It may seem odd to have a part four in a three part series, but there are a few things to add that we can think of as the “filling” for our triangle. These have more to do with the planning and organization that goes into musicianship, as well as the emotional issues that come up as we attempt to grow and learn.
Choose your goals
An old saying: Even the best ladder won’t help if you are climbing the wrong wall.
This sums up an important concept: it is a good idea to choose your goals and make some kind of plan before you begin. This is more the case if you are choosing material for your general growth as a musician. if you have a teacher, they may guide you to the most pertinent material, or if you have a gig, preparation for performance will be top priority. Needless to say, choosing the right thing to work on is very important.
1. Begin with the end in mind. Ask yourself: what is it I would like to achieve here? Then make a plan, and stick to it.
2. Practice your weak areas first. Many people employ “avoidance” practice; they work on things that are already pretty well-learned. This is because the “mind-lock” that occurs when learning something new is uncomfortable. My students will always go back to the parts of the song they can play, rather than confronting the challenging areas.
3. Create momentum. If we are constantly re-evaluating what our goals are, we often become side-tracked before we complete anything. Remain open to new possibilities and information, but avoid constantly “starting over” with a new approach. The truth is, there are many routes to success, and the one you are already using will probably work. Most failure is caused by lack of following through.
4. Have a system of organization. With the large amount of material we have to cover in our studies, it is a good idea to have a notebook or file of what to work on. I have started to use Evernote as a place to keep track of what I am doing.(it’s free, and syncs with your smartphone.) www.evernote.com
Free your mind
There are many elements of practice that can be daunting and even overwhelming. This is compounded by the fact that musicians are often sensitive, melancholy personalities. To succeed, we will need to acknowledge this and have ways to handle the emotional side. We are not machines.
1. Our progress is not linear. Typically, we will practice intensely and in the short term not see much improvement. We may even find our playing getting worse. This will pass, and we will make a breakthrough soon after.
2. Some things will take a while. If we set unrealistic goals for our improvement, it can be disappointing. This doesn’t mean not to push ourselves, but things can only happen so fast. Give yourself some time.
3. Break it down. Some large goals, while worthy, need to be turned into multiple short term projects, otherwise they can be overwhelming and we don’t even begin. This will also give us some closure and sense of achievement when we reach one of these goals. This is why martial arts programs have belts; it gives us milestones and keeps the study from being an endless tunnel.
4. Avoid comparisons with others. Everybody has a different spectrum of talents, and some things will come more easily to some people. For me, it seems that I have to work pretty hard to improve certain things. So be it. Basically you can either do it or not; what somebody else is doing is irrelevant.
5. Get some inspiration. Listen to lots of different music, and be a fan of the talents of others. Seeing yourself as part of a community of artists will take some of the pressure off to “win” all the time.
6. Take care of yourself. Pushing yourself beyond reasonable limits when practicing will likely nullify itself in a collapse later. Take breaks every 30 minutes and walk around. Avoid staying up all night (unless a rare situation requires it.) Exercise, eat a healthy diet. Avoid addictions.
This completes our series on practice… for now. Hope this helps you. How do you set your goals and keep yourself on track?