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How to Set Goals in Music

An anonymous person asked: I don’t know if you’ve written about this but how do you set goals? With there being so many different things to work on (ear training, sight singing, technique, composing, arranging, playing with others, etc) I’ve been having trouble actually making (or maybe tracking) progress in any of these areas.

Great question! It’s simple to set goals, but not necessarily easy. The thing is that goals have to be pretty specific, otherwise you can never tell how much closer you are to reaching them after some time has passed. With that in mind, here’s how to set effective goals.

Write down your set goals in descending order.

The goal here is to break down your ULTIMATE GOAL into smaller and more reasonable chunks. You want this to be something you can actually accomplish, after all.

  1. Long-term: Your long-term goal should be your ideal career or accomplishment. It should be with the thing you desperately want, but aren’t sure if you can manage. For example, playing Carmen at the New York Metropolitan Opera. It should be difficult, but that’s the point. Your goals are something that you should have to strive for.

  2. Medium-term: Here, we start to break down your large goal into smaller goals, achievable in the next five years or so. If you’re currently an undergrad, then a medium goal would be to perform in a major role at a smaller theater. Perhaps playing a named bit-part at a theater in a flyover state. It can also be getting your Master’s degree, or even just performing a great recital your senior year. A medium goal is something like these goals, which will help you build towards your Ultimate Goal

  3. Short-term: Short term goals should be doable in the next six months to a year. Memorizing a song cycle, improving your scales by 20bpm, or getting a higher chair in your ensemble are all strong short-term goals. The short-term goals should feed DIRECTLY into your medium-sized goals, which again should feed your Ultimate Goal.

  4. Immediate: These are things you can do in the next day to week to hit your short-term goals. Memorizing a passage or a song, practicing scales a certain amount of time each day, and researching a specific composer are all immediate goals. They can be done quickly, and lead to you accomplishing your short-term goals. This dominoes all the way up to your Ultimate Goal.

So basically, if your Ultimate Goal is to play Carmen at the Met, then a medium goal would be to get your Master’s or the equivalent in young artist programs under your belt. In order to do that, a short-term goal could be to get a great audition recording from your upcoming recital. An immediate goal would be to memorize one song in full for that recital. Each level of goal should have multiple goals beneath it – one or two long-term goals spawning six to eight medium-term goals, to 16 short-term goals, to 20 immediate goals that you accomplish each week.

Make sure your goals are S.M.A.R.T.

S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Each of your goals should fit the S.M.A.R.T. rules. There’s a good guide to writing S.M.A.R.T goals here.

The most important part is making sure your goals are measurable. No “getting better at singing” here – your goal should be “performing X passage at Y tempo with ease” or “trill this passage consistently five times.”

Be flexible

Finally, the most important thing about ANY goal is that you need to be flexible. Yes, you want to have deadlines on all of your goals. However, if a wonderful opportunity comes up, feel free to rethink your goals. If it turns out maybe you want to do wedding singing instead, that’s okay! Just make sure your short and medium term goals are still aligned with your Ultimate Goal.

First seen on my Patreon!

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