Don't Just "Get Better"
Create S.M.A.R.T. goals and watch your improvement skyrocket!
Have you ever taken your instrument out of the case and thought:
What should I work on today?
I need to mix up my practice routine, but I’m not sure how.
My articulation needs improvement, but I don’t know where to start.
My teacher said that I need to work on my interpretation, but how do I do that?!
Or, maybe you’re like many musicians who religiously run the same practice routine for months (or years!) at a time, but think that there must be a more efficient way to practice.
Lots of times, musicians are trapped in the thought of, “I want to improve,” but don’t know how to make that happen. You rely on feedback from teachers, coaches, and conductors to guide your practicing, but it can still feel like you are lacking direction and focus in the practice room.
S.M.A.R.T. goals can help with that.
When you get clear and precise about exactly what you are working on in a practice session, you will find that
You are more efficient in your work;
You feel a true sense of accomplishment after practicing;
Your overwhelm diminishes because there is a plan in place to cover everything that needs to be accomplished;
Your confidence when performing increases because you have tangible evidence that you have done the work needed
Practicing with S.M.A.R.T. goals is a game-changer. Let’s get into it.
You want to be clear about what exactly you are working on at any given moment. Gone are the days of “warming up” or “practicing scales.” You’ll still do those things, but you will be working on defined aspects of your playing instead.
Try asking yourself questions like this:
What causes me insecurity in my playing? I am insecure about my low register tonguing speed.
What did I notice in rehearsal yesterday that needs attention? I noticed my loud playing was quite sharp.
If I could do anything on my instrument, what would it be? If I could do anything, I would have consistent intonation on my double stops.
What am I struggling with in my concerto? I’m struggling with maintaining a precise tempo in the vivace section.
From your answers, pull out fundamental aspects of your playing you can work on. You can incorporate specific goals into broader practice categories OR you can address a specific goal in a specific piece or excerpt.
Most musicians fall into the trap of practicing to “get better.” How do you know when the heck you have achieved that?! Creating measurable, quantifiable goals is imperative for productive practice.
You are also an artist and the beautiful thing about music is that it isn’t all quantifiable. It’s intuitive. I get that. BUT, the majority of the work in the practice room can and should be measured.
Ways to measure your playing:
Metronome markings: I want to work my low register articulation in 16th notes from quarter=100-120
Tuner: I want to center my tone and then check in with the tuner to see where the note falls. Make adjustments and repeat on the 8 notes from rehearsal yesterday at ff.
Recording: I want to check the dynamic contrast to make sure it is dramatic enough to come across in a recording.
Feedback: I will run my excerpt for 3 colleagues and ask them for feedback on my double stop intonation.
You want your goal to be something you can meet within a practice session. So, “I want to get all of my harmonics perfectly in tune” is too big of a goal for a single, short session. Try something like, “I want to achieve consistent intonation on the 4 harmonics in my piece.
Try This Instead
I want to fix my high, soft playing.
I want to work on the pp of my high E to A.
I want to play in tune.
I want to work on my middle register f intonation.
I want to learn the 3rd movement of my concerto.
I want to learn the introduction of the third movement of my concerto.
I am 100% guilty of spending hours practicing the things I’m good at and feeling dread and anxiety about the things I am insecure about it. Tell me I’m not the only one!
When setting your S.M.A.R.T. goal, ask yourself:
What is most urgent? Maybe it’s being prepared for a chamber rehearsal later in the day over working on your excerpts?
What will move the ball forward the most? Maybe spending 15 focused minutes on intonation will be more productive than 45 minutes on scales?
What is causing me anxiety? Work on that!
Keep these goals short, friends. A vague, meandering two hour practice session Is Not Helpful. Rather, set multiple short goals with breaks in between. You’ll stay focused and engaged AND have more fun! The Pomodoro system can work beautifully for musicians working to create focused practice sessions, too.
I know it can feel like a lot to remember what S.M.A.R.T. stands for and a bit overwhelming to start setting practice goals like this. It is worth the effort and investment, though! Remember, the goal isn’t to set perfect S.M.A.R.T. goals. The goal is to have productive, focused practice sessions. This tool can help!
Here’s a FREE PRINTABLE to help you get started.
Next Steps and Additional Resources
Here at The Musician's Mindset, we have some incredible resources for developing and implementing mindset practices that will transform how you perform on stage.
First, check out our Personalized Mindset Tools Quiz to discover the mindset strategies perfect for YOU!
Schedule your FREE 30 Minute Call with Katie. It’s free. It’s my pleasure. And it’s the first step to releasing stage fright once and for all.
Founder of The Musician's Mindset
Katie is dedicated to helping musicians overcome stage fright and believe in their own unique artistic voice. She believes live classical music is a powerful antidote for the division, pain, and loneliness pervasive in the culture and strives to support all artists to confidently share their work with the world. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, three kiddos, a dog, a snake, and a goldfish named Orca.