Zero Defects and ‘Doing it Right the First Time’


Securing employment in the music profession and having a good time of it depends on a tight synchronization with other musicians. Key to this, one could argue, is preparation for rehearsals and gigs.

No one wants to waste another person’s time and doing so detracts from the greater goal and purpose. It doesn’t really matter if a flawed preparation is with purpose or is unintentional; what matters is its effect on the final product.

Most professionals aim to be 100% prepared for every rehearsal and performance.

Zero defects and the DRIFT Principle

From the world of business and manufacturing we have a very relevant model to look at in terms of quality assurance and control. Philip Bayard Crosby was an American businessman at the Martin Company.

As the quality control manager of the Pershing missile program, he reduced the overall product rejection rate by 25% and scrap costs by 30%. Within the context of a multi-billion dollar company, this was a very significant accomplishment.

Fundamental to Crosby’s achievements were two main points that he later coined as Zero Defects and DRIFT principles. For just about any type of musician wanting to gain work in their field, these principles are good guidelines to follow.

Crosby’s Principles of Zero Defects has four main points.

  • Quality is conformance to requirements
  • The management system is prevention
  • The performance standard is zero defects
  • The measurement system is the cost of quality

These points align with the bigger concept of D.R.I.F.T.  – Do it Right the First Time.

Translating to music performance

While these points are intended for manufacturing standards, it does not take a huge stretch of the imagination to see how they might apply towards a music performance standard.

  • Quality is conformance to requirements = Learn your part and be ready to execute it perfectly.
  • The management system is prevention = Keep your chops in good physical shape, stay alert for change and weed out inefficiencies. 
  • The performance standard is zero defects = Clamming notes on the French horn is a defect on the bigger picture.
  • The measurement system is the cost of quality = A performance’s quality can be measured (somewhat) by its non-conformist parts and elements.

These rough interpretations only scratch the surface of course, and there are deeper layers worth exploring. For instance, one could easily imagine that the relevance of the DRIFT principle would increase as the size of the ensemble increases.

Like a giant note-eating machine, a modern symphony orchestra relies on a symbiotic movement of dozens (if not hundreds) of parts. Before being considered as fine-tuned or artistic, this machine needs to operate in complete synchronicity, unimpeded by flaws in its parts.

The whole is the sum of its parts

A small defect at one stage of production can affect the whole operation and ultimately, the finished product. By doing it right the first time, a company runs smoother without needing to stop and spend time fixing little errors.

Whether it be manufacturing, sports or a world-class symphony orchestra, a solid team will focus on cooperation, having fun, and helping each other perform at a higher level.

What is the big-picture tip here?

Stay on top of your game, and in larger groups especially match what others are doing around you without question.

Stop wasting time and do it right the first time. Aim for a higher level of responsive and artistic performance: a place where the notes on the page are taking care of themselves and higher, more lofty things are being achieved.

University of Horn Matters