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Write Now: Playing Mistakes Are Part Of A Musician’s Process Of Learning An Instrument

I was surfing the Internet the other day and I happened to see a video about Simon Phillips.

Now there are probably at least 100 videos, if not more, of Simon Phillips, on YouTube, but this certain one caught my attention.

Phillips is what one would call a drummer’s drummer. He can play anything, and has been playing for a very long time.

One could say he has performed with everybody — not really, but the list of artists and bands keeps growing.

I remember first seeing him on MTV. Remember MTV when it showed videos? I sure did, and I could get enough. When I was a junior and senior at Jamestown High School, I watched MTV as much as I could. Where else could musicians see how other musicians played their own songs. If one wanted to see how a guitar riff was played, all one had to do was wait for the video of his favorite band or artist. The only drawback was if it was an artsy concept video, then chances were the musicians would not be playing their instruments.

Phillips was playing drums on Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open The Door,” from Townshend’s “Empty Glass” album. Great song and great drumming.

Fast forward and Phillips is even better than he was in that video and song.

The video excerpt I found was of Phillips talking about mistakes. Wow, here was a musician talking about mistakes that he has made playing live. In the studio, musicians can record over their mistakes, so their performances sound flawless. But live, sometimes life happens and mistakes are made. In 2007 Phillips, who was then drumming for Toto, talked about what happened on stage one night where some of the members got lost in a song. Toto has scored hits with “Rosanna,” and “Africa,” to name a few. Phillips was called on to play in Toto, in 1992, when one of its founding members Jeff Porcaro died. And in the Youtube video, youtube.com/watch?v=4Kt87elbUKc, he related that the band rehearsed before going on tour but did not rehearse some songs. “We would never rehearse ‘Rosanna.’ We’d never rehearse ‘Hold the Line.’ And we’d never rehearse ‘Africa.’ We just didn’t want to play those songs anymore than we actually had to.”

Over the years, he said, the band has changed arrangements to some of their songs. It’s a normal thing to change arrangements because playing the exact same thing becomes mundane and vanilla. Jazz artists change their arrangements quite frequently.

It’s expected.

If you happen to see a very good jazz band more than once in a two-week period, you probably will hear two or three different arrangements to their songs. If you don’t then maybe you should ask one of the members at the end of show why not any arrangements were changed.

So as the arrangements change, Phillips said, some other members could not remember how to end “Rosanna.” Phillips explained the banter on stage, and how the band finally ended the song. Amusing anecdote? Yes, but it explains that even seasoned, professional musicians can make mistakes and laugh about it later. It’s part of the process and also means that one has to be flexible because one may never know what life will throw at him.

Bassist Jeff Berlin echoed Phillips’ thoughts on mistakes.

Berlin, who has played on countless recordings, is known for his great ability to play virtually any genre of music.

“Mistakes mean nothing,” Berlin said to a student. Both were in a Youtube video, youtube.com/watch?v=rzpfeIDxBs4&t=606s, hosted by Berlin where he commented that art and academics are different. “There is a funny, tense element that a lot of people have about mistakes. It’s like they can’t deal with making mistakes. The awful truth is we all make them. Usually it’s music that instantly shows us our flaws and our incapabilities. If one is of a solid ability to accept this, they take that truth and get better from it.”

Berlin also agreed with Phillips about jazz and how it’s played.

“It’s hard to play jazz if we don’t know what the notes are,” Berlin added. “Jazz is a great teacher.

In another Youtube video, youtube.com/watch?v=YkcrONSwBHU, Berlin is showing the viewer how to create an original baseline (bass part) by using just rhythm at first, and then putting pitches to the rhythm. In the video he makes a mistake and say he is leaving it in because it’s part of the process.

And that’s my point: musicians learn from their mistakes.

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