Mistakes, Embarrassment & Recovery on Stage

Deal with the unexpected and still prevail with your singing –says Petra Tool

The young singer with his characteristic shaved head was obviously having fun jamming on stage (see full size image below).

He messed up the lyrics of Higher Ground pretty badly though.

Yet, he kept on singing, without restraint, mixing together words on the spot – no one seemed to notice the mistakes.

Kris Rietveld was replacing the lead vocalist the very last minute, singing with a band he didn’t know.

It was clear to me he knew how to adapt to unforeseen circumstances on stage – but how did he learn that skill?

Get Out of Your Own Space

The question about recovering on stage kept lingering in my head, so I met with Kris and he revealed the following…

“When I finished the conservatory, I started joining music sessions on a daily basis. I didn’t get paid, and sometimes had the opportunity to only sing one song. But socializing and performing with other musicians sure beat staying at home practicing by myself.”

He was dealing well with surprises on stage because he was working with new musicians all the time.

Also, the ‘jamming’ he was doing meant that he couldn’t meticulously prepare each and every song – someone might begin in the wrong key, or the bridge might get skipped…

With all of these “dangers” is there anything that singers can do to reduce the risks?

Be One With The Band

Kris told me that the key to reducing risks on stage is communication with your band.

“You have to learn to cue the band, to let them know you want them to go slower or to take you to the chorus.

“But at the same time you have to be flexible and to be willing to set your Ego aside. If you cue for something and it doesn’t happen, you have to go with the flow. The band and the vocalist really have to try and find each other.”

Jam as Much as You Can

According to Kris, there are many advantages in joining jam sessions frequently:

“You get to know a lot of musicians, you quickly build a repertoire and if you’re lucky, you can try out some of your own songs every now and then. It’s also a great way to work on your performance skills, watching how the audience reacts to you”.

The sessions are starting to pay off for Kris in ways he could not have foreseen.

He now is organizing his own sessions, asking musicians he admires to sit in. –and he is being noticed by talent scouts.

Face your Fears

So, get yourself on stage as often as you can. How else are you going to get the experience you need?

But remember whenever you make a mistake: lots of musicians have been embarrassed at sessions.

It can’t get much worse than saxophone player Charlie Parker, who was laughed off the bandstand because he only knew two songs in their original key.

But every time he was booed, it inspired him to learn from the musicians he had just met, and to do better the very next time.

Watch Kris (and the pianist!) cueing the band at Higher Ground.

Petra Tool is a Dutch artist and artist’s coach. A gifted portrait artist, she explores the personalities of gifted performers, interviewing them about their talent, passions, the problems they face, their insecurities and secrets of their success. You can find more information on her website

Useful Links:
Eric Maisel’s Advice on Making Mistakes and Messes
More articles by Petra Tool

Flow – 70×90 cm – watercolour – Petra Tool

Intense – 70×90 cm – watercolour – Petra Tool

  • TomL

    I messed up the lyrics to Higher Ground last night myself! It’s one that eludes me because the song lyrics don’t really have a flow. Nobody noticed except me as I sang with gusto (and of course my VoiceLive doubling effect) with jumbled up lyrics. My rules for lyric forgetting are: sing it like ya mean it, substitute another lyric from the song, repeat a previous lyric with a slightly different melody or a vocal lick.James Taylor sang a concert here in Victoria and forgot a lyric to one of his most loved songs. At the end of the song he said “I think I owe you a third verse” Embarrassment over.