Thirteen Mistakes Pianists Make

No one likes getting things wrong. It can be embarrassing, messy, expensive, damaging. But sometimes we fixate so much on avoiding micro mistakes we don’t notice how we might be missing the bigger picture.

Here are thirteen mistakes pianists make, and only a few of these are specifically related to playing the right notes.


1. The Mistake of Omission – something is supposed to be there and it’s missing.

2. The Mistake of Difference – something is supposed to be there, but we put something else in instead.

3. The Mistake of Addition – nothing was supposed to be there, but we put something in.


1. The Mistake of Misreading – we do what we think the score asks us to do but we misread the score.

2. The Mistake of Misunderstanding – we read the score correctly but we misunderstand what it means.

3. The Mistake of Misprints – we read the score correctly and perform it accurately but the score is wrong.

4. The Mistake of Not Listening – we perform accurately, but without being informed by the sounds we are making at the instrument in the space and making adjustments to our performance to suit our performing context.


1. The Mistake of Misshaping – we perform the notes and rhythms accurately, but we fail to create contours and narrative arcs in our performance.

2. The Mistake of Emotional Misconnection – we perform accurately, but without an emotional intention, or with an emotional intention that the music cannot sustain.

3. The Mistake of Ignorant Miscontextualisation – we perform accurately with either a mistaken or non-existent concept of how the music connects to any other piece of music, musical tradition, artistic movement, technological development or historical event.

4. The Mistake of Not Exploring Possibility – we perform accurately but have failed to engage with what the music could be, thus limiting ourselves in performance to a narrow range of musical possibilities.

5. The Mistake of Fear – we perform with a terror that we will make a mistake, thus triggering a heightened risk of other mistakes of communication.

6. The Mistake of Complacency – we perform without being committed to connecting and communicating.

The biggest mistake, of course, is believing that playing the piano is about pressing the right keys at the right time; it’s not. It’s about

  • being in flow (in our bodies, in time),
  • being connected (to others, to history, to our emotions, to possibility),

And most importantly of all, it’s about

  • being human, even on those (possibly rare) occasions when we don’t make any mistakes.

7 thoughts on “Thirteen Mistakes Pianists Make

  1. Thanks Elissa. Your article is a good springboard for Term 4. I am laminating a copy (modified so that it reads sensibly for my singing students too) for all of to refer to during lessons this coming term.



  2. Using your quote about music being about being human plus some of these points as a springboard for conversation with my grades 6-12 group class tomorrow!

  3. Nice article. Note perfect playing would be great but it’s the fundamental musicality that’s really important and you conveyed this beautifully.
    “I would rather listen to Anton Rubinstein’s wrong notes than my own correct playing.”
    HANS von BÜLOW

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