Aim Small - Miss Small
In the movie “The Patriot,” Mel Gibson plays Benjamin Martin. In one scene, Martin and his two sons ambush a unit of British soldiers. Before the attack, Martin asks his boys “Do you remember what I told you about shooting?” Their answer: “Aim small-miss small.”
This memorable line was incorporated into the movie after technical advisor Mark Baker used it while teaching Gibson how to shoot a muzzle-loading rifle. It means that if you aim at a man and miss, you miss the man, while if you aim at a button (for instance) and miss, you still hit the man. Practical advice, indeed. Telling your sons “just shoot towards the red coats” is obvious and hardly helpful. Without direction, many singers will only shoot for singing the right words and notes. That’s the musical equivalent of hitting the broad side of a barn - it’s just a beginning.
“Aim small-miss small” is a frame of mind, an intention: the goal of being as detail-oriented and accurate as possible. It’s the difference between “the notes go up” and “there’s an arpeggiation of the I chord.” It’s the difference between “just cut that off on beat three” and “the cutoff is on the ‘and’ of three using a shadow vowel on the ending ‘m’.” It’s the thoughtfulness of saying “use the ‘th’ as in ‘thistle’ instead of the ‘th’ in ‘that.’”
“Aim small-miss small” is the difference between “stand up straight” and “stand in singer’s posture: feet shoulder width apart, knees loose, hips aligned, chest proud, arms at sides, head forward.” It’s taking the time to tweak thirds and fifths of chords to make the chords ring better with just intonation instead of tuning to the piano’s equal temperament.
In short, it means to have high levels of awareness and then strive for high standards of execution. With every product, it’s the additive effect of many small enhancements that results in increased quality. When we are meticulous with our goals we raise awareness, we increase our chances of hitting the target, and we increase our ability to measure results. Miss the bullseye and you can measure by how far and in what direction. Miss the target and it’s anyone’s guess. When things get sloppy, tell your choir: “aim small-miss small.”