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I am a musician who used to play the piano a lot, but now plays the pipe organ in churches, recitals, and competitions. At age 17, with 13 years of musical experience, I very rarely play a piece 100% accurately note-wise, despite having tirelessly honed and refined my posture and practice techniques. However, I am told that I excel at inspiring an emotional reaction in the audience.

It may be because I have so much fun playing the music that the details get lost and there is greater sloppiness.

Why am I not playing accurately? What is the secret to being able to play a piece accurately, while still enjoying the music?

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    Organ music is multilayered. You need to get each layer self-consistent. Try working on your listening skills, so that you can enjoy the multi-layered experience without either getting lost in a general mushiness or just tracking a single voice. If you play with fun and emotion, you are deviating from a mechanically exact execution and it is important that all voices and deviations stay in their own shape and character. That's really hard to do consistently, and the way to start is to notice it. So practice listening to contrapuntal music. – User8773 May 21 '14 at 12:07
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A reason why you don't pay as much attention to detail as the next performer is as broad as a field. My only solution would be to start paying more attention to the detail and try and train yourself to enjoy performing with as much attention to detail as you can.

I personally get quite a lot of enjoyment out of performing music with as much attention to detail as I can. Sure, it can be a lot of fun to slug out a few tunes over a few beers (probably wouldn't be doing this on a pipe organ in church) but there's always room for detail.

Your original question

Why am I not playing accurately?

you haven't made the commitment to yourself to do so.

What is the secret to being able to play a piece accurately, while still enjoying the music?

There isn't one. It's a mindset that you need to achieve yourself.

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I've found that inaccurate playing is usually a result of trying to play something that is ahead of your ability. If it's still sounding good, this likely means not that you lack the skill but that you have not put enough time and effort into learning and practising rather than performing. You should slow the piece down while practising and focus on accuracy. Only increase the speed when you can play it correctly.

Of course, there are other reasons including familiarity with the instrument (a bigger problem with changing pianos than with a portable instrument), nervousness, or failing to warm up. These are largely solved by practice as well.

I do not expect playing better to decrease your enjoyment — quite the opposite!

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Forgive me for a back-to-basics answer. But this technique has worked for me in music, language learning and even farming. I know you said you have really sharp practice techniques but:

If the inaccuracies are always with the same passages, the time-honored metronome-repetition-speed up metronome-repeat method still might be of use - I find that I want to be able to play problematic phrases at least twice as fast as ultimately desired before I can work on expression and interpretation without having to 'think' about the notes. But I start considerably slower than than ultimately desired to be sure I have proper fingering. (could there also be fingering alternatives that would be more natural for you? (just a thought)).

On guitar, I have spent hours on 8 measures. Not really fun but the result was worth it.

The point is not the blazing speed - it is to get the finger-memory strong. Then the brain can trust the fingers with the technical execution.

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I became frustrated with my own playing for the same reason. Decided to do some research and came across some great books, including "The Practice Revolution" by Philip Johnston. It completely turned my playing around. There are a number of well known but often forgotten steps to practicing music perfectly. Another useful book was "The Perfect Wrong Note" by William Westney.

The methods outlined in the book show how to practice properly so that the music comes out fluently. Too often musicians practice mistakes into their playing. Following a good practice routine helps move away from these bad practice habits. Best of all, a good practice technique will help you to learn faster!

A lot of the practice methods focus on relaxation and concentration. Lack of these two will make your playing prone to errors.

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I am not an expert but I think that playing inaccurately is in fact "inaccurately" (with quotes). I think you just put in your own twist at the moment (some sort of improvisation). I think it is of the utmost importance not to copy pieces 100% but to have your own swing in it. At least, that is my opinion. Some people can be recognized that way because they create their own sound and you would recognize that within a song. Btw, you aren't nervous on stage, are you?

  • "your own twist" would be under his control. His question, however, was about things coming out different than he wants them. Sloppy phrasing or a run segmented by its fingering distribution rather than the musical accents is not an art form. There is a world of difference between sloppy playing and deliberately expressive playing. The former bores and/or irritates the audience, the latter captures it. The former takes away from the music, the latter adds to it. Not every addition may be wise, but it should be coherent and intentional. – User8773 May 21 '14 at 19:48

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