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Hannes Minnaar: The Path to Becoming a Concert Pianist

In part two of the three-part special on building a career as a professional pianist, Piano Street's guest writer Alexander Buskermolen spoke with Dutch pianist Hannes Minnaar about his education, vision on personal musical development, and the challenges he faces as an international performer. Read more >>

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Author Topic: How important is note accuracy?  (Read 11415 times)
davidjosepha
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« on: July 16, 2012, 06:01:15 PM »

Well, obviously, you want to play as many of the notes as possible, and one should strive for perfection, but how important is it to actually play all of the notes? Is being able to play every note every single time something that important? How many errors are acceptable?

My piano teacher has always accented playing musically, and that the notes are far from the most important part of the piece. Of course, this is coming from a man I've seen play Rachmaninoff's 2nd, a piece I know as well as is possible without having played it, and I didn't hear a single wrong note.

In general, I think it's a good learning strategy to learn pieces beyond one's skill level, but then, how can one be expected to play a piece beyond their skill level and play it flawlessly, from a technical perspective? I can play pieces a bit below my ability without missing any notes, but any piece I would play for a recital would be on the higher end of difficulty for me, and I couldn't play that flawlessly. Is the expectation that one shouldn't even perform a piece until after it becomes "below" what they are capable of?

I get the impression, reading this board, that most people here expect that a performance should have no wrong notes, or at the most, a couple. I'm really interested to hear what people have to say.
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rachmaninoff_forever
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« Reply #1 on: July 16, 2012, 06:36:01 PM »

Well it depends on the piece, composer and era.  The earlier you are, the more important hitting all the notes are.  The later you are, the more you can get away with it.  

You play Scriabin or Rachmaninoff and if you miss a chord, nobody cares.


*playing Rachmaninoff*

Me:  Ooops missed a chord...

Teacher:  What?  I didn't hear anything


BUT if you play Mozart and you miss a SINGLE NOTE then EVERYONE hears it!


*playing Mozart*

Me:  Uh oh, I hope he didn't hear that!

*world stops spinning*

Teacher:  WHAT?!?!!?  What the heck are you doing?!  Shocked
 Angry Shocked Angry
Me:  Dude what are you talking about?

Teacher:  Measure 13, page 3, left hand, note 876, you played a D and a D# in stead of just the D#!!!!!  What the freaking heck is wrong with you!  

Me:  How did you hear that?!

Teacher:  Just because you're playing a double glissando on both white and black keys with the pedal doesn't mean I can't hear a stray note!  This is Mozart for gods sake!  Mozart is supposed to be played note perfect!

Me:  So what, it's just one note!

Teacher:  You don't understand the gravity of your actions!  You could have ended the world there!

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jugular
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« Reply #2 on: July 16, 2012, 07:10:16 PM »

Well, obviously, you want to play as many of the notes as possible, and one should strive for perfection, but how important is it to actually play all of the notes? Is being able to play every note every single time something that important? How many errors are acceptable?

My piano teacher has always accented playing musically, and that the notes are far from the most important part of the piece. Of course, this is coming from a man I've seen play Rachmaninoff's 2nd, a piece I know as well as is possible without having played it, and I didn't hear a single wrong note.

In general, I think it's a good learning strategy to learn pieces beyond one's skill level, but then, how can one be expected to play a piece beyond their skill level and play it flawlessly, from a technical perspective? I can play pieces a bit below my ability without missing any notes, but any piece I would play for a recital would be on the higher end of difficulty for me, and I couldn't play that flawlessly. Is the expectation that one shouldn't even perform a piece until after it becomes "below" what they are capable of?

I get the impression, reading this board, that most people here expect that a performance should have no wrong notes, or at the most, a couple. I'm really interested to hear what people have to say.

I'm willing to bet that your teacher played a wrong note or two in Rach's 2nd. The reason you may note have heard it is because of the amount of musicality he was putting into the piece:  your mind was more focused on the musical elements rather than the technical elements. Knowing this emphasizes how important note accuracy actually is when performing a piece. Of course hitting all the notes in a piece makes it sound good because...well, you're hitting all the notes. However, I believe that there's a finite line between technicality and musicality. When you grasp the technical aspects of a piece (e.g., a difficult run or arpeggio), you're ready to move on to the musical aspect (e.g., crescendo during a run). Once you start focusing on the musical aspect, the technical aspect almost becomes second nature.

This isn't to say that note accuracy isn't as important as musicality, because if you're trying to express a piece of music you need the notes that build the foundation of the piece. I believe that both are of equal importance when performing a piece of music. Take Chopin's "Fantasie Impromptu" for example. I've heard countless performances of this piece, some at breakneck speeds where the performer is simply trying to show off their technical prowess and others at a comfortable speed where all the notes are accurate but the energy and drive isn't present. Listen to Yundi Li's performance of this piece, it is, in my opinion, the best performance as I feel he truly captures the musicality of the piece whilst maintaining an impeccable technical aspect.

All that being said, continue to focus on the technical aspect of your performance as you do. Doing so isn't a bad thing, as it only increases your motor skills which makes it easier for you to focus on the musical aspect without worrying about the technical. In regards to what you said about playing a piece that is too challenging for you, I agree that it is a good strategy. The only way you can improve after all, is by doing what you can't.
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pianoman53
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« Reply #3 on: July 16, 2012, 07:19:27 PM »

Everything depends on the occasion and your goal. If you play in churches for old people, all you have to do is show up. But if you play in a music school, for other musicians, or even pianists, it's different. Once or twice obvious wrong notes is okay, but not more. no hitting d+d#, even in Rachmaninov.
But for a normal audience in a normal concert hall, it's less important than you think. I've seen pianists win van Cliburn and QE, and getting serious slips, more than once. I've also seen real starts screw up an entire concerto, and still getting standing ovations. The audience is, generally, not filled with musicians. They listen differently, and most of them will be amazed as long as we don't screw up too bad.
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pytheamateur
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« Reply #4 on: July 16, 2012, 07:32:38 PM »

You may want to see an earlier thread I started:

http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=45688.0

Those slips are pretty random; it seems there's not much you could do to eradicate them and you should not get too obsessed with them.

Another type of mistakes occurs because you haven't learnt the piece properly, and occur quite often during practice.  These mistakes you need to deal with as they reflect that you might have a technical issue that needs resolving.
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Beethoven - Sonata in C sharp minor, Op 27 No 12
Chopin - Fantasie Impromptu, Nocturn in C sharp minor, Op post
Brahms - Op 118, Nos 2 & 3
davidjosepha
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« Reply #5 on: July 16, 2012, 07:35:10 PM »

Well it depends on the piece, composer and era.  The earlier you are, the more important hitting all the notes are.  The later you are, the more you can get away with it.  

You play Scriabin or Rachmaninoff and if you miss a chord, nobody cares.

...

BUT if you play Mozart and you miss a SINGLE NOTE then EVERYONE hears it!
Is that necessarily the goal though? Is it all right to miss a note as long as nobody notices?

@jugular
Thanks for your words. They are helpful. And yes, I'm sure he played more than a couple wrong notes, but the fact that I didn't notice any shows that he had very good accuracy. A couple wrong notes over a half hour piece is admirable.

Everything depends on the occasion and your goal. If you play in churches for old people, all you have to do is show up. But if you play in a music school, for other musicians, or even pianists, it's different. Once or twice obvious wrong notes is okay, but not more. no hitting d+d#, even in Rachmaninov.
But for a normal audience in a normal concert hall, it's less important than you think. I've seen pianists win van Cliburn and QE, and getting serious slips, more than once. I've also seen real starts screw up an entire concerto, and still getting standing ovations. The audience is, generally, not filled with musicians. They listen differently, and most of them will be amazed as long as we don't screw up too bad.
Very true. But is that still considered a good performance? Obviously, there was probably a lot of passion put into the music if people were that blown away by it, but is that enough? Or is it just a mediocre performance that people don't realize is mediocre? I understand there's a lot you can get away with, but is it acceptable from a musical standpoint?

Thank you all for your insightful thoughts.
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davidjosepha
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« Reply #6 on: July 16, 2012, 07:38:27 PM »

You may want to see an earlier thread I started:

http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=45688.0

Those slips are pretty random; it seems there's not much you could do to eradicate them and you should not get to obsessed with them.

Another type of mistakes occurs because you haven't learnt the piece properly, and occur quite often during practice.  These mistakes you need to deal with as they reflect that you might have a technical issue that needs resolving.
Thanks for the link. I'll read it. I get random slips from time to time, but pieces I have learned recently, for the most part, have no recurring errors, just, "Oh no, my hand was going too fast and was jumping two octaves and I hit two notes instead of just one". Is one a bad pianist for having several errors like that in a performance if there are no errors that just kept showing up as the pianist practiced but failed to address? Or does it even matter? After all, the audience doesn't know if it's a recurring error or a one-time thing.
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49410enrique
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« Reply #7 on: July 16, 2012, 08:06:15 PM »

i think it also probably depends on if in the performance do you know the notes you missed. probably a bigger issue and much more importnat if you are unaware of the bauble vs if you have learned the piece reasonably well and in performance conditions you have an abberrant/rare stumble in a spot or two you hardly ever if at all miss in practice.

yes though, it is very important but partly dependent on what the pieces is being learned and performed for. jury/audition/compeition? you bet. 

casual recital with less savy listeners? probably not as much (considering you are in the latter situation i aluded to before vs just being unaware of inaccuracy).

also the place in the music probably matters, i.e. is it a cadenza? chances are a missed note is probably part of the 'non chord tones' you were after anyways.  or if you hit a wrong note bit it is still part of the written or even implied harmony it prolly matters less so as well.

good question. complicated. sort of.
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pytheamateur
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« Reply #8 on: July 16, 2012, 08:06:26 PM »

I think I should clarify about random errors.  There is something you could do to a certain extent, although a lot has to do with psychological factors.  You need to get into a right frame of mind and rid your minds of negative thoughts.  Fighting nerves helps a lot.  All is easier said than done, and I'm still grappling with these problems myself.  Lately I have been trying to have a little alchohol before I play (have been doing that a couple of times before going to lessons).  It might sound rather sad I'm doing this; it's as though I'm relying on a drug, even though I drink only in moderation.
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Beethoven - Sonata in C sharp minor, Op 27 No 12
Chopin - Fantasie Impromptu, Nocturn in C sharp minor, Op post
Brahms - Op 118, Nos 2 & 3
pianoman53
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« Reply #9 on: July 16, 2012, 08:14:42 PM »


Very true. But is that still considered a good performance? Obviously, there was probably a lot of passion put into the music if people were that blown away by it, but is that enough? Or is it just a mediocre performance that people don't realize is mediocre? I understand there's a lot you can get away with, but is it acceptable from a musical standpoint?

Thank you all for your insightful thoughts.
Well, then what is a good performance? One can always argue about respect to the composer and stuff like that. But if the specific audience is happy and gain something from it, it should be considered a good performance. I mean, if one have to have some general idea on what would be needed for a good performance, it would be impossible for pianists (unless you are one of the top 5 pianists of all time), but it would also be disrespectful to the audience. The audience should, in the end, be the ultimate judge on the performance.  
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49410enrique
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« Reply #10 on: July 16, 2012, 08:15:50 PM »

I think I should clarify about random errors.  There is something you could do to a certain extent, although a lot has to do with psychological factors.  You need to get into a right frame of mind and rid your minds of negative thoughts.  Fighting nerves helps a lot.  All is easier said than done, and I'm still grappling with these problems myself.  Lately I have been trying to have a little alchohol before I play (have been doing that a couple of times before going to lessons).  It might sound rather sad I'm doing this; it's as though I'm relying on a drug, even though I drink only in moderation.
i've heard of folks trying that before, that said, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant so it is probably not ideal.  you can speak to a physician about getting prescribed some 'beta blockers' those have been pretty helpful with people in different situations, i.e. piano, test anxiety, speeches, etc.

some people also like to smoke cannabis since it seems to mellow some people out without affecting the electrical system.

legal speak
NOTE I AM NOT CONDONING OR AGAINST ONE OR THE OTHER just stating what anectotal and some research evidence shows. information only not a judgement.
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pytheamateur
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« Reply #11 on: July 16, 2012, 08:22:23 PM »

Well, then what is a good performance? One can always argue about respect to the composer and stuff like that. But if the specific audience is happy and gain something from it, it should be considered a good performance. I mean, if one have to have some general idea on what would be needed for a good performance, it would be impossible for pianists (unless you are one of the top 5 pianists of all time), but it would also be disrespectful to the audience. The audience should, in the end, be the ultimate judge on the performance.  

The type of audience varies a lot depending on the types of concert you give.  Should one aim to please the most demanding audience, e.g playing for examiners or judges in a competition?
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Beethoven - Sonata in C sharp minor, Op 27 No 12
Chopin - Fantasie Impromptu, Nocturn in C sharp minor, Op post
Brahms - Op 118, Nos 2 & 3
pianoman53
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« Reply #12 on: July 16, 2012, 08:28:41 PM »

The type of audience varies a lot depending on the types of concert you give.  Should one aim to please the most demanding audience, e.g playing for examiners or judges in a competition?
For me, one shouldn't aim to please anyone, except oneself. If you aim only to please someone else, you will, sooner or later, lose yourself, and you will be nothing but a parrot, playing for a cracker.
One should aim to please oneself. There is nothing else to do. The question is whether the audience in question will like it or not. If they do, well, good for you!
If they don't, to be untrue to oneself wouldn't be the answer to make them happy. Even if it did, would it be worth it?
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rachmaninoff_forever
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« Reply #13 on: July 16, 2012, 09:37:57 PM »

Everything depends on the occasion and your goal. If you play in churches for old people, all you have to do is show up. But if you play in a music school, for other musicians, or even pianists, it's different. Once or twice obvious wrong notes is okay, but not more. no hitting d+d#, even in Rachmaninov.
But for a normal audience in a normal concert hall, it's less important than you think. I've seen pianists win van Cliburn and QE, and getting serious slips, more than once. I've also seen real starts screw up an entire concerto, and still getting standing ovations. The audience is, generally, not filled with musicians. They listen differently, and most of them will be amazed as long as we don't screw up too bad.

Horowitz was always able to get away with hitting wrong notes no matter what audience he was playing for.

So I think it's possible to compensate for ones lack of consistency with actually playing music, not just hitting the notes.
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davidjosepha
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« Reply #14 on: July 16, 2012, 10:23:20 PM »

So it seems to be pretty well accepted among the posters in this thread that wrong notes are to be expected, but we should do all we can to make sure these wrong notes are unavoidable random slip-ups, rather than chronic errors.
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j_menz
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« Reply #15 on: July 16, 2012, 11:26:06 PM »

Note accuracy is important. We should all aim to get the notes right.

That said, there is a LOT more to a piece than just getting the notes right.

And in the end, a (stray) wrong note is not the worst mistake you could make. Even in Mozart.
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danhuyle
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« Reply #16 on: July 17, 2012, 01:02:36 PM »

When you practice, always aim to play accurately with proper positioning.

Learning the notes to a piece is easy. Musicality, rhythm and tempo on the other hand requires thought.

If piano was all about playing the right notes, then I would've learned much more pieces by now. What's more important is that you always concentrate on the musical aspects first.

Note accuracy would be the last thing to worry about after you do everything else required in a piece

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pianoman53
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« Reply #17 on: July 17, 2012, 04:26:37 PM »

When you practice, always aim to play accurately with proper positioning.

Learning the notes to a piece is easy. Musicality, rhythm and tempo on the other hand requires thought.

If piano was all about playing the right notes, then I would've learned much more pieces by now. What's more important is that you always concentrate on the musical aspects first.

Note accuracy would be the last thing to worry about after you do everything else required in a piece
Well, that's a bit too far, don't you think? I mean, yeah, in a perfect world, you would be right. In a perfect world, maybe, people wouldn't care about wrong notes. But if you have splendid musicality, but hit tons of wring notes, the musicality will screw up. I read a quote in a technique-book, Hanon if I remember it correct, "One can play bad with good technique, but one can't play well without it". It's sort of the same with wrong notes. Just because you play all notes, doesn't mean you will play it well. But if you hit too many wrong, it wont be good.

Also, musicality is something that will grow with time, and has nothing to do with muscle memory. If you don't care about wrong notes until the last minute, everything will be terribly much more difficult,and the musicality wont make any sense. One shouldn't get too stuck in right notes, but one shouldn't think they are the least important thing either.
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asuhayda
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« Reply #18 on: July 17, 2012, 04:26:54 PM »

Hey!

I always say that the audience usually forgives wrong notes, but they never forgive an empty performance.  I think it's more important to express something to the audience. If there is a connection there, then job well done. If not, then playing all the correct notes becomes a minor accomplishment.

Plus, it's too much pressure to say to yourself "I must play all of the notes perfectly!"  That could cause problems during a performance.  You need to be able to forgive yourself as well.
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pianoman53
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« Reply #19 on: July 17, 2012, 04:31:16 PM »

Just as the audience will forgive a few wrong notes, the audience will forgive a few holes in the interpretation.
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danielekstrom
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« Reply #20 on: July 19, 2012, 09:07:05 PM »

I believe one should strive for perfection, but not expect it.
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piano6888
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« Reply #21 on: April 25, 2014, 02:45:01 PM »

Pretty much what others have said here, and in summary, it depends on the era in which the music is in and also the audience.  The earlier it is (especially for well known pieces), the more important it is, but the later eras, you have more freedom in terms of missed notes.  That is not to say that accuracy isn't important; it is and too many mistakes, slips, and wrong notes would butcher a performance regardless of the era.  As far as the audience is concerned, most concert goers, like everyday average people wouldn't be able to discern a mistake in the music unless it was blatant (stopping, or going back to repeat incorrect passages and the like.) and even less so if they are not familiar with the piece.  Now if the audience is full of seasoned musicians and those that know music on the back of their hand, then chances are they may pick it up.  Then the chances of them nitpicking and making a mountain of a mole hill is even slimmer.  So in short, there isn't too much to worry about, just do your best and focus on making each performance better than the previous one; as long as you are happy and you are able to deliver your performance to an audience while receiving rave reviews, then mission successful! Cheesy

On a final note, yes note accuracy is important and one's goal is to always aim for getting ALL the notes correct, but whether it will happen is another matter altogether.  Don't be too stressed out if it's just one false note in a performance.
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mjames
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« Reply #22 on: April 25, 2014, 03:35:48 PM »

Why why why

Most of the people in this thread haven't posted in over a year.
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gyzzzmo
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« Reply #23 on: April 28, 2014, 07:13:04 AM »

Most people here seem to say it depends on the composer or on the audience.

I'd say it all depends on the performer. Personally i dont want to play any wrong notes, i dont really care about the opinion of the audience. I know i'm usually more critical about my own playing  than they are anyway.
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pianoman53
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« Reply #24 on: April 28, 2014, 09:27:08 AM »

If the wrong notes disturbs the musical aspect of the piece, then it's too many. Then it's different from person to person.
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