Ten Minute Virtuoso – Expanded Explanation

In The Ten Minute Virtuoso, I say that the SAD Syndrome affects just about every musician and is the all-time, worst-ever practice habit of musicians.

Let me go one step further: If you do not eliminate the SAD Syndrome from your playing, you will NEVER feel totally confident and carefree when you play.

Defending the SAD Syndrome

“But,” you argue, “Of course I’m going to stop when I hit a wrong note. That’s how I define what needs to be worked on.”

Fair enough. Good point. I’ve heard this from many musicians. They say that they need to know what to focus on in their practicing. And, the points where they’re forced to stop are the places that need focus.

I agree with this defense on one condition: When you find the place that needs fixing, you have to actually fix it!!

Unfortunately, what I generally see (and hear) is that musicians hit the wrong note, stop, back up, and try again. Then, they just keep plowing forward as if the problem is over. The problem is not over. You’ll probably have that exact same problem the next time you play that section.

Fixing the SAD Syndrome

Once that problem area has been defined, why do you keep playing at the same tempo and make the same mistake again and again, over and over? The problem with the SAD Syndrome is that it doesn’t go away. Once you’ve played a bad note and know that you need to make a fix, slow down to build correct muscle memory, do some repetitions, set up a loop, and play the lick correctly. Actually fix the problem!!

What’s so frustrating about the SAD Syndrome is that musicians do NOT fix the problem. They merely fix a single note and then move on, as if everything is okay now. It’s NOT okay. You’ve just taught your muscles to play that mistake and stop every time you get to the same place again.

Eliminating the SAD Syndrome

Stopping while you are playing means you are temporarily confused and out of control. These are the negative feelings you’re trying to avoid when you play your instrument. Don’t cement them in place while you practice.

One good way to avoid this confusion is to be totally clear about what exactly you’re doing when you play your instrument. If you are clear about the stage of practicing you’re in, you’ll take actions that will help you with the SAD Syndrome.

When you’re just learning a section, go slowly – so slowly that you CAN’T make any errors. Remember, this is just in the initial learning stage.

After you’ve worked the music up to speed, there’s a point when you need to play all the way through a section or even a whole song. At this stage, you’re practicing performing. This is a completely different situation than the learning stage or the speeding up stage. When you practice performing, you go forward full speed ahead at all times – even if wrong notes happen!!

Why the SAD Syndrome is almost spooky

Two things make the SAD Syndrome incredibly interesting – and kind of haunting.

First, only pitch seems to trigger it. Incorrect rhythms, uncontrolled dynamics, sudden speeding up or slowing down, and changes in tone quality don’t affect musicians in the same way. These symptoms somehow don’t seem “wrong” in the same way that a wrong pitch does! Messing up rhythms actually happens all the time when musicians practice, but these wrong rhythms almost never cause the musician to stop playing, make the fix, and try it again. There’s something about hitting a wrong note (or, for drummers, hitting the wrong drum or cymbal) that causes the SAD Syndrome to take over.

Second, for most musicians, it feels out of your control. It’s as if the error forces you to stop playing and try it over again. It’s not as if you planned to stop and try that note a second time. It just happens. You might not even notice that you’re stopping and re-starting. Without seeing yourself on video or having your teacher point it out to you, the SAD Syndrome can be imperceptible.