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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

The Five Time Test for Playing Without Mistakes

- and what I have learnt from flying elephants –

The five time test is a device for ensuring mistake-free playing while at the same time simulating the nervous demands of public performance. This is how it works: you try to play through a phrase or longer passage perfectly five times in a row. If it is mistake-free you move on to the next phrase, but if you make an error you have to go back and start again from number one. Say you play it through perfectly four times in a row, that leaves one do-or-die go for which you concentrate like mad to get right. That is why it feels like a public performance. The five time test is like a game but it toughens you up and helps ensure mistake-free playing.

By the way, while you have read this far and depending on the speed of your reading I have edged two to three miles closer to London at a speed of 565 miles (900 kilometres) per hour and at a height of 9500 metres (32,000 feet) on a Boeing 747 jumbo jet on my journey from Mexico. If you are squeamish about flying look away now for here are a few mind-bending vital statistics! A jumbo jet fully-laden weighs about 400,000 kilograms. An African elephant weighs 6000 kilograms, sometimes less, sometimes more. So a jumbo jet is the equivalent of 66 elephants tail to trunk rising smoothly into the air and staying up until such a time as we wish them to come down.

You could fly every day for 300,000 years without an accident

I know you are thinking what has this to do with the five time test. It has, believe me, as you will see. Allow me to go back to the flying elephants. The miracle of human achievement is not only getting the jumbo jet up there, but the reliability of so doing. The chances of being involved in a fatal accident are less than 11,000,000 to 1. That means you, or an elephant, could fly every day for the next 300,000 years without even a flap of the ears or a raised trunk of alarm. How did the engineering, construction and maintenance of aeroplanes get to be so reliable? Since I am not an engineer I cannot give you a scientific explanation but I can venture this suggestion, which is where I am heading: it certainly was not through a miserly five time test, but more likely a many-time test. Consider the progress of air travel safety, starting in 1903 with the Wright Brothers risking all to fly for 50 seconds and continuing through to the invention of the jet engine in less than 50 years. Commercial development followed by the late '50's with an impressive safety record: no more risking all here, but exhaustive checks and tests to increase safety.

In this context the musicians' five time test does seem a bit flimsy. If the aim is error-free playing it is but a minimum requirement. OK, the stakes are not life and death as with the 66 flying elephants, although you wouldn't think so judging from the distress mistakes cause some players. Error-free playing is certainly a necessary oil for the wheels of an artistically satisfying performance and is the wide-awake daytime dream of all players (which I wrote about just last week here in the Blog page).The five time test can help ensure that the mechanical parts of playing are all neatly in place, like the many-times' test of air travel ensure there are no mistakes as we lift off and fly. Think of the five time test as a mechanical device and not an artistic exercise. Take out the expression and concentrate on accuracy. This will help you stick to it.

To play a phrase perfectly five time in a row is not a lot to ask, certainly not compared to lifting a herd of elephants 11,000,000 times in a row without dropping them. The only risk of the five time test is that you might not incorporate this minimum safety net into your playing, and thus fall to earth with a bump. Thankfully it will be only from the height of your chair, and not from above the clouds.

Now, where am I? Oh yes, about to land for about the 2000th time in my life of travels. Let's see, that leaves another 10,998,000 flights before the chance of a mistake and before I, or my elephants, need start reaching for our life jackets.

28th September 2012, London

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=1650 .
© 2019.


  • Gaelle Solal says:

    Carlos! I just looooove it! U're the best! Te sigo leyendo...este blog es boniiiiiiiissimo! Besos

    • Carlos says:

      Querida Gaelle, muchas gracias por leerlos y tus comentarios. Me encantaria escucharte de nuevo. Un beso, Carlos

  • Wonderful blog!

    I was just wondering, would your elephants need to employ the five time test? as I remember hearing somewhere that they never forget ;-)
    Great article Carlos. They keep getting better and better. Please keep them coming...

    Warm regards, Darragh.

  • Hi Carlos,
    Nice article, though I have always known it as the 8-times test. I like the sound of the 5-times test...it gives me 3 for free! :-)


    • Carlos says:

      8-time test is better still...best to start with 5 and take it stage by stage, dont't you think? Best wishes, Carlos

  • Neil Worley says:

    Excellent advice Carlos! I believe Barrios did the 100 times mistake free test according to Rico Stovers biography of him.

    Best wishes. Neil

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