How to plan Music Goals that ensure you make Consistent Progress

Whether you want to kick start a new piece with greater intentions, prepare for a concert, examination or learn a new piece of repertoire, setting music goals will help you move forwards.

You need to formulate all the goals you set in a measurable way that helps you create habits. Simply stating a few goals is unlikely to work. So many of our resolutions are broken within a few weeks or even days because:

Poorly formulated goals, lead to goals which are soon forgotten

Michael Hyatt

In this post, I’ll share my tips so that you can “Make it Happen” when it comes to planning and achieving your music goals.

Step one – Review and Congratulate

Before you begin planning your next steps, the first stage is to celebrate your recent achievements. Sadly this is often something we don’t do enough.

On a day to day basis, we don’t see the progress that we’re making. It’s a bit like when you’re on a diet, and you don’t notice the weight loss. It’s only when that friend says, wow, you’ve lost a lot of weight, that you take notice and see yourself in a different light.

And it can be like that with Music practice. On a day-to-day basis, we don’t see how far we’ve come.

Yet it’s important to reflect on the progress we’ve made as it builds our confidence and creates momentum. It propels us forward.

Start today by writing down 3 three to five things that you achieved recently with your music.

These achievements could be purchasing an instrument if you wanted to play, but you didn’t have one. You’d just been thinking about it. So buying that instrument was an action step. That was a huge win.

It could be enrolling in an online program such as Learn Music Together Academy or completing a piece that you’ve wanted to play for a long time.

It could be performing in front of people for the first time.

You should celebrate any win big or small as it’s an achievement. I love acknowledging people’s musical accomplishments, so please share your recent successes in the Facebook group Music Lessons and Practice.

When setting yearly, quarterly or 6 month goals, you need to ask yourself what you want to achieve.

Below you’ll see my suggestions for 16 practice habits that every adult learner should adopt. Establishing good habits is paramount to the success of achieving our goals.

Good habits support us while bad habits often make a situation worse. When we take the time to develop the 16 practice habits below, they help us make progress, which will, in turn, give us the confidence we need to move forward.

It’s important to understand that sitting down at your instrument and practising, even if you do that every day is not enough to become a good player.

Suppose you want to sound musical and attain proficiency in your playing. In that case, there are other things that you have to incorporate regularly into your practice.

Top 16 Practice Habits to adopt

Following these 16 practice habits will help you achieve more musicality in your playing and the necessary skills to develop the technique and the resilience that playing music requires.

1. Persistence

An image of a mountain with a flag saying success and the words persistence which we need to achieve our goals.

It’s not easy to accomplish anything. Every goal has its obstacles. You are likely to encounter traits such as procrastination and frustration; you’ll need a certain amount of willpower to form habits that drive momentum.

The ability to overcome such characteristics often separates those who succeed from those who fail.

You need to create solutions in the planning stage to prevent relying on willpower alone.

2. Deliberate Practice

When taking action, you need to develop the skill to practice deliberately. Deliberate practice means that your practice sessions include specific tasks that helped you fulfil your goals. And these tasks should be intentional appropriate for the level and include methods that will ensure you improve.

You need to break down your practice into achievable bite-sized chunks that allow you to measure progress. You need to listen and learn.

An image of a piece of music with coloured boxes and the text practice deliberately to achieve those goals.

3. Listening to Music

An image of an iPod and the words listen and learn.  A practice habit to adopt regularly.

Listening to music is a great way to make progress, and it’s something you can do while completing other tasks. Comparing professional recordings is a great way to learn about musical interpretation and develop your stylistic awareness.

You can listen to people on YouTube and consider what makes their performance good or bad. Recording yourself and listening back will help you understand what areas of your playing need further practice.

4. Flexible Approach

You also have to have a flexible approach as humans we’re creatures of habit. And so often we do the same thing. You expect the results to change. Finding what lies at the root of the problem will then help you create solutions.

So if you’ve been practising a passage for several days and you see little improvement, then it’s time to find a different method.
•Can you slow it down?
•Can you practice with different rhythms?
•Have you tried skeleton playing visualization, analyzing the hand position, checking the fingering etc.?

An image of a hand at the piano with a reminder that mistakes are ok, so long as we learn from them.

Whatever you do, don’t just keep repeating the methods you’ve tried to be flexible.

5. A Mindful Approach

An image of an eye, made from words that encourage mindfulness.

You also have to be mindful in your approach. It’s all too easy in the modern world to get distracted. I’m sure you’ve experienced going through the motions of practice when your mind is elsewhere.

6. Strive for Accuracy

Of course, we should always strive for accuracy within our music practice. Accuracy is, without a doubt, something few would disagree with.

However, merely repeating the passage is not an effective way of achieving precision. Sure, it can help, but you need to use a metronome and incorporate other habits such as listening and recording yourself.

An image of a metronome and the reminder to strive for accuracy when accomplishing goals.

Whether it’s notational, rhythmical, or finger placement accuracy, we should always strive to improve.

If you want to learn more about effective practice methods click here

Breaking down the sections into bite-sized chunks, practising slowly and listening back are sure ways to improve.

7. Find Solutions to problems

An image of a blackboard with the word problem crossed out and solution written underneath.

You’ve got to be able to find solutions to achieve your goals. You need to make the time. It also helps to remember that anything worth doing isn’t all fun is rarely fast and never easy.

If it were, we’d all be accomplished musicians. One of the critical areas of practice for professional players and sportspeople is finding solutions to problems.

You’ve got to be able to find solutions to achieve your goals. You need to make the time. It also helps to remember that anything worth doing isn’t all fun is rarely fast and never easy.

If it were, we’d all be accomplished musicians. One of the critical areas of practice for professional players and sportspeople is finding solutions to problems.

Let’s say you’re someone who struggles to find the time to practice. What solutions can you create to solve this problem? Here are a few suggestions?

  • Have you got a list of things you can do without your instrument?
  • Is there no way you can find 20 minutes each day by dividing it into two 10 minute sessions?
  • Do you have everything prepared and laid out in your practice area so you can get started straight away?

Another common problem that people ask for help with is the ability to play faster.

  • Have you checked your hand position?
  • Is your technique strong enough to play at that speed?
  • Have you played a wide enough variety of music to accomplish that tempo?
  • Can you use a metronome to increase the speed?

Asking yourself such questions is a fantastic way of kick-starting your way to finding and creating solutions.

8. Learn from past experiences

You need to develop the ability to learn from the past. We can learn so much from our past experiences concerning practice methods, performance stress, and musical weakness to name but a few. It’s also beneficial to regularly revisit music that we’ve previously learnt. We’re often overly keen to move on to the next challenge, new rhythm, more advanced techniques or new notes.

An image to remind us to learn from the past, when setting music goals.

Yet it is so important to keep developing the fundamentals. For example, a footballer regularly practices goal shooting even when they’re the top scorer in the league.

A golfer continues to revisit the golf swing basics and musicians regularly practice fundamentals such as tonal control, articulation balance, and musical awareness.

Try and incorporate a few minutes to review some repertoire you’ve previously learned at the end of each practice session.

9. Communicate Emotion

An image of a red heart with music notes, to remind us to communicate with emotion.

You need to develop the habit of communicating emotion and conveying the music’s expressive nature or characteristics. You’ve first got to be able to play those notes with confidence. So often learners move on when they can play through a piece reliably and give little thought to the musical intentions that they wish to communicate.

Ask yourself questions regularly when you practice.

  • Think about the musical phrases and their contours, are you adding shape, tonal colours and dynamic contrast.
  • Are you breathing in the best place or balancing the melodic line with the accompaniment?
  • What is the mood or the character of the piece?
  • If it’s a dance are you playing it at a suitable tempo, or does the music tell a story, in which case can the listener recognize the characters?

Listening to the recordings is an excellent source of inspiration, and it helps to write down your musical intentions.

10. Use all of your senses

You should also develop the habit of using all your senses when you play the eyes; the ears and touch are the most apparent senses related to music. However, your sense of smell and taste can play a role.

Some music styles are provocative of specific countries and flavours and can provide the inspiration you need when composing or performing.

An image of a head with coloured circles and the text Use all of your senses.

Imagine yourself now sat in a tapas bar, being entertained by Spanish guitar Rez, or take yourself to the carnival in Brazil and feel the beat of the Samba drums.

Of course, touch is easier to relate to, as we rely on it, to play our instruments and our eyes read the music that we want our fingers to play. It’s also important to use your ears, to listen to the sound that you’re producing.

11. Be Creative

An image of stationary to remind us to be creative when setting goals of music.

The habit of being creative is something that you should incorporate into your music practice. It’s not enough to sit down and play. If you want to improve, there are plenty of apps out there that can help you accomplish virtually everything.

From planning, recording, looping accompaniments, sight-reading, developing the inner ear, and much more.

You can use programs such as Canva to help you analyze your music. You can write a list of practice methods that you can do away from your instrument. You can find a Youtube channel or a blog to follow.

The more you step away from your comfort zone, the more you will experience growth in crucial areas, such as resilience, confidence, and fulfilment.

Being creative in your practice methods will ensure that you keep moving forward to accomplish your goals.

12. Be Passionate

The habit of being passionate is essential because, without passion, there is no enthusiasm. And hence motivation will be hard to maintain or even find.

When you’re passionate about something, you care about it, nurture the required skills, and find it much easier to anticipate the rewards in terms of goals.

An image of music notes with the text I love music.

It’s important to remind ourselves why we’re trying to achieve our music goals.

  • How will it improve your life?
  • How will it improve your playing?
  • What will it bring to your musical skills?
  • Will it develop a particular aspect of your technique?
  • The why is the driving force behind the goal? And when things get tough, it’s a great place to find that bit of extra motivation.

13. Go Beyond your Comfort Zone

A yellow line with a foot on either side and the words, go beyond your comfort zone.

Another habit to develop is going beyond your comfort zone. There’s a fine line between going beyond your comfort zone and setting ambitious goals that are beyond your reach. That said, there’s not much satisfaction if we stay with what we already know. However, many of us don’t enjoy stepping beyond our comfort zone initially.

Those who do push themselves will tell you that you rarely regret the experience. When you look back, people often ask me, how can they overcome nerves in examinations and lessons? And the simple answer is you have to practice being in that situation.

If you perform regularly, it does get easier. You can do other things like setting yourself a performance date that of course may mean stepping outside of your comfort zone.

However, suppose you’re a beginner, and you decide to push your limits by learning a Sonata by Beethoven. In that case, we could say that that’s not going beyond your comfort zone, that’s delusional.

There’s no point setting yourself up to fail.

14. Enjoy Playing

Another essential practise habit is to enjoy playing. While practising new repertoire is an integral part of practice, it is equally crucial to have fun playing.

As I mentioned previously, too often, learners focus on new things. They forget that there’s lots of enjoyment to be had in playing music that you love and are already familiar with.

An image of a person playing a piano, with the words play me I"m yours.

When choosing repertoire to perform, always start with something you feel most confident playing. And end your practice session by playing pieces that you already know. Enjoyment is part of the learning process.

And without it again, there is no motivation or enthusiasm.

15. Play with others

An image of the Learn Music Together Ensemble.

Another key habit to develop is playing with others.

Playing with other people is a fantastic way to learn, particularly if you play with someone who’s at a higher level than yourself.

Participating in ensembles and duets strengthen your sight-reading skills, your aural awareness and your ability to play through mistakes. They’re a great way of taking your playing to another level.

That’s why every month inside of the Learn Music Together Academy, there’s an ensemble piece. Members practice with the accompaniment, and then all the parts are put together at the end of the month.

16. Never Stop Learning

And the last of the 16 practice habits to adopt is never stop learning. Remember you’re never too old to learn. There’s always new skills. New techniques for us to adopt self-growth is one of the key elements to living a fulfilling life.

Learning new skills is a great way to keep the mind sharp and fill you with happiness. At the same time, the learning process can be challenging and sometimes push you to the limits. There’s no more incredible feeling than when you achieve your goals.

An image of two pairs of trainers climbing stairs symbolising taking steps to achieve our goals

When you play something you never thought possible, pass an exam, perform your first solo. It creates a sense of personal achievement that makes us happier, which is why it’s so important to celebrate those accomplishments with pride.

Step Two – How to plan your Music Goals

To learn anything, you’ve got to be fully focused and engaged. So to accomplish any goal, you need to believe that you’re up to the challenge, learning an instrument isn’t easy.

When you formulate goals, you want to make sure that they are specific and measurable. We experience what we expect and as we get older doubt, unfortunately, becomes more and more of an enemy.

You have to believe in yourself and that you are capable of rising to the challenge.

So when you’re setting these goals, make sure you are in the positive mindset and abolish any thoughts of doubt. It’s also important to realize why it is that you want to achieve this goal?

What is it going to help you, master? Or how is it going to make you feel? The why becomes beneficial when we’re struggling with to achieve goals. And of course, inevitably there will be struggles. Anything that you want to accomplish always has its obstacles. It’s at times like these that we fall back on our habits.

Good habits that are what get us through those obstacles.

No challenge is ever easy; it would be delusional to think so.

Establishing good habits can also be challenging.

When planning goals you want to incorporate a little of all 16 practice habits. Using the acronym Smart Goals will help you formulate your musical goals.

The acronym Smart stands for specific, measurable, achievable, rewarding, and done in a timeframe; we’re going to use the smart formula.

An image of the acronym smart goals

How to make a goal specific

Say your goal is that you want to practice more. Just saying, I want to practice more is not a well-formulated goal because it’s not specific and measurable.

Always remember that poorly formulated goals generally lead to goals that are soon forgotten.

Let’s look at how we could change that statement into a more specific and measurable goal.

So instead of saying, I want to practice more, let’s be specific.

How many times in the week do you want to practice?

So let’s say I’m going to practice five times a week.

Now let’s make that measurable. So how long are you going to practice for?

So I’m going to practice five times a week for 20 minutes each practice session.

The next step is to ascertain whether your goal is achievable.

For example, if I’d have said that I’m going to practice three times a day for 20 minutes every day of the week. However, at the minute, I do very little practice, then that goal is probably not achievable.

So ask yourself if you can accomplish the goals you set. Remember you want to push yourself a little when setting achievable goals, but they still need to be realistic.

We want to set ourself up for success, not a failure.

The next step is to ensure our musical goal is rewarding. Hopefully, as practice is an essential part of making progress, the reward will be that you’ll soon see that you’re getting better.

Finally you want to set a timeframe. So how long are you going to measure this, to see if you’re successful?

The best way to do this is to add a deadline, for example, March 31st.

My Practice Goal is now:

I’m going to practice five times a week for 20 minutes in the morning before breakfast between now and March 31st.

That practice goal is now much more measurable and specific.

Let’s take another example. Say you want to play more repertoire. Again that’s very generalistic. Let’s be specific.

How many pieces of repertoire do you want to learn and what is the timeframe going to be? My advice to students is to aim to learn one new piece per week. If it takes several weeks then you should be asking yourself why? Do you need to take a step back and look at improving your sight reading or technique for example.

So let’s say I want to learn 12 new pieces over three months.

You could also be more specific by including what particular styles of music.

I want to learn 12 new pieces in four different styles between over the next three months.

That’s measurable and specific because you can tick those pieces off as you learn them. You can say, yes, I achieved that goal, or no, I didn’t accomplish that goal.

It can be hard to know where to begin when setting music goals. The most important thing is a regular practice regime. So make sure if you don’t already have a goal for practice sessions you start there.

You’ll find traits such as motivation, confidence, resilience, undulate like waves. Hence, evaluating your actions and making sure they’re relevant is essential.

It’s good to regularly ask yourself if the action or thought you were doing or feeling helps you move forward in achieving goals.

The next thing to think about is incorporating more of those 16 habits practice habits. This will ensure that you’re not just going tunnel vision down one path.

There are lots of musical elements, and all are intertwined. For example, to get better at sight-reading, you need to practice Scales, be confident at reading notation and rhythm.

Let’s say you want to improve your improvisation. Well, you need to know about chord structure and theory. You again need to know about notation.

To improve your practice skills you need to focus on notation, rhythm, speed, theory, aural, composition, communication, et cetera, et cetera.

Everything in music is connected to all the different elements; you can’t just tunnel vision down one path. You need to understand how one thing supports another and will help you grow.

If you want to improve your practice skills check out this free video tutorial here.

When you begin writing your goals out, use the smart formula to align goals that will support the stage you are at in your musical journey.

Make sure that you then select three to five goals. No more. Three is probably enough for each quarter of the year.

Step Three – Create Actionable Steps

The next step is to create actionable steps to help you make progress towards that goal.
Let’s look at a few examples of goals you might set and the stepping stones you need to create to achieve those goals.

Let’s say that your goal was to choose three easy pieces this month that you will use to develop your communication skills and musical awareness.

Step one might be that you need to choose one piece that has a wide range of dynamics.

Step two might be to choose pieces in different styles, such as a waltz, a dance style.

Step three might be to find a lively piece with a mix of articulation patterns.

Step four might be to create a playlist on YouTube of your favourite pieces that you want to learn.

Step five might be to find online resources to support learning more about communication skills and musical awareness.

Step six might be to mark my progress. You could do this by keeping a log of metronome marks. Recording yourself each week playing long notes at different dynamics. You could use a decibel meter app to track your contrasts.

So that’s one example of a goal set with actionable stepping stones that you can tick off and know that you’re making progress.

Here’s another example. Let’s say your goal is to practice five times a week for 20 minutes.

Ask yourself what can you do to help you take action towards accomplishing this goal?

Step one could be to set a reminder on your phone every day that goes off when it’s time to practice.

Step two could be writing a plan of what you’re going to practice during each session every Sunday.

Step three might be to mark the time that you’re going to practice on the family calendar and create a do not disturb sign for the door.

Sometimes when we practice, it’s not just about us. We have to fit that in with our family and their needs. So you’re setting the boundaries and telling those around you that between these 20 minutes each day, you will be practising, so please don’t disturb me.

Step four might be to find a suitable quote, stick it on your piano, or music stand to remind you why you want to practice.

Step five might be to ensure that you make a practice calendar, get a practice notebook and make sure that there’s a pencil pot by the piano.

Step six might be to reflect on my achievements at the end of every practice so that you can look back and see how far you’ve come by the end of the month.

By breaking down the steps, it makes it easier to make progress towards the finishing line. Each of those little steps feels like you’re taking action and helps you gain momentum towards accomplishing your goals.

Music is a hobby like many others that is a never-ending journey. There are always new things to learn, so regularly setting aims objectives and goals will be beneficial.

Step Four – Commit to your Musical Goals

Committing ourselves to the goals we set is another essential step in goal setting and making achievements.

Studies have shown that when we write down our goals, share them, and show others our intentions, the likelihood of success increases by as much as two to three times.

I regularly ask what your goals are for the month on my Facebook page Musician in the Making and I would love you to share yours in the comments. Or indeed below this post.

Finding yourself an accountability partner and surrounding yourself with like-minded people is also crucial. Setting habits, attaining goals is not easy. Anything worth doing has its challenges.

It’s the ability to push through those challenges with the right support that often separates those who succeed from those that fail.

Having an accountability partner is a fantastic way of gaining that support that you need.

Feel free to put a post in my Facebook Group Music Lessons and Practice to ask if anyone is interested in being your accountability partner.

Ultimately, when we set goals, it should be about the journey and not the destination. And we want to make sure that we have habits and things in place that will help us move forward.

Studies have shown at the University of London that it’s tough to form habits.

On average, it takes the person 66 days to make a habit, become something they no longer have to think about. It can take as long as 250 days. So this is not going to happen instantly. Habits are formulated over a long period and there’s always going to be obstacles in the way.

We need to have a way of overcoming those obstacles to help us navigate the path when times get tough. An accountability partner is a great way to do that.

Another way that you can gain support is of course, is by being actively involved in a community. There are lots of Facebook groups and associations that you could join. The community inside the Learn Music Together Academy is a fantastic place to get support as are the live Zoom sessions that are included each month.

Learn more about becoming a member of Learn Music Together here

Achieving our goals is a fantastic way of ensuring we stay committed, make progress and enjoy learning our instruments. Remember you can always change your goals as you progress, and it’s always advisory to undergo an annual review of your goals and successes.

2 thoughts on “How to plan Music Goals that ensure you make Consistent Progress”

  1. This is so so so helpful thank you!!!!

    • I’m glad you found it helpful. Have you made a plan for your musical goals?


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