Okay, Okay – I know that blog pieces on New Years Resolutions can be a little cliche but work with me here. It does not mater if you are a master or a novice in music. If you are a journeyman musician you probably have wanted to take your music to the next level; if are a beginner or a work in progress you have probably wanted to really get good; and if you have never played but long to learn this could be your year because it is never too late to take up an instrument. If you are reading this blog the desire is already there. As scripture says the “spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” so here are a few pointers to get you pointed in the right direction.
1) Fire! Ready, Aim. I know that the order seems strange but try it. Stop over-preparing to prepare to do something and jump in. This is especially true for novices but also works for advanced musicians stuck in a rut. If you are waiting for the stars to align, your aunt Tilly to die and pass on her prized instrument or some guru to lay a hand on you and say, “child, today is your day” then stop that and just get on with it. Whether you are a Marco Polo, Magellan or Bilbo Baggins the journey starts with the first step (okay, in Magellan’s case that step was onto his boat). Most people say: ready, aim, fire but what they actually do is: ready, ready, ready again, aim, aim again, make sure I am ready, etcetera and never get to fire!. Try: fire, ready, aim. Jump in with both feet and do something then re-evaluate, correct course and try again.
2) Don’t Eat That Elephant Whole. That’s why people get musical indigestion. Think bite size pieces. Set incremental goals. Do not look ahead in your method book! If you are just starting you will scare yourself. You’ll say, “I won’t be able to do that.” Sure you can, one step at a time. Set weekly, monthly and quarterly goals that are achievable.
3) Don’t Cut Yourself Slack. I don’t mean be a perfectionist but hold yourself accountable to your goals. Fine yourself a couple bucks every time you go more than a couple days without practicing. Put it in a jar for charity. Look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself to stop fooling around. Scold yourself if you must. It will amuse your family. If we are honest with ourselves we know when we have a legitimate reason for missing a goal and when we are just making excuses so be real with yourself.
Celebrate Small Victories. If you are going to be hard on yourself when you mess up then reward yourself when you accomplish something. Don’t wait for big triumphs. Reward yourself for things like completing a method book, learning a difficult piece or just going a month with flaking on your practices.
4) Don’t Set Ridiculous Goals. We tend to set unrealistic goals in either extreme. We either set them too high so we don’t feel too bad if we crash or we set them too low so that we can feel good without ever really having to challenge ourselves. Set goals that you feel you can reach but that will stretch you just a bit.
6) Write It Down. An unwritten goal is just a wish. You need a battle plan. Imagine if Eisenhower, Patton and Montgomery had just said, “Let’s grabs some troops and guns and go kick enemy butt.” No, they had a written plan and so should you.
Enjoy The Journey. The journey is usually more enjoyable than the destination. You want to be proficient as a musician, don’t you? You want to make beautiful music, don’t you? Then enjoy the trip as you move forward.
(I have to acknowledge my debt to Earl Nightingale and Jim Rohn as well as other speakers and writers for many of these ideas I have absorbed over the years. A pinch of motivation will trump a pound of regret so I recommend their audio and written resources to perk your enthusiasm.)