How to Recover from a Bad Performance

“Good recovery,” someone said to me after the recital was over.

I already knew I hadn’t played my best. The mistakes piled on, and each one made me play worse, like a domino effect. To have someone else acknowledge it as well didn’t help. Others gave me the generic “good job”, but that also deepened the negative experience. I decided then that I’d never do a performance again.

Of course, I did. I didn’t want that to be my last experience, and here’s what I learned by not giving up.

1. Don’t despair

Everyone makes mistakes, even professionals. Each mistake is a learning opportunity and a way to improve yourself in the long run. Also, chances are that not many people will remember the details of the performance as well as you. Ben Zander has a good approach to mistakes: say “how fascinating!”

2. Assess what happened

Did you miss too many notes? Did you freeze up? Did nerves get the better of you? These are the most common reasons for things to go south during a performance.

3. Realize why it happened

Was the weather or your physical condition impacting how you played that day? Could and should you have practiced more? Whether or not it was something you could control, be honest about why it happened.

4. Acknowledge the good parts

When you can communicate the music over the notes, that is what people will remember the most about your performance. The good parts are crucial to recognize because they can literally save you from giving into the bad. In my teaching, I always strive to acknowledge the positives before constructive criticism. There are always good parts.

5. Fix it

Get a new performance on the books asap to replace the bad experience. You’ll be proud of yourself for overcoming this challenge. I know I was, and I push my students to do the same.


There is no such thing as a perfect performance or audition. Even professionals make mistakes. Consider it one little blip in the whole musical composition of your life. You have so many notes left to play.

Perhaps one day, you can look back on it and laugh.

Or at least laugh at things like this: The most intensely funny fails in classical music 

For tips on how to avoid a bad performance, these tactics I outline in How to Audition come in handy.

One thought on “How to Recover from a Bad Performance

  1. I do not play a musical instrument…that does not preclude my from making mistakes. Great advice, next time, I will throw up my hands and laugh!

    Barbara Wolfe


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