The OK Misconception

October 14, 2016, 11:57 AM · One of the most challenging things for me has been playing the way I want to when it counts. In rehearsals, it is often hard to resign myself to playing only the first note of each fast-moving triplet, or having to work an alternate fingering to avoid an awkward string change; but it’s better than visibly (and audibly) struggling and detracting from the moment.

Sometimes I feel a bit bewildered as I listen to my section mates discuss the relative merits of labeling something F major versus D minor. As long as we all know to play Bb, the music will be preserved, right? But the concept appears to be important somehow and I hate that I don’t know why. It seems incomprehensible that they let me play alongside people who have music degrees and decades of experience and everybody seems ok with it. Particularly when the whole time I regret that I have to make shortcuts at tempo and dread the inevitable last minute introduction of a new piece the week before a performance.

In lessons, the teacher will point at a random place in the music and ask to hear a complex measure out of the blue. It’s difficult to do after a day in the office and spending an hour in evening traffic with a sullen teenager in tow, even with a warm-up. We all know that it is important to be able to play a phrase out of context, but the immediate act is frequently too challenging for my wiped out brain in that moment so I generally screw it up. I need to learn to accept the mistake for what it is and move on – not get irritated that I could nail it in practice, just not now. In short, I need to be OK about where I am at that moment. Outside factors are not always going to be within our scope or control.


You hear it all the time. “Be OK with where you are right now.” I used to take that at face value and feel a bit offended. “What do you mean, I have to be satisfied with playing badly?” But now I don’t think the phrase says that at all. Maybe it doesn’t suggest that I have to be satisfied with shortcuts or mistakes. Perhaps the phrase is meant to say that we should accept our limitations, but continue to work to overcome them.

See, I can’t nail those fast triplets because I need more practice. I can’t get more time to practice right now, but I DO know how to make an accommodation to the music so that I add to the group sound without detracting from it. I couldn’t do that a year ago. It would appear that I have improved, despite the fact that I don’t have as much time to practice as I would prefer. Making an accommodation to preserve the overall sound this time doesn’t mean I have to settle for it every time. As time progresses, so does my playing. Being ok with tricks to get through the music without being a distraction from it is fine for right now. In fact, it’s a better and more productive solution than beating myself up.

So yes, I think I am OK with where I am. Every practice brings me closer to the repertoire I want to eventually be able to play. There’s plenty now that is within my reach. And when it counts, I know how to “fake it until I make it”. That’s pretty good stuff, right there.


October 18, 2016 at 07:32 AM · That's a wonderful post for any struggling community orchestra member to take on board. Smart participation with positive attitude, no wonder your more advanced colleagues are happy to play with you!

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