As with any pursuit, one of the most beneficial things a musician can do is to set goals. All musicians, regardless of their ability level, must constantly be evaluating themselves as players. The setting of goals is how even the very best of the best in the music business seem to be improving all the time at their craft.
The first week of my freshman year at Northwestern University our teacher, Rex Martin, made the entire studio write down our goals on a piece of paper. He had us separate them into three categories: short term, medium term, and long term. He told us that the more specific we were with what we wanted to accomplish, the easier it would be to formulate a plan to achieve those goals.
He encouraged us to redo this exercise every year for two reasons. First, we could check back on our previous list of goals to see if not only we achieved them but if it happened on the schedule we had laid out. Second, we could add new goals to our list as our abilities and desires within music changed.
Here is a breakdown of the three categories:
Short Term Goals:
These should be things that you can accomplish within days, weeks, or a few months. Examples could be memorizing an etude, recording a video of yourself and posting it on YouTube, or learning harmonic minor scales in thirds.
Medium Term Goals:
These should be goals that might take you anywhere from 6 months to a few years. If you are an undergraduate this might include which graduate school you want to attend. It also could be starting your own blog or website, playing in a summer festival, or increasing the speed of your double tonguing by 20 bpm.
Long Term Goals:
These should be things that you would hope to accomplish in three or more years. These could include being a tenured professor of tuba at Northwestern (the one goal Mr. Martin told us we weren’t allowed to have because he didn’t want us taking his job!), playing trumpet in the Boston Symphony, or taking my gig in Boston Brass. You should think really big for the long term goals because you will only ever achieve what you set out to achieve!
Everyone knows that making goals is important in every aspect of life. But if you can quantify those goals you will find an enormous benefit down the road. I encourage my students to set up a Google document detailing their goals that they can add to every year at the beginning of school. This is a great way to keep track of their progress and can be accessed from anywhere.
Organization=Productivity and Productivity=Eventual Success