So, you're sitting in the exam room with your examiner ready to take on your graded exam. You’ve put in a lot of work up to this point, spent countless hours learning the material and practising...

You’re going to nail it, don’t worry!

If you make a mistake here and there, that’s ok. No one wants to make mistakes, especially when you’re being marked on it, here are a few things to consider to keep your performance rolling ahead even if you make a mistake.

As a musician, and a semi-perfectionist, I used to dwell on mistakes. If I made a mistake during a gig, I would get very annoyed at myself and it would put a dark cloud over the rest of my gig. I’ve played many gigs where I’ve noticed myself slipping up on something minor and regardless of how good the gig is, that would ruin it for me.

In recent years, I’ve learnt to let this go. I had a revelation in 2014 at Download Festival watching Aerosmith. Steven Tyler the bands frontman started the piano intro to the hit Dream On and low and behold in front of 85,000 screaming rock fans, he messed up. He played a chord that was a screamer of a wrong chord. What did he do next? He threw his head back, laughed out loud and carried on.

For me, this made me realise, maybe it’s not so bad to make a mistake occasionally. Here are some tips to help you recover when you make mistakes in times of pressure.

Don’t Panic, It Happens!

Mistakes happen. If you panic, you are more likely to follow that mistake with more mistakes. Let the mistake go, it’s a small moment. Don’t let that moment define the rest of your performance. Once you make a mistake, a good thing to practise is the art of simply forgetting that you made it. This will allow you to focus on the parts ahead.

Relax and Have Fun

If you go into the exam relaxed, you are less likely to make mistake. Even if mistakes do happen, maintain your relaxed mindset and see them for what they are. I always find that if I’m feeling stressed or worked up before playing, I don’t play to my full potential. Before you go into the exam, spend some time warming up and generally trying to keep yourself relaxed and keep your mindset positive. Try to get excited about the prospect of the exam rather than afraid of it.

Focus on What Comes Next

One of the most important things to think about when a mistake occurs is to consider where you can re-join the piece with minimal disruption. Try not to pause for too long, if you hit a wrong note or skip a beat then try to catch up with yourself by the next beat. You can blend mistakes into a performance very well just by considering what is going on around the mistake and how you can carry on unscathed.

Plan for Mistakes

You can almost expect it to happen. You’re going into an exam which will add a little pressure, but also, you’re human. There isn’t a musician in the world who doesn’t make mistakes, but we will all make them at some point. Consider the piece you’re performing as a whole, if you make one or two small mistakes, does it really detract from the overall performance.


About the Author:

This article has been written for Rockschool on behalf of MGR Music by Leigh Fuge, a professional guitarist, tutor and journalist from Wales in the UK. He has been working in the music industry for over 10 years as a touring and studio musician with various artists, guitar tutor and writer for many high profile guitar publications. Read more of Leigh's pieces relating to Rockschool here...