Make Your Mistakes Big


The little blonde girl taps her rhythms. She takes a break from her piano song. Notes and melody fall apart over her broken rhythms. The only way back is to feel the pulse with the teacher.

We start. Our eyes scan the printed page. When she falls off she stops and catches up to where I am. I keep going no matter what. She starts big and strong. But eventually her movements get smaller, quieter and tiny. Only the tips of her hands move now. I can’t tell what’s happening.

“Keep your arms big,” I urge while trying not to stop the song.

A little better.
Then tiny motion again.
“Strong rhythm…”
And then, finally I stop.

“Make your mistakes, BIIIIG!……”
I use a funny voice, stretching my hands wide to emphasize “BIG”.

She laughs at the voice.
She laughs at the absurdity of a teacher telling her the opposite of what most of us adults say to kids.

Make mistakes.

Make them big.

Humor breaks the spell of perfectionism. Her confidence buoyed. Less distracted with pleasing me. Freedom helps us soar.

Freedom to be herself.
Freedom to be confident.
Freedom to hit a wrong note.

She doesn’t know it, but she needs these wrong notes. She NEEDS to make mistakes to improve. And don’t we all need mistakes to improve. Even Beethoven at one time had to learn a new skill. A skill he didn’t have. A skill he faltered at. Bad hand shape. Weak finger strength. Faulty rhythm.

To succeed at learning a new skill you HAVE to make mistakes.

But to be honest, that student is a lot like me. I have played small. Afraid that I couldn’t keep up with the right life rhythms. I have played smaller and smaller.

Deeper relationships seem tricky? Easier not to say anything. To pass on that social gathering that would stretch me in a good way.

A new idea for business seems scary? Easier to pass on that necessary risk. And wonder, “What If?”

Next creative project seems daunting? I wonder if someone else could do a better job. But the idea still nags me.

So we will be the first ones. The first ones to offer grace to each other and say,

“You can make your mistakes BIIIIG with me.”

We will not freak out that we are all just figuring it out. And pick ourselves up and keep going.

Let’s give each other a chance



So when the little blonde drops her perfectionism at the door with her shoes and school bag – maybe I can too.
I might just have a chance to make music.


Photo credit Jesse Orrico

Floodplain Album Review

www.saragroves.comA few weeks ago I interviewed Sara Groves about her new album. Our conversation led to this album review for The Rabbit Room.

Sara Groves’ latest release, Floodplain, is an invitation through means of honest lyrics and lilting melodies, not just to hear what she says, but to see what she sees.

The album’s theme is expedition. From the first track, “This Cup,” the storyteller wakes the listener from a dream and paints a picture away from the addictions that numb. Then the arc of the story begins in the next song, “Expedition.” The piano ostinato mirrors waves on the shore.

Meet me at the river, oh
Fashion us a raft and oar
We’re going on an expedition
Looking for lost time

Melodies and rhythm patterns from these lines weave throughout the songs that follow.

Read the rest at The Rabbit Room.

Breaking up with TV for Beethoven



As I child I was not a fan of classical music. NOT a fan. I would scour the library or bookstores for popular piano music to avoid playing it in lessons. My teacher did let me play (and improvise) the popular songs while my classical scores limped along until contest.

When college auditions came, I panicked. All memorized classical music?! I was forced to “get serious” about practicing and nothing was more easily accessible than Beethoven.

Beethoven’s music sounded good AND fit well under my fingers. The more I played it, the more my musical language grew to appreciate early Bach and Haydn all the way to the late great weirdness of Bartok. But Beethoven was the road in. Hours of practice culminated in a long senior recital. It was one of my personal “conquering Mount Everest” moments.

Use It Up


Little fingers wobble across the keys. Like baby fawn legs, unsure, getting more sure each week. This school year will mark fifteen years of professional teaching. And I love it – not all of it – it’s a lot of hard work – but I am finding my groove.

I’m also finding that it’s easy for a groove to turn into a rut. And to set my brain on autopilot and be annoyed at anything and anyone that causes turbulence. And to look down.

Charity challenged us at writer’s group to think about people in our everyday lives – that we forget to look at.

The people I see everyday, all day, are children. It’s easy to look down – at fingers, at hand positions, at assignment books – and forget to look up at them, long and hard – and smile. To say, “I love to hear you play,” to each child, every time, especially the last ones of the day, when I’m super tired. To say, “Make your mistakes big,” because confident playing leads to better playing.

I’ve realized this because I’ve recently been interacting with other colleagues a decade younger than I am – with way more energy and wildness. I’m remembering my first years of teaching – relationally, I did a lot wrong – but professionally, I threw caution to the wind and didn’t “save back” energy for the next day. Tomorrow would bring its own trouble, but its own inspiration as well.

So this year, my fifteenth year, I’m keeping the skills and the peace and the grace that I need to survive in business. But I’m also returning to the first year and thinking – If my life were marked only for today, how would I live it?

I’m reminding myself to look at the kids “eye to eye”, and what it was like to be young and unsteady and unsure in a new challenge. Remembering to put in the necessary energy to motivate both of us to better music.

And the more energy I put into it, the more I get back from my students. And the more I’m left with for the next day, not less.

Use it up.

Use it all up.


This story is a part of the “Eye to Eye” series.

Visit- Charity, Kelli, Darcy, Ashly, and Jen to read their “Eye to Eye” stories. 



It is a chilly evening as I zip up my coat and head to the studio after work. I am documenting my husband’s progress on his new music album and the last player is recording tonight.

The cellist is our friend and he is amazing. When good players perform they make you smile. When great players perform they make you want to happy cry.

I come in the door on their break – taking pictures and listening to mixes. I hold my breath when they push record so I won’t be overheard. I would have held my breath anyway. John is gifted.

The sound of the bow stirs up emotion. Those strings are me this week. A bow of pressure and demands. Disappointment. Ruined things. Feeling like I am not getting anywhere.