Setting goals is a great way to make your practice sessions more productive and get you feeling positive about your playing.

All too often we sit down to practice and work without any sense of direction or time frame. The progress of the practice session is dependant on what scores are at hand and what technical exercises might come to mind at that particular moment. This type of practice rarely leaves us feeling good because it is random and not very productive. Have you ever finished a practice session only to think that ‘I really should have worked on that piece, and this technique…’? If so, then you are not alone, many of us fall into this trap.

So what can we do?

We can set goals. Setting, realistic, achievable goals at the beginning of each practice session gives structure to practice and leaves us feeling like we have really accomplished something. By setting goals you have put a few minutes of consideration into thinking about what practice would be best for you at that moment and by writing down these goals you can keep your practice sessions organized and efficient.

How do you do it?

When a bodybuilder goes to the gym with the goal of building muscles they often have schedule that spans the entirety of the week. The schedule makes sure that all important muscles are worked on throughout the week and that the work is evenly spread out over time. In this manner they can achieve their goal quickly and efficiently. As musicians we can do the same and it is up to you whether you plan your work out over an hour, a day, week or even a month. The real key is to make your schedule realistic and achievable. If you write down to practice for seven hours a day with scales, repertoire, analysis and technique in each session you will be left feeling disappointed because, as we all know, life often gets in the way of idealistic plans.

Depending on your schedule you might want to write down the amount of time that you will devote to different things. A one hour goal setting schedule might look like this:

 My Goal – To work on the Bach Allemande

  •  Warm up – 5 mins
  • Scales and arpeggios – 15 mins
  • Work on the Bach Allemande and decide on fingering for the first page 30 mins
    Play through the Allemande first page. 10 mins Stretch

A one week repertoire schedule might look like this:

My Goal for this week – To play the Bach Allemande from beginning to end

  • Monday – Allemande, first page with fingering 1hr
  • Tuesday – Allemande, second page with fingering 1hr
  • Wednesday – Allemande, focus on difficult passages and work on them individually 2hrs
  • Thursday – Play through Allemande beginning to end at a moderate tempo. 1hr
  • Friday – (can’t practice, but I will analyze the score on the train in the morning)
  •  Saturday – Perform the Allemande for Stacy and record my performance. 30 mins
  •  Sunday – Listen to the recording and work on passages that need improving. 3 hrs

The real key to this process is setting a realistic schedule with achievable goals and then sticking to it! The result will be overwhelmingly positive and your playing will improve much quicker than if you had spent your time randomly playing through different pieces.

Good luck, and have fun!