The Pause that Refreshes

The Magic Eraser

Judy Minot
6 min readMar 20, 2024
Antique and Unusual Violins from the Collection of Claude Ribouillault

Here is a technique that’s a magic eraser for flubs and wrong notes. It’s just as useful for the initial stages of learning a tune as for dealing quickly with annoying mistakes that crop up after you know a tune. Practicing this technique mindfully and attentively has revolutionized my practicing and allowed me to quickly make measurable, lasting improvements.

When I describe it, this approach may sound like something you already do or that you’ve known how to do for a long time. The essence is in the details: pausing, being attentive and patient. Incorporating these elements will supercharge this technique it so you can erase your mistakes quickly and, hopefully, for good.

A Note: What’s described below is best for disrupting and fixing actual wrong notes and other identifiable “mistakes.” Other approaches may be better for addressing aspects of playing such as tone, phrasing, dynamics, musicality, rhythm or intonation.

Annoying and Persistent Flubs

Wrong notes happen. Sometimes they’re obvious, especially when you’re learning a tune. Sometimes they’re not so obvious, as when you gloss over a bobble or a bad note in a tune you know, thinking “I’ll get it next time.” Many times these glossed over issues never get fixed. Sometimes a problem shows up seemingly out of nowhere, and we think, “Well, that’s just random, I don’t have to worry about it.”

If you want to play fluidly, comfortably, and confidently, all these issues need to be addressed. Don’t worry. There’s a way.

The Magic Technique

When you make a mistake, STOP. Do not play another note.

Practice the passage again, slowly, but do not play that note until you know what it is before playing it. To do that, you’ll have to pause, and pay no attention to playing “in time” or “in rhythm.” Your goal is not to play that wrong note, ever again. Until you can do that, you will adjust everything else to make that happen.

Put It into Practice

  • Acknowledge the Issue. When you make a mistake, stop.
  • Turn off the Metronome and Play Very Slowly. Play the phrase with the mistake, but play it at about 2/3 the speed you’re used to playing–or even slower. When you come to the place that you missed, stop playing before you play the wrong note.
  • Mentally Identify the Note. Before you move your fingers, be clear in your mind what you are about to play. You should know exactly how you’re going to produce the sound: What finger hole, finger position, button, bowing, etc. Do you know the note name? The fingering? Bowing? String number/name? It’s likely that you don’t, and you’ve been relying on “muscle memory” (or lack of it) to carry you through.
  • Play the Correct Note. When you know the correct note, play it. If you were wrong, or you’re not sure, take some time to find out what the correct note is. Don’t worry, all this mental activity is going to help you erase the mistake.
  • Play the Passage This Way Several Times. Staying at a very slow speed, but still with no metronome, play a short section leading up to issue, and play through the problem area. Do this several times, but do not play the note until you are sure it will be correct. You’ll probably still be playing “out of time” most of the time. That’s OK. The priority is on getting the note(s) right. Stick with a short section, say a measure or two, until you have little or no hesitation left. You should start to feel a change in how you approach the note(s), like you expect it and know what it will be.
  • Play the Section in Time, as Slowly as It Takes. Set your metronome to the speed where you can play the problem area easily and confidently. Gradually work to playing a longer section, or even the entire tune, keeping the metronome at this slow speed. If you run into the problem again, either slow down, or go back a step or two, until you get it right. Be patient.
  • Play the Whole Tune This Slowly. Curb your impatience to getting the whole tune back up to speed. It’s important to build confidence in playing the entire tune all the way up to the place where you have a “negative experience.” You may find it’s more difficult than you expected to play slowly!
  • Speed up Gradually. Once you can play the entire tune (or major section) three times with no issues, it will be much easier to speed up your playing. Move the metronome up a few ticks. Make sure you can play at each speed with no wrong notes. More importantly, you should be able to relax your body, think ahead, and listen to your own playing. Make the speed change gradual enough that your body barely notices it.

Creating Mental “Hooks”

One goal in this exercise is to help your brain form associations around the correct note. Try to know as much about the note(s) as you can. Think about every aspect of making the sound. What is it like physically? How do your hands feel? Is there a lot of stretch? A certain feeling in your shoulder? Do a bit of mental analysis: What is the interval between this and the next note, or the previous one? Are there other associations? Does it remind you of the way you play something in another tune? (That reminder might be helping you, or it could be what’s leading you astray.) Think deeply!

When you’re playing later, at speed, you may not realize you’re using these associations, but when your mind has a slight wobble (“What am I supposed to do here?”) it will “pull” from this reservoir to get the right answer (“Oh, yes, it’s an A” or “down, down, up!”)

Don’t Worry About Playing “Out of Time.”

Your brain will adjust to playing in time again, but if you don’t fix the mistake, you will keep playing the mistake.

This method may seem overly slow and methodical. If you try it for just a couple of weeks, you’ll find that you are fixing problems that seemed etched in stone. You’re likely to find that once you’re comfortable playing at the slowest speed, you’re able to speed up and stay comfortable at each new, faster speed — something that never happened before.

This is my current favorite practice technique. It has changed my playing, helping me play with more confidence because I’m not constantly fearing the next stumble. I hope it does the same for you.

If you have a copy of the book Best Practice, here are some places where you’ll find more about erasing mistakes and paying attention to your body as you practice. If you don’t have Best Practice, what are you waiting for?

11–Going Slower is Faster
28–Interrupt the Loop
154–Personal, Pervasive, Permanent
155–Wasted Motion
177–Between the Shoulder Blades
178–The Next Note after the Hard One

Judy Minot is a musician and the author of the book Best Practice: Inspiration and Ideas for Traditional Musicians.

Judy has played and practiced piano since she could reach the keys, training in classical playing until age 16. She now plays traditional music in various settings on a number of instruments, and gives workshops and classes on Best Practice ideas all over the U.S., Europe, and virtually.

Judy spent her working life in broadcast television and digital marketing. She holds a 4th degree black belt in the martial art of Kokikai Aikido and is a certified yoga teacher.

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Judy Minot

A musician and author of the book Best Practice: Inspiration and Ideas for Traditional Musicians