Embrace what you play

August 14, 2023

In a previous article I shared a bit about my background as a musician, in my search to connect music practice with a secular Buddhist practice (and vice versa). In this article I want to share a phrase I once read in a music book, that at first changed the way I make music and slowly became a life philosophy that today I closely relate to the four tasks. Hope you enjoy it!


Have you ever read something that, in an instant, changed the core of who you are? Internal growth and change are an ever-occurring process, but every once in a while, you hear a ‘snap’ and all of a sudden that person who looks back at you in the mirror reminds you of who you were, but it’s a completely different person. It is as if you were pushing heavy furniture and suddenly the friction subsides, with the furniture jumping ahead as if gravity decided to lend you a helping hand. It’s truly a powerful experience that would be very confusing if it occurred all the time. Luckily, it happens only a few times in a lifetime.

One of those experiences happened to me when I was reading The Advancing Guitarist, a mind-bending book by a great guitar player and instructor, Mick Goodrick. The book has a lot of information and, in between quite straightforward guitar exercises, my eyes came upon a line that read something like: ‘If you play something you don’t like, don’t change what you play but instead change what you like.’ Boom. I changed. Pedro, meet the new Pedro. Nice to meet you, Pedro.

If you are playing, and especially if you are improvising, sooner or later you will mess up. Something will happen that wasn’t intended. You want to play one sound and another sound comes out. Not good. At that moment, a part of your brain will say ‘that was bad!’ and all your focus will go towards not messing up again. That doesn’t work for a number of reasons. First of all, that ‘bad thing’ is in the past. It already happened. Also, tensing up after a mistake is a great way of proceeding to play something so ugly that it will make the previous mistake look great. Instead, what I think this phrase proposes is changing the concept of what the mistake is. The mistake is not what you played. The mistake is that you thought it was bad.

Let’s make one thing clear. I like the concept of mistakes. I think a mistake can be a useful tool, if we use what happened as a compass to steer future actions in a wiser direction. The mistake is not what you played. The mistake is that you thought it was a mistake. Now we are on to something.

A lot of things happen after this realization:

  1. You are recognizing that there is an opportunity for growth in what just happened. You are not denying it, but you are trying to make the best out of something that, never mind your opinion, has already happened. In other words, you are embracing reality as it is. (The First Task – Embracing life in all its complexity)
  2. You are letting go of the auto-flagellation of self-improvement. We can even go as far as saying that you are allowing yourself to react, but now you are the rider of the horse instead of being a horse running full speed to nowhere. (The Second Task – Let reactivity be)
  3. You are empowering the part of your brain that helps you calibrate your responses, but you are training that part to kindly state an opinion and not yell at you when something goes wrong. You can now realize that you are the rider and you also are the horse, and you can choose where to go. (The Third Task – See the ceasing of reactivity)

As noted, these points are related to the first three tasks but now we’ve reached what I think is the key issue. We can actualize a path (the Fourth Task), recognizing that we can make a positive impact in ourselves and in the world not by focusing on making ‘the bad less big’ but on “making what’s good even bigger”. At first your actions look quite similar on the outside, but I think it leads to a paradigm shift that is very important when we are embarking on a path that has no end.

What do you think? Is this a mistake? Could be… but I hope it leads to exciting opportunities in your life and your practices!



7 Replies to “Embrace what you play”


I agree in fundamental aspects! Thanks for Sharing Pedro!

Pedro Bellora

Thank you, Carlos! I’m glad you liked the article.

Gustavo de Buenos Aires

Excelent Pedrito! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and wisdom!

Pedro Bellora

Thank you so much for your message, Gustavo! Glad you liked it!


Hi Pedro. A fine article, thanks for taking the time to write out your thoughts and experience and for sharing them with us.

It reminds me of a story Herbie Hancock tells of a point once in a concert with one of Miles Davis’s quintets. The music was going along nicely when suddenly Herbie played quite loudly a very wrong chord. He cringed and sunk into himself, certain that when he looked up he would see Miles glaring at him. What happened instead was that Miles changed the entire direction of the music to work with that “wrong” chord. That was both a musical and spiritual transformative moment for him.

Pedro Bellora

Lewis, thanks for your message!! That story of Herbie Hancock is absolutely amazing! In case anyone else is interested, please let me share a link to a video where he himself shares that anecdote: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-GrRIgdmW8 . It’s truly a beautiful and powerful thing. Thanks, Lewis, and it’s a pleasure to be in touch with you! All the best!


Hey Pedro. Yes, that’s the story. Good onya for putting up the link. All the best with your music. May every moment and every note reveal in some small way the bright light of its unique truth.

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