As a beginner, I try to do my best to play exactly the notes as in the sheet music but sometimes I see some professionals hit accidentally some notes, two examples:

The wrong note was D when he wanted the C with left hand (the notes in the video are shifted by one note to the right):

Or here when he hits the C# the second time with the left hand:

My questions are how a professional can hit wrong notes frequently and is it okay?

  • 2
    Like my music teacher once mentioned to me. If you play the right notes, you call it sight-reading. If you play the wrong notes you call it improvising
    – Neil Meyer
    Aug 7 '20 at 10:12
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    Check out the pianist Les Dawson: youtube.com/watch?v=LQ0G2Z8k1Gg Aug 7 '20 at 11:43
  • Where does it happen? Can you add the min./sec. of the time line? Oh, is it where the video starts ... Aug 8 '20 at 7:28
  • Depends... are you playing jazz? :D
    – user91988
    Aug 8 '20 at 15:14
  • @AlbrechtHügli Yes exactly where the videos starts
    – Ja_cpp
    Aug 9 '20 at 10:45

Your 1st example is an improvisation. With improvisation, how does one tell if a note is 'wrong'?

You ask 'is it o.k. to hit a wrong note?' I counter with 'what constitutes a wrong note?'

If one is playing something like a classical piece from the dots, and trying to re-create it exactly, then yes, it's wrong.

If one is playing most other sorts of music, and happens to hit a completely out-of-key note, yes, it's wrong.

If one is playing most other sorts of music, and happens to hit a note which works - how does anyone know whether in fact it actually was a 'wrong note'?

  • For the first example, it is clear that it is not his attention to play that note from the fingering and he wants to play an octave, so I called it a wrong note even if he was improvising over Handel.
    – Ja_cpp
    Aug 7 '20 at 11:00
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    I think this answer is good, but I would like to add the following quote by Beethoven: "To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.”
    – Jonas
    Aug 7 '20 at 11:50
  • @Jonas But Beethoven didn't have to listen to the wrong notes... Aug 8 '20 at 23:33

Wrong notes are never "okay". Even as a total beginner it's very important to try to play all the right notes so you're ingraining the right ones into your fingers and your brain. Professionals of course try to reduce wrong notes to almost zero, but absolute perfection is almost unobtainable.

If you are improvising, it's a different story: there are no 'wrong' notes, only good or bad choices, but you should still try to avoid choosing 'bad' notes.


At orchestral concerts mistakes are rare. That's 80 musicians playing at least 90 minutes of music without a mistake. You can't have an off day. But an occasional wrong note from the soloist in a fast movement of a concerto is accepted, as long as his/her performance is exciting. Orchestral musicians prefer a principal French horn who plays freely and dangerously, even if that means an occasional split note.

When a jazz musician is improvising and hits a wrong note they can often cover their tracks by embracing that note and convincing you they meant to do that. This trick is unavailable to classical musicians. Feel is valued over accuracy. And that's also true of folk musicians, though folk audiences aren't even that bothered about feel!

In standard pop music, the stuff's so goddam easy to play there really shouldn't be any wrong notes.

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    Apparently, Miles Davis said: "when you hit a bad note, it's the note you play after that that makes it good"
    – mkorman
    Aug 7 '20 at 13:51
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    And: repetition legitimizes! Aug 8 '20 at 9:11
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    I heard the Miles Davis quote as "It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note – it’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong.” Aug 8 '20 at 19:49

You should aim to play all notes correctly. This is not everything, but it is important. If you miss notes often, practice slower. It pays off. Professionals circumvent situations in which they play wrong notes. They even practice for this. This is a second stage.


Could it be you mean e.g. someone plays Imagine by John Lennon and instead of the triad ge-c he adds a d?

This wouldn’t mean that he plays a wrong note! The d is the 9th in the tonic chord ceg and gives an additional color to the music, but in the ear of a beginner it might sound weird. There’s a typical honky tonk piano style to add chromatic approaches (#9 with the 3rd=10) in jazz and blues but also in modern classic compositions like Prokofiev’ Peter and the Wulf or Bernsteins Westside Story (Ouverture, Sgt. Krupky, The Rumble).

P.S. I haven’t listen to your examples. But it could be that this is a wanted effect.

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