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Goals, Intentions, Scheduling, Structure

We know that setting goals can be an effective way to focus our practice time. In the past I have held “Pledge to Play: 10 Minutes A Day” challenges, where everyone pledges to get themselves to their benches for at least 10 minutes every day for a month. During those 10 minute practice sessions we concentrated on short-term goals such as learning a difficult musical passage smoothly, memorizing a short piece, or learning the minor 7th chords in all 12 keys, etc. Challenging yourself to practice every day for 10 minutes is a great way to become a better musician, as research shows that daily exposure is the best way to improve.

Pledges can be a great motivational tool, but what about after the 30 days is over? Just as after a weight-loss program, we have to create an enduring plan for maintaining the good practices we cultivate while working towards our musical goals.

When in maintenance mode we might speak in terms of intentions rather than goals. Life coach Jennifer Louden writes that the word intention comes from the Latin “intendere” which means “to stretch toward something.” Louden suggests that while a goal drives you toward a future outcome, an intention helps keep you in the present. Louden writes:

The goal feels positive, but closed, almost a should, and it doesn’t inspire the imagination nearly as much as the intention, which feels open-ended, expansive, encouraging….

Instead of, or in addition to setting a goal such as, “I will learn this piece in 60 days,” you might want to form an intention, such as, “I am folding piano practice into my life four days per week.” Or, “I am exploring improvisation in my piano studies this year,” etc.

Write down your intention. Then come up with a structure to support it. You can adjust your expectations and intentions as you go along, but a written intention and structure acts as a roadmap. For example, if your intention is to become a more skilled musician, schedule 4-6 piano practice sessions per week in your phone calendar using the repeat: weekly and the alerts functions. Schedule your practice at times that you believe you can consistently follow through. Some might be 10-minute sessions, some might be 30 minutes or more. If you miss a session, reschedule it, or just let it go and look forward to your next scheduled practice. If your intention is to explore improvising, the structure might be scheduling weekly improv, just noodling around on your instrument or trying my improvising exercises, watching jazz, rock, or folk YouTube videos, and planning monthly visits to jazz and folk concerts (when it is safe to attend concerts in your town!) Whatever your intention(s), find a structure that you can embrace. Setting unreasonable expectations is counter-productive.

When you have to leave town and won’t be able to practice, set an intention to put practice aside until you return, and name the date that you will resume your practice routine. That way, your travel becomes part of your intention, and not an aberration.

When days or weeks pass in which you didn’t fulfill your intention, let regrets go. Start fresh the following week doing your best to reinstate your structure. This isn’t about perfection, it’s about process. Keep it light and enjoyable. Intentions are about how you want to live your life. Your intentions are driven by your values. A little guilt is ok if it keeps you aligned with an intention, but don’t let yourself slide into shame and negative self-talk. 

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz

Be brave enough to live creatively…. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You…get there…by hard work, risking and by not quite knowing what you are doing. What you will discover will be wonderful: You will discover yourself.  

-Alan Alda

Please leave a comment below to share your goals or intentions with our piano community, and let us support you! While we are still battling Covid-19, community support is especially important for our emotional well being!

If you are new to this blog, welcome! I am a veteran piano teacher of almost 35 years! I post free sheet music every month, arranged for beginning to intermediate piano students, plus posts like this one to motivate and inform. I have written piano instruction books for adults over 50 (UpperHandsPiano.com), younger adults and teens (PianoPowered.com), Songs of the Seasons piano sheet music books for seasonal classical and popular favorites, and my latest piano/guitar/vocals books called The Music Remedy – sheet music collections to restore and revitalize the spirit. Check out my books on the websites above, or click below to view them on Amazon.com.

I hope you are enjoying a beautiful winter’s day wherever you are. With love and music, Gaili

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