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Six Virtues of Making Mistakes while Practicing Music 

Jason Didner has a good laugh after a mistake recording drums on his multitrack music projects. Practicing an instrument inherently means making mistakes - playing wrong notes, losing concentration, losing your place in the song or exercise. Now's a good time to look at our relationship with the errors we all make along the way. Let's tune in to the benefits we get from our miscues that happen in practice. 

1. This Mistake Wouldn't have Happened if I Weren't Practicing 

When you choose to sit passively on your couch watching TV or scrolling through social media, you're not exposing yourself to the risk of playing wrong notes. So, when you're actually practicing and missing the mark on a phrase, you can give yourself plenty of credit for choosing (and sticking with) an activity that brings some discomfort alongside its many rewards. 

2. This Mistake Happened in Practice, Not Onstage

Every mistake you make during practice reduces the likelihood of your making that same mistake onstage, especially if you concentrate on developing your ability to play that passage that's giving you trouble. Try repeatedly playing that part at a very slow tempo with a metronome, gradually increasing the tempo when you're playing it without much trouble. 

3. This Mistake is Training Me to Recover in Real Time

Eddie Van Halen called it “falling down the stairs and landing on your feet.” He also shared advice from his musician father who taught him if you make a mistake onstage, play it that way again with a smile. The audience will think your miscue was deliberate. 

My piano teacher in college taught me that recovering from a mistake is the real skill; not the expectation of never making mistakes. 

If you can get confident enough in what you're playing, you can move right on from a stumble with your heart and mind still emotionally connected to what you're playing now, rather than dwelling on a mistake from moments ago. 

Once you're past the point of trying to learn a piece and you're now rehearsing the performance of it, see how readily you can get back in the flow of what you're playing even when you've hit a clunker. Then you'll be much more resilient onstage. 

4. My Mistake May be Telling Me to Simplify

If your mistakes are consistently happening during a complicated passage of a song leading up to a live performance or group recording session, this is valuable information that you're pursing something too difficult musically for the moment you're preparing for. If you're vocally straining at high notes, this may be a cue to lower the song's key. If you're working on an elaborate drum fill or ultra shredding guitar part and you're struggling with a challenging passage, see how you can simplify it for your upcoming gig. Then after the show you can gradually increase the difficulty level - at a slow tempo - with a metronome. 

5. My Bandmate's Mistake can Help Us Clear Up a Musical Misunderstanding in Practice

If you're practicing in a group, do you notice a consistent pattern of wrong notes from a bandmate? Is it the same mistake in the same spot in the 1st and 2nd verse? This is a good opportunity to pause the song, go to that trouble spot and loop through it as a band to bring clarity to the whole group's understanding of the song. 

Be kind and constructive when pointing out the error. Looping through a short passage surrounding the error should make it clear to all that you're interested in having everyone play the right part, not in belittling your bandmate.  

6. My Mistake is an Ideal Object for Compassion

As a user of the Ten Percent Happier meditation app, I've gotten lots of personal development out of compassion practice - where we wish health and happiness for ourselves, those close to us and ultimately all beings. This practice grows the parts of our brains that strive to make life better for ourselves and those around us. 

In that regard, approaching practice with a compassionate mindset can really add to the joy of practicing music. When we treat mistakes - our own or a bandmate's - with compassion, we better accept the inevitability of  errors along the way toward developing a compelling musical act. 

We've examined here the ways in which mistakes serve as markers of the effort you're making, valuable information about the need to simplify, an occasion for compassion toward yourself and others, and a situation to develop resilience to recover onstage. Talk to me in the comments below about your relationship with your musical practice and the mistakes that come with it. 


Getting Gear is Great...But Practicing Matters More 

Singer/songwriter Jason Didner with his electric guitarHaving just downsized my amp and upgraded my guitar effects rig, I sure am enjoying the new vocabulary of tones I can produce with my axe. I'm aware of how much further down this rabbit hole I could go… shopping for more and more effects pedals, reading endless reviews and getting into online debates about which amp or pedal is better. 

But my latest purchases revealed something else – the importance of spending time on practicing, expanding the vocabulary of what you play, not just what effects you can add to what you play. I could have all the latest and greatest gear, but if I'm stumped at the moment my solo comes up in a song, what good is all that “stuff?” 

How to Practice

I've had many teachers along the way - on piano, guitar, voice , alto sax and trumpet. I've also had long stretches of being self-taught. But it's only recently that I've really developed a solid idea of how to practice my instruments. Here are some keys to how I make my practice time count: 

Slow the Whole Thing Down! 

How many times have you sped through the parts of a song that you know well and slowed down when the going gets tough? Then you go back and do the familiar parts fast again — because blazing through the easier parts feels so good! 

You can smooth out those trouble spots and make the whole song more consistent by playing the whole song slowly. Use a metronome on a slow tempo to hold you back from rushing the easier parts and give you time to motorically plan for those trickier passages. 

You can gradually increase the tempo as you get the tougher parts under your fingers. 

Be a Looper! 

When learning to play a tougher passage, take a small chunk of that and play it repeatedly, as if you were a looper pedal. When you combine this with the metronome and slow tempo, you will train your hands (and/or feet, voice, etc.) to do what you want them to do. 

Start with repeating a very short passage - even just a run of 2, 3 or 4 notes. You're building muscle memory here. 

Loop through two short passages separately, then put them together when you can play them in time at the selected tempo (even if it's really slow). 

Keep it Interesting! 

There are lots of psychological and physiological benefits to practicing an instrument. This is something I certainly did not notice when I was a kid resisting my teachers' urging me to spend more time practicing (aside from the panicked 30 minutes before a lesson). When you're engaged in musical practice, you're not ruminating over your troubles; you're concentrating on creating art. 

If you can get “in the zone” practicing scales, that's great. I've gotten there that way. But you probably wouldn't want all your entire practices to consist of only scales. You need enough variety to keep things interesting for you. 

You can divide your practice into scales, learning and practicing cover songs, and creating your own riffs and licks. And when you do create your own music in practice, use the voice memo recorder app in your phone to capture what you came up with so you can remember it and develop it further. 

The more sophisticated the parts are that you come up with or that you're learning, the more the principles apply where you slow it down, use a metronome and loop short passages until you can play them proficiently. 

Improvise at Your Level…and a Little Above It

Even if you're a beginner, you can start to improvise on your instrument. When I was in the Summer Performance Program (for high school students) at Berklee College of Music in Boston, we had a brilliant teacher who limited us to three notes: C, D, and E. We improvised vocally on the corresponding syllables, do, re and mi. We had a great time and learned a lot about the myriad possibilities contained in just three notes! Improvising within tight limits cuts through the paralysis of too many choices and gives you focus and direction to get started. 

So, try the three-note improvisation first. Keep it locked in to the beat; I suggest using a metronome. Fewer notes lets you emphasize the rhythmic aspect more. 

Record your improvisations; you may find licks that can be further developed. 

Gradually expand your limitations. Add a 4th note. Then a 5th. 

Practice Emotional Expressiveness

Your instrument contains many possibilities to express emotion. On a piano you can play aggressive slides and vary your touch on the keys from whisper soft to uproariously loud. On a guitar you can bend notes, add vibrato, use a whammy bar (or whammy pedal) or use a wah-wah pedal. 

Learning to play the correct notes is great. But do not forego the time it takes to make your playing more expressive. Practice bending notes, varying your touch and adding those nuances that express genuine emotion. This is the thing that will make an audience care about what you're doing on that stage or on a record. It will also make your own experience of practicing and playing more cathartic.  

About All that Fancy Gear… 

Now that you're taking the time to enhance your ability to play, if you have the budget and the time to shop for gear that further improves your sound, go for it! 

Talk to me in the comments below about your practice time, what it does for you emotionally and how it translates to the studio and stage for you. 

Introducing Easy Piano Songs by Jason Didner 

Rock singer/songwriter Jason Didner has composed a series of easy piano pieces for beginners to learn.. Lately, I've taken to composing easy-to-play piano instrumentals that can quickly feel rewarding to master. I've published the first five of these on, a platform for composing, arranging and sharing sheet music notation. 

Whether you're a piano teacher looking for new material to keep your students motivated or you're learning a keyboard instrument and want to sound great playing an easy piece, I'd be delighted to hear what you do with these songs. 

Remember: when you're learning these songs, break them down to the smallest passages and there's no limit to how slow you take the tempo at first. You can always increase the tempo as you become familiar. 

The Heart Knows

This first one is “The Heart Knows,” which I improvised at the piano after teaching my wife Amy. At the time I remembered a bit of my own beginnings as a young keyboardist and the types of pieces I was given to learn. I mixed in a bit of rock/pop sensibility to the composition and got this result. 

The beginner pieces I was given as a child were very “square;” all quarter notes and half notes with no syncopation. For this piece I kept the simple fingerings and adherence to the C major scale but added some syncopated rhythms so beginners can more accurately capture the authentic feel of rock and pop.  

Welcome Monday

This new tune introduces an accidental, a note not normally in the major scale of the song's key. In the key of C, any black key would be an accidental. When the left hand plays a B-flat (Bb in notation) in the transition between sections, it creates a dramatic musical moment a beginning pianist and their audience can enjoy. 

Fun fact: I asked Amy to title the song and she came up with “Welcome Monday.” I hope your work or school weeks all start out cheerfully in this manner. 



I composed the this song's main theme when I was just 13 years old and obsessed with my little Casio keyboard (which I've since passed on to my daughter). I just recently added a “B section” that I believe nicely complements the main theme. It was nice to co-write with my (much) younger self! 

This tune's main theme gives the melody to the left hand while the right hand adds accompaniment that changes each time through. You'll hear some of these right hand patterns in much of the rock and pop that's featured keyboards since the 1980s. See if you can make the left-hand melody a bit louder than the right-hand accompaniment so it really shines through. Then pass the lead to the right hand in that new “B” section. 


The Barrelhouse

 This more challenging song gets its title and its its style from the piano-based blues music heard in barrelhouses (bars) where the piano player would really get the audience up and moving. The driving rhythms of the left hand and the memorable melodies of the right hand would lay the early foundations in American music for what would later become rock-n-roll. Black artists like Pinetop Smith, “Cow Cow” Davenport, and Leroy Carr sounded like full bands when they sat down at the piano! 

This is the first time I show you a key signature other than the key of C. Every line shows that F# and C# just after the treble or bass cleff. This simply means that every F or C that appears in the notation should be treated as F# or C# unless otherwise marked (remember my introducing accidentals in “Hello Monday”?) If an accidental is shown during a measure, it “wears off” by the next measure unless it's marked again. 

This one is a slower, more simple entry into this fun and expressive style of music. To give the melody its distinct feel I added a “blue note," the lowered third followed by its natural (to the key) counterpart. In the key of D, the lowered third is an F-natural; the natural 3rd is F-sharp (F#). 

If you've learned the blues scale, you're aware of the other blue note - the raised 4th. In this key of D, the raised 4th would be a G#. I didn't hear a good use of the raised 4th in this tune, but others are on the way! 

Also keep in mind that we “swing” the eight notes, giving this song its jazzy, bluesy rhythm. When you see a pair of eight notes, you'd play the first eight note longer than usual, leaving less time for the second eight note. As the notation shows, a pair of eight notes should be treated as if it were a quarter note triplet followed by an eight note triplet. 

Remember, there's no limit to how slowly you can play this song as you're getting familiar with it. Have fun adding a bit of swing to this one! 



Salt and Sand

This is the first of my existing rock songs from my catalog of recorded tracks that I've transcribed for easy piano. I kept it in the original key so you can play along with the recording. It has the opening sax melody written for piano. I've also moved the vocal melody to the piano's right hand. 

It's in the key of B-flat (Bb), so every B or E in the notation should be interpreted as B-flat or E-flat accordingly, unless otherwise marked. 


I hope you have as much fun playing these songs on keyboard as I had creating them. If you create any video or audio recordings of yourself performing these songs for social media, you can tag me on any platform. If not, you can always privately send me your recording; I'd love to hear what you do with these!

Rock on
- Jason