How to Practice Music by Setting Goals

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What is a goal?  Why do you need goals when you practice, and what makes them so important?
A goal is something you want to achieve.  If you don’t have clear goals, your efforts will have no direction or focus. You need to define clear musical goals so that you know where you are aiming.  Choose a goal that is both realistic and do-able. Once you have that in mind, start with smaller targets to achieve that goal in steps.  No musician starts out as a beginner and turns into a professional overnight—he or she takes baby steps along the way.

How do I set my goal?

Pick a specific goal.
Write down or keep a good mental note stating exactly what your goal is with as much detail as possible.  Bad example:  “I want to be able to play all of my scales.”  Good example:  “I want to be able to play all my scales by memory at 60 beats per minute.”  Another good example:  “I want to be able to play our concert piece all the way through without missing any notes.”

Pick a goal that is measurable.
Without being able to measure your goal, there is no way to know how far you’ve gotten in achieving it.  What steps would you take to measure a goal of memorizing your B flat concert scale?   You could start by playing the scale while looking three times without messing up.  Then if you can do that, try it really slow and see how far you can get without looking.  Having a measurable goal allows you to see how far you have progressed in a certain amount of time, and can be very rewarding and motivating.

Pick a time to have your goal achieved by.
It helps to have a time frame to complete your goal by.  Without a goal due date, you will likely procrastinate and your progress will be delayed.  Don’t allow yourself excess time “just in case I can’t get it”—make it challenging to keep it fun.  The best musicians in the world became good because they pushed themselves in a relatively short amount of time.  However, keep in mind that if you don’t give yourself enough time and can’t achieve your goal by a certain date, you shouldn’t get discouraged.  Just extend your time and try that much harder.

Ok, I finished my goal – what’s next?

If you achieve your goal, that’s great!  However, don’t let it go just yet.  Once you finally get where you want to be for that goal, make sure you don’t lose it.  Keep practicing that same thing at least once a day over the next few days to make it concrete in your head.  It would be a shame to spend tons of time practicing and finally get it, just to lose it again.

Once you have a solid grasp on your goal, work on your next goal!  Become a good musician by setting achievable goals and practicing effectively to achieve them.

The techniques previously mentioned about setting goals can be used not only in practicing music, but in everyday life too.  Any time you want to achieve something in life (school, work, etc.), set achievable goals that you can accomplish over time and you will find it to be very rewarding.

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Michael Matthews

About Michael Matthews

I've played the French horn for over 14 years and also teach private lessons. Throughout my time with music, I've had some great opportunities playing talented musicians in All-County and All-State groups, as well as playing with the Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra (FSYO). Although my day job isn't music related, I still enjoy teaching and playing music in my spare time.