Failure, The Price of Success?

How often does the fear of failure prevent us from making the beautiful music of which we are capable? It seems that the more we worry about sounding good the less well we perform. Perhaps we should forget about ‘performing’ (just see what negative associations the dictionary throws up for that term!) and remember that music was mankind’s first means of communication.

I have been brought back, once again, to pondering this question by a young pianist who says she is giving up the piano because she has been told that she doesn’t have the ability to excel as a performer, or even to pass advanced grade exams. My response was that, if she plays the piano just to be better at it than other people, she should give it up and find some channel for competition outside of the arts. However, if she plays because she loves music and wants to share it with other people, she should just get on and do that and her love will communicate itself to others.

We often do not play well in auditions, competitions and exams because we are conscious of being judged. It’s not like taking a driving test or a maths test: communicating through music is much more personal and we find it hard to separate our innermost self from its physical expression. But we will never find joy in sincere music-making unless we have a sense of self-worth that is not dependent on an assessment of our musical skills. In other words, we have to accept that we may fail and make music anyway. Paradoxically, once we embrace the ‘death’ of failure, we can begin to live and grow as musicians.

I find it really hard to put all this into words but I recommended to the disappointed young pianist the book entitled “Effortless Mastery” by jazz musician, Kenny Werner, in which he explores the failure/success paradox and its implications for musicians. Many have found reading this deeply spiritual book a really life-changing experience and Kenny is ever generous in responding to his readers, encouraging them to put its principles into practice. In recent weeks, he has been running a series of tele-seminars on his website, answering readers’ questions and these are available for replay. See Effortless Mastery


Get Away, Get Creative!

In  the present economic climate many of you amateur musicians may be thinking twice about booking summer school courses next year. Perhaps you can be tempted, though, by the short courses offered by the Benslow Music Trust. These include weekend and mid-week courses in a wide and extremely imaginative range of musical knowledge and skills. In the 2008-2009 list, three creative music opportunities particularly took my eye:

“Fruit salad with Sambuca: Recorders, flutes, guitars, lutes…
Michael Copley, Peter Martin
9-11 January, 2009

Working with source music ranging from Balkan folk music to baroque sonatas and of various types, including chord symbols, keyboard scores and figured bass, you will go through the process of arranging new music from original score through to performance….”


“Composing for Amateurs
Stephen Montague
27 February -1 March

Composers young or old, interested in exploring the exciting world of contemporary music are invited to participate in this course. The programme will involve developing new skills using traditional notation as well as exploring various contemporary techniques and practices such as graphic notation. The course is open to instrumentalists and vocalists from a moderate standard upwards….”


“Compose a New Musical
Rebecca Applin
12-14 June

Compose a new musical from scratch and learn more about songwriting and composing for the theatre… After group songwriting workshops and individual composition and tutorial time, the course will culminate in a read and sing through of the resulting new musical….”

Each of the above courses costs less than £200. Resident. For further details visit, or telephone 01462 459446.