Making Mistakes Intentionally

And not how it sounds. Although I would absolutely love to be able to say that the mistakes in my performance last night were because I was trying to make them. The song is in Gb, we break for the bridge, and then I come back in F. If only I could have had my tremolo pedal on during that; then I could say I was just doing my Henry Kaiser diminished 7th scale stutter effect. That would have been a great way to have explained away the extreme suckiness of last night. Ever have those sets where you just have to look at yourself and say, ‘Seriously.’ And then you just laugh. That was last night. Worst ever. Unfortunately, the mistakes were all my own…and I was not trying to make them.

The problem was that I was trying not to make them. I know that’s subtle, but it’s a psychological shift. You can’t avoid mistakes by trying not to make them. I don’t know why. People smarter than I am (why is it so hard to type that?) say that the phenomenon is caused because as you try not to make mistakes, all you are thinking about is the mistake. Hence, your brain just goes there, and you make them. But that just sounds stupid to me. So I choose not to believe it. (Just like Beyonce Knowles sounds stupid to me…so I choose to believe she doesn’t exist.) But the result is still the same: you can’t play flawlessly by trying not to make a mistake. You have to focus on playing the right stuff, not on not playing the wrong stuff.

(This is when I lost any respect I may have had for Beyonce. Which is zero. Well, this isn’t the actual picture, but it’s the exact same look Robert De Niro had on his face when, at his AFI Lifetime Achievement Award dinner, in the middle of tones of respected actors introducing the best acting clips of his career, out of nowhere Beyonce comes up and sings him a choreographed version of The Star Spangled Banner. It was awkward. And he had this look on his face…like, bored, but trying to be polite…but yet a little bit confused, too.)

Now that’s like, Musician 101 stuff right there. I would very much like to think that I have long ago surpassed Musician 101 stuff. But when you can’t find E, when even if you were to just hit a random string you’ve got like a 33% chance of finding it, obviously not. And this is much more honest than I was intending to be here. So let’s just keep on that path of honesty. I was nervous last night. I’d like to think that I am beyond nervousness. But when you have to chromatically slide to find Ab…you’re nervous. And I was nervous because the night was for a conference, and it was being recorded. I usually don’t get nervous during recordings; but this night was with some new people whom I’d never recorded with before, and I suppose I was nervous because I really, really wanted them to listen back to the recording and marvel at my ‘wondrous purity of tone that is possibly only surpassed by the musical genius by which the tone was played.’ Alright, now we’re getting really honest.

So what happens when you’re nervous? You stop playing intentionally. Meaning, you stop just going for it, and hitting each note with authority and purpose. And you start playing tentatively, in hopes of not making a mistake. And then what ends up happening, is you make just as many if not more mistakes as you would have if you were playing normally; but you also make all the right notes sound weak and gutless also. So then, rather than having one or two, or maybe even zero, noticeable errors, you get like, 74 errors, plus making every right note and passage sound terrible as well. Which is what I mean by making mistakes intentionally. The mistakes are going to happen no matter what. So you may as well just play intentionally and with purpose, and let those mistakes sound out with authority. :) When playing with confidence, not only do you make all the correct notes, sounds, and passages sound as they should, but you also take the stress off of your mind and hands, and allow yourself greater possibility of not hitting wrong notes.

I wish I had read this post before I hit my D note last night so softly that it almost ended up being a harmonic. The emphasis being on ‘almost.’ And of course, an ‘almost harmonic’ is a ‘thunk.’ Which is bad. Unless you’re Henry Kaiser. hehe No! I’m not making fun of a successful guitarist to try to make myself feel better about my ‘less than stellar musical…uh…endeavors’…meaning thunks. It’s just that he plays a lot of thunks, and some people really seem to enjoy them. I’m just simply validating those people. 😉 I’m the good guy here. Unless you were there last night. I was definitely not the good guy. More like, the antagonist of all things diatonic.

Play intentionally.

hehe Henry Kaiser.


P.S. The last few keys of the ambient pads will be finished soon…hopefully tomorrow. I was going to finish them today, but I super-glued my finger fixing a Christmas lawn decoration, and now the super glue makes weird sounds on the fretboard. Yep. I am awesome. You’d think I’d be better with my hands.

47 thoughts on “Making Mistakes Intentionally

  1. Seriously! I can relate. Sometimes you just have that brain-hands disconnect thing. Or if you’re like me, you get the playing right and you do dumb stuff like forget to turn on your IEM bodypack and have to figure a good spot (there is none) to free one of your hands to turn it on.

  2. Ah man. So glad it’s not just me! Some nights, man.

    And I so hear ya on the in-ears! I’ve gone re-wiring things in the racks for like, 30 minutes, only to realize that the reason I had no sound in my in-ears, was because I forgot to plug them in. hehehe Thanks, Dan. Really glad it’s not just me here! hehe

  3. i remember talking to a drummer friend that a lot of players tend to not be able to play to their potential in a live situation. then after a short pause, he said, “especially when somebody press that red big button” 😀

  4. Man I hear you, when I get nervous, or don’t know the song as well, it’s easy to play ‘gutless’ as you say, and everything sounds weak vs. feeling confident and really attacking the thing. When we had two guitarists, it was easy for me to hide behind the more experienced guy, which didn’t do much for my skill progression. Once he left, I had no choice but to really just play, and hope for the best. Most of the time it works, other times….we all have those ‘other times.’ But when I get into the mindset of ‘ok, here I go, I am just going to attack this thing from the front and hope for the best’ I find my playing and tone and whatnot much better. At least I do…mayhaps people listening have a differing opinion.

  5. My thoughts exactly WideAwake, I have learned to realize, well I am just going to make mistakes, and its part of it, and part jazz too 😉

    But the mistakes come more and more when I get out of my comfort zone and start doing more R&B or old Gospel type songs. This is something that I keep telling myself that I need to work on, but I seem to find myself trying to convince myself to practice this stuff.

    I used to get nervous on doing solos for the first time, and recordings, but now I just focus more on whats going on around me, and keep my mind off of that stuff, but I still have those days, where everything else is just poluting my mind and its very difficult to get in the pocket… and key 😉

  6. This is all good stuff.

    I had an opportunity last year to spend a week at Stanford University studying jazz with some of the biggest names in the country. It was absolutely incredible. From 9am until midnight, it was non-stop music. Theory, comping, improv – not just guitar although guitar was the most popular. There were bass players, sax, flutes, drummers, pianists, vocalists, anything you can think of.

    I listened to the most incredible and amazing performances I have ever heard. Stuff that just made you dizzy to watch sometimes. And then so beautiful you could cry. Then I got a chance to talk to these amazing performers. The music was so complex that it really made you wonder how they kept track of where they were – how they knew where the changes were and where to go – because it seemed to me that the entire band would just instinctively know where to go in the song.

    I asked them all the same question, “How do you know where you are when you’re doing so much improv?” They all had the same answer – The original melody of the song was always in their head. They would concentrate on the melody at all times. That’s how they knew where they were.

    And you know – Shouldn’t our walk with God be like that? There are so many examples of this in the Bible. Peter comes to mind. As soon as he took his eyes off Jesus, he played the wrong note and started to sink. But when he had his eyes fixed on Jesus, the original melody, Peter was able to do great things.

    My father was a music teacher. He told me once that music was perfect and very much like God; the notes are based on repetitions of 3 & 7 and continue infinitely. Interesting isn’t it?

    In life, if we were to concentrate on not sinning, I think we drive ourselves crazy. But if we concentrate on Godly things and keep our eyes fixed on Him, we’re less likely to desire sin.

    My two cents for the day.

  7. Rhoy–haha That’s so true, though. Ever just rip through a riff at home and then be like, ‘Yep. I could never do that live.’? haha

    WideAwake–I totally agree. ‘Gutless’ is a great word you used to describe it. And then we sound gutless, and make mistakes. When we just should’ve gone for it. :) Great comment! Your handle doesn’t have anything to do with U2, does it? 😉

    Shane–great point; I’m the same way when it gets out of my comfort zone. In fact, the night in question on this post had 6 songs, 4 of which were in the keys of Ab, Bb, F, and Gb. Definitely not my comfort zone! lol

    Robin–ooh, great comment. Now that is an awesome quote!

    Tom–I love it! That’s exactly what I was not doing…focusing on the melody. I was focusing on ‘Please let me sound like a great guitarist.’ hehe (Namely Edge, of course. 😉 )

    But your point on Christianity is even better. I totally agree. Focusing on not sinning and not playing the wrong notes makes us sin and play the wrong notes. Focusing on Christ and on melody, sounding good, and nailing it, causes us not to sin, and to play the right notes…and in a much better way.

    Fantastic comment, my friend! Thanks!

  8. Karl — Another excellent topic brother!

    GuitarToma — Great thoughts, on which I’d like to piggy-back…

    I can honestly say that it’s been about 16 years since the last time I got nervous walking out on stage to play for worship. In fact, I don’t even get rattled when I make a mistake (i.e. I experience that ‘laws of probability’ event of which Karl spoke where there’s “X%” of chance of making a mistake at any point given the dynamic complexity of everything that goes into playing just a single note on the guitar…).

    That’s not boasting — it’s just a statement of fact… The size of the audience is irrelevant whether it’s playing for 1,000 people like I did last weekend at a major Christian convention on the east coast or playing for 45 at a coffee house last Friday night.

    There are two epiphanies I’ve had that make possible the peace I enjoy when I walk out to play. The first happened back when I was 15 years old. I was playing guitar for a southren gospel group. This was back in the old days where your guitar amp had to be sufficient to carry the venue in which you were playing; the only stuff in the FOH system were the vocals.

    I made a mistake at one point in one of the songs. It shook me bad enough that I was rattled about everything else I had to play that night, so… I eased off the volume and started playing everything as ‘safe’ as I could to get through the evening. Meanwhile, my Dad’s at the back of this church, motioning for me to turn up my guitar volume and to cut loose.

    As we drove home that night, he said, “Hey what happened up there? I couldn’t hardly hear you playing…”. As I related my tale of personal embarrassment on stage, my Dad said to me, “Look… the opportunity to make a mistake is always going to be there. If you make a mistake, what’s the worst thing that can happen? It’s not the end of the world. If you’re going to make a mistake, make a LOUD one — LOL! :)”

    Although my Dad’s been at home with the Lord for the past 29 years of my life, I’ve never forgotten that lesson. It’s one that I pass to all of the young (and older) musicians on our worship team. In fact, I usually tell the entire band before we walk out on stage on Sunday morning (in my best ‘Eric Cartman’ voice), “Let’s come out of the gate and play with authority! (or in Cartman’s voice, ‘AUTHOR-I-TIE!’)”

    The second realization ties to something GuitarToma mentions about keeping the central Theme of the music in mind as we play… Sometime around 16 years ago, I came to the realization that when I walk out there to play, I’m playing exclusively for an audience of ‘One’. I don’t care who’s sitting out in the congregation, whether it’s other musicians, would-be music critiques, etc. — their opinion of what I’m doing or should have done (or should NOT have done — LOL!) doesn’t matter. I’m not playing for them — I’m speaking from my heart through my instrument to the Lord. That doesn’t mean that I’m willing to simply throw any old thing out there without any preparation, but it does mean that my focus isn’t on how I’ll be regarded as a musician.

    Will I/do I make the occasional mistake(s)? Yes… I have no illusions of grandeur. Plus I take comfort in the fact that even the pro’s, who spend considerable time in rehearsals to avoid mistakes will still make them (check out the solo break in this Rascal Flatt’s live cover of ‘Hotel California’ at the 2007 Grammy Awards — see time index 2:14 and following:

    Rather than ‘get rattled’, I simply choose to smile. Of course, I also smile when other members of the band make mistakes, plus, I’m pretty much smiling all the time because I enjoy offering music to the Lord. So… it’s really kind of hard to tell what’s going on from my body language and facial expressions if “Mike just messed up — cause if he did, I didn’t hear it — or he’s just enjoying offering music to the Lord.”

    Hang it out there for the Lord; if you make a mistake, let it be ‘loud and proud’ (shouldn’t those qualify as ‘making a joyful noise’ anyway? — LOL!).

    My $0.02 for the day on this subject.

  9. Hey Karl….

    It’s official! I now am the proud owner of a Damage Control Timeline. Just placed my order to them, and it should be here next week.

    Also, could you suggest any other midi controllers that might be a little smaller than the midi mate? I only need to flip thru say 4 or 5 presests in a given set.

    Thanks bro,

    I am glad that I did this :)


  10. Great article Karl.

    Dan/Karl – I’m Tim and I also forget to plug in my IEM’s. Nice to meet ya.

    GuitarToma – Great comments/suggestions on concentration and our walk with God.

    Mike – I will try for more AUTHOR-I-TIE. Confidence is a huge factor. I get nervous after the mistake and have a hard time getting it out my mind. I get back on track pretty quick but
    I’m still mentally flogging myself for the mistake. Ruins my fun.

  11. I know what you mean about the super-glue. This morning I accidentally glued myself to a little kid’s hand – we have this extra fast adhesive skin glue. I managed to separate myself just in time since I didn’t want a screaming 4 year old attached to me all day long!
    Fortunately it was my thumb so it shouldn’t impair my guitar playing too much but I’ve learned my lesson – always use gloves when gluing kids’ hands 😛

  12. Mike Oliver–I love your dad’s line, ‘If yuo’re gonna make a mistake, make it a loud one.’ That is superb, my friend!

    And you’re totally right about the fact that we shouldn’t care how we’re viewed as a musician while we’re leading worship. Unfortunately, that’s my pride creeping in again. Sucks, but it’s reality. I just thank God that He still allows me to do this when many times I’m so obviously not there…in both hands and heart. Yikes, He’s good. :)

    WideAwake–so sweet, bro. As soon as I saw your screen handle, I just started unconsciously singing ‘Bad.’ Okay, okay, and daydreaming about the ’80’s slow motion version of it on the Rattle and Hum dvd. lol Always great to meet another fan!

    Beau–congratulations! Man, I think you’re gonna totally dig it. :) And I’ve used it with the Tech 21 Midi Mouse before, and it works great…especially if you only need 4-5 presets per session, like you said. It’s really small, and can be had for like, 50 bucks. Cheers, brother!

    TimH–score! I totally don’t feel as badly now! :) And good point about it ruining the fun to not play with authority. You’re so right; it totally does.

    Baggas–haha That was an awesome comment! And you just made me feel so much better. I walked back into the house with the glue bottle melded to my finger, and it was like, ‘Great.’ haha

    Gtr1ab–lol So glad it’s not just me! :) Man, that stuff is dangerous. haha

  13. I too have no idea what it is like to make a mistake when playing…. but glue on the other hand…. i was super gluing a rear view mirror to the front windshield in a truck… well you can see me now walking in the house with this big azz mirror stuck to my thumb and pointer… I actually think my playing improved after i ripped off half my skin getting it off. For sure it helped with tone.

  14. Someday, Karl, I’d love if you’d put up a link to one of your services, or a portion of one. Maybe this week’s would be too much honesty, but I for one would like to hear your actual playing, not demoing a pedal or whatever.
    As for mistakes…EVERYONE makes them. Pros too.
    Were you singing/leading too? That adds difficulty.
    I know how you feel, I’ve had services where I feel like never playing again.
    I’d like to hear one of your services, because I bet most of your playing would be really good. And edge-like. 😉

  15. Shane–same here. (Meaning, Tom’s comment.) :)

    Sal–really? Now that is awesome! Probably gave your tone a more ‘raw’ sound, right? 😉 Okay, bad joke.

    Don–thanks for that. Ya, on nights like these, I usually skip to this one spot on Slane Castle where Edge hits a wrong chord, and you can see it in his face. Ahh. Suddenly I feel better. haha

    As for my services, I should post one at some point. I’ve just always shied away from that, as I have never figured out how to describe it without sounding like, ‘Here’s a worship service to God; but listen to me play.’ hehe But I have no problems directing people to some that are out there if it’s by request. So if you click on the ‘Jefferson Music’ link in my blogroll, he has some videos up of a couple times that I played some worship services with him. And if you go to,15-09 , it has my home church’s latest recordings. This previous weekend’s recordings will be up soon as well at the same url, but with the date 11-21,22-09 at the end.

    The recording qualities aren’t the greatest, but at least it’s an idea. And my disclaimer is that there is a good chance that after hearing those videos and recordings, you might never listen to anything I say ever again. This might just be too much honesty. 😉

  16. The other thing to remember – the minute we hit a bad not, miss a note, etc. we instantly know, and then tend to think everything is crashing down. Many times I’ve thought it was the end of the world and….nobody even notices. I’ll ask my wife or someone if they heard my mistake, and often it’s ‘nope.’ So unless it’s a major train wreck, chances are 90% of the folks listening and worshiping never noticed. I or maybe the band often are the only ones that notice something is a bit off.

    Of course, there was the time we were doing Agnus Dei, and the bass was doing his thing on C, and I come in with a huge power chord on B, and rather than quickly switch to C, I let the B hang out there for what seemed like 3 hours. They probably noticed that.

    Honestly – you HAVE to make mistakes occasionally to know how to pull yourself out of them with minimal impact to your listeners. I can get back on track pretty quickly now, but when I started playing, it was tough sometimes. It’s all part of learning. The goal of course is not to screw up, but if you never do, you’ll never learn to correct it.

  17. There’s nothing like dropping a big clanger right in the middle of worship to make you want to practice real hard the following week…..
    It’s so great to hear the depth of responses on here. Props to you all! I’m encouraged to be fighting the good fight with all of you.

  18. Don–cool. :)

    WideAwake–that’s a great perspective! You’re totally right…it is kind of a learned art to be able to recover after a mistake. Great comment!

    And you’re right too, about it sounding so much more like a train wreck to us than anyone else. I hit this horrible sound the other day at my home church…lasted for like, a half hour. And then, when I listened back to the recording, I got off of it in like a second. Weird how time stops up on stage when something goes wrong! haha

    Mark Colvin–hear hear! :) And incredible point on practice…usually when that stuff happens, I can’t sleep that night until I pull out my guitar and run through scales for a few hours. lol 😉

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