Too many piano students spend countless years practicing, often with only the vaguest idea of what their goals are. Yet it’s an axiom of success that achievement in any area, including piano playing, is amplified by formulating precise, detailed goals.

The Importance of Writing Down Your Goals

There is a (possibly apocryphal) research study that exposed the relationship between how goals are stated and the likelihood of achieving them. People who state a goal beginning with “I’ll try…” rarely accomplish it.

Slightly better is stating a goal beginning with “I can….”

Even more efficacious is beginning with “I will….”

But the most effective way of stating a goal is “I will (and I have a written plan)….”

Whether this study actually exists or not isn’t important, for it pithily states what is already well-known about people who consistently achieve their goals:  they write them down.

Consider Setting SMART Goals

There are many ways to articulate a goal. One of the most popular is the SMART format:  specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound. For example, an aspiring pianist might write:

By December 31, 2017, I will enter two statewide piano competitions and play to the best of my ability in each. My plan is….

This goal is specific, measurable (two competitions), presumably achievable, results-focused, and includes a deadline. It would optimally be followed by a specific plan that lists the subgoals necessary for achieving the main goal, and the tasks necessary for achieving each subgoal.

Whether or not you use the SMART format, the most important thing is to make your goal measurable and choose a reasonable deadline.

Roman Emperor and Stoic Marcus Aurelius

Roman Emperor and Stoic Marcus Aurelius

Here’s a tip, courtesy of the ancient Stoics: don’t set a goal that is not fully under your control. Winning competitions is partially, though not completely, under your control. Whether you actually win isn’t ultimately up to you. How you play, though, is.

If you’ve set a goal that’s big enough to stretch you, three things will emerge, as success author Jack Canfield writes: “Practical considerations (why you shouldn’t attempt it), fears (just feelings), and roadblocks (obstacles that you can get over). If obstacles don’t appear it means you haven’t set a goal that’s big enough to stretch you.”

Next, Formulate Subgoals

Just about every major goal comes with a series of smaller goals that must be accomplished in order to achieve the major goal. The next step is to figure out these subgoals and write them down.

In the above example, the subgoals might include finding a better teacher or a new mentor, improving your focus in piano lessons, learning better technique, improving your practice habits, expanding your professional network, and even finding a part-time job to pay for your new piano teacher or for a better practice instrument.

Each of the subgoals, in turn, will only be achieved through the completion of a series of tasks. Divide the tasks for each subgoal into small-enough segments so that each task can be completed in one sitting without a break – perhaps 1-3 hours.

Goals + Subgoals + Tasks = Success

Formulating and writing down your musical goals makes it much more likely that you’ll achieve them. With your goals, subgoals, and the tasks to achieve them all written down, all that’s left to do is begin. There is only the next task. What will you do today?

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