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Music Notes: A Blog by the Music Academy of Garden City

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Importance of Setting Goals

As musicians, it is very easy to fall into routines during our practice sessions without consciously thinking about what we want to accomplish. The problem is that without goals, our daily practice routines may not be ideal for molding us into the musicians we want to be. For example, if your goal is to become an orchestral player, it wouldn’t make sense for you to spend the bulk of your practice time playing solo literature. You would be better off devoting a chunk of your daily practice regimen to learning orchestral excerpts. There are more subtle examples than this obvious one. For instance, if your goal is to become a Broadway pit musician, your daily practice should reflect the skills those musicians must possess, like being a great sight-reader.

Musicians can take a cue from the business world when it comes to setting goals. Each business starts out with a Business Plan, a detailed document that serves as a blueprint for what the business wants to accomplish. These plans have short and long term goals, and can encompass what the business wants to do in one year as well three or five years, which means different sets of goals.

So, the first step is to  compile a list of goals. At this point, don’t even worry about whether they are long or short term goals,  just make a list. Although the list will be dependent on the instrument you play and the genres you are learning, here is a sample list that I might come up with as a bassist who studies both jazz and classical music:

1. Refine my bow technique

2. Develop a warmer tone

3. Develop better intonation

4. Become a better sight-reader

5. Learn 50 orchestral excerpts

6. Learn 100 jazz standards and memorize them

7. Join a local orchestra

8. Record a solo album

9. Become a better improvisor

At this point, you can also separate your goals into two columns, one for Short Term Goals and one for Long Term Goals, and refer back to the list periodically to see if you are meeting your goals. It is also important to remember that many of these goals can be seen as both short and long term, like developing better intonation. If I practice scales for ten minutes today, focusing on playing in tune, I will indeed play slightly more in tune. But, if I continue this for a year, my intonation will become much more solid, hence it can be both a short and long term goal.

The next step is to tailor your daily practice routine to fit your list of goals. For example, since one of my goals is to memorize 100 jazz standards, I can now make a plan that has one song per week on a list that I can work from. This way, instead of just randomly picking a song, I now have a plan that is easy to follow, making the task much more manageable since it is now in black and white. As another example, concerning sight-reading, we can now develop a concrete plan to accomplish this goal. Instead of just randomly picking music each day to look at, try making a sight-reading packet for yourself that has new music for each day encompassing one full month. The key is to be specific and set deadlines for yourself for both your long and short term goals and then to work daily towards making them happen.

After you have organized your list of goals, it is time to write everything down and post in your practice room. I cannot stress how important it is to take your list of goals and your new practice routine, and post it on the wall in your practice room. This way, every time you practice, you are reminded of what tasks need to be completed, and what you should be practicing. This will help to eliminate wasted time during practice sessions, and allow you to make the most out of every day.

Finally, don’t be afraid to dream big. Your goal might be to play with the New York Philharmonic, or to tour with a famous band, or become the most in-demand session musician in New York City. Believe me when I tell you, the only person who can stop you from attaining these dreams is you! It took me many years to learn that I can be the biggest obstacle to my own growth as musician and person by setting limitations for myself. Soon I realized that if I worked hard at my craft, and never let others tell me whether I could “make it” or not, I could indeed go places in music that I never dreamed!

by Pete Coco

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