Transforming the Word ‘Mistake’ Through Our Music Practice, Part 1 by FMC Teacher Jess

Part 1: “Fight or Flight Response, it’s okay, it’s not our fault!”


The time is 7:30pm circa 1800’s in the bitter cold of winter, you are warming your extremities by a fire that took determined effort with flint stone as opposed to a lighter setting fire in seconds. Covered by the fur of the animals you hunted, you are well fed and content, until…you hear a large animal stampeding, the rustling of twigs and leaves, within seconds you are eye to eye with a grizzly bear, your worst enemy in this territory. It is this moment where your sympathetic nervous system kicks in, hormones flooding your heart, respiratory systems and blood vessels begin to surge with a fight or flight response to help the human species survive. In this moment, we can bow to our body’s response to help save us.




Fast forward to the year 2016, you are playing a piece of music and your fingers happen to play the wrong note…and rhythm! Brace yourself, there are 3 seconds to decide what to do with your reaction before the fight or flight response of stress kicks in. Unfortunately, you decide to be stressed about this minute “mistake.” Your breath freezes, veins bulge in your neck, muscles in the arms and neck intensify and constrict, and suddenly, your instrument has become a slave to your mind. As a music teacher, I see this reaction in children and adults that do not quite understand the process going on in their bodies when it comes to our fear of making mistakes and our reactions to them.


The most important thing to remind yourself as an educator, student, or anyone trying to complete a task is to be calm and immediately take a deep breath as soon as you recognize that you can do something better. Most importantly, we need to honor the desire to be better and the fact that we even understand when we are making a mistake! When my student makes a musical error and recognizes it, I honor that and applaud them for knowing how to play it the correct way. I then explain that because of this understanding, their minds are brilliant, but they still need to teach their fingers and feet how to work together. To put this integration into perspective: I have many young students that hold their hands in the air and talk to their fingers when they ‘misbehave,’ but I will save this one for Part 2: Failing is fun!

“Your mind is your instrument. Learn to be its master and not its slave.” -Remez Sasson

Remember, our fight or flight response can be turned on and off quite easily, it has protected us as a species for thousands of years…STRESS IS NOT YOUR FAULT. The more often we recognize when this survival mechanism wants to turn on, we can teach our body and mind how to be stress free in all situations.

Source: Jess W – Music and Yoga

Be sure to check out Part 2: “Failing can be fun!”

Courtesy of Jess W. – Jess W. is an music and yoga instructor in the Greater New York area who often combines the awareness of body, posture, and breath into her lessons. As a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, she remains immersed in the world of jazz, classical, soul, funk, and world music. Jess loves working with children of all ages and strives to keep the inspiration, passion, and creativity alive while helping the student understand the joy that music can bring.


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