we have to teach it and promote it. It gives the impression of freedom and spontaneity but, in fact, the opposite may be more true for some.

There was some discussion about this topic. Someone (Edwin, I think) asked if the pressure and need to play from memory hasn’t destroyed the pleasure of playing. The fear of losing one’s place in the score is related to the fear of playing wrong notes – another shift from earlier times, when Brahms expected that people would of course know what the right notes should be so he didn’t have to bother playing them all.

A heartening moment came during the impromptu discussion when Edwin himself, a pianist and teacher for whom I have a great deal of respect, admitted that he quit a solo career to focus on collaborative playing and teaching because he just didn’t want to deal with the memory and wrong-notes issues. I think I breathed a big sigh of relief.

We need to give ourselves and our students permission to play the wrong notes in performance (after working very hard to make sure we don’t!). Perhaps then some more of the pleasure will be restored – and certainly the lessons will be more affirmative.

There’s a quote – I don’t know the original source (someone jump to my aid here – David M?) – that my teacher said all the time. “If you’re going to play a wrong note, play it with conviction.”

“Often wrong, never in doubt.” Ivy Baker Priest.  


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About LaDona's Music Studio

Musician, pianist, teacher, blogger.
This entry was posted in Music History, Performance, Piano pedagogy, Quotes and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to It’s OK. Play a wrong note.

  1. Joe Head says:

    The comment on playing wrong notes with conviction reminds me of something Mr. “P. J.” Smith, my 12th grade English teacher, used to say: “If you don’t know how to pronounce a word, say it loudly. Don’t combine ignorance with inaudability.”

  2. “Often wrong, never in doubt.” Ivy Baker Priest

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