Creating Specific Goals

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In a recent post aimed at helping musicians achieve goals and learn how to practice more effectively, I wrote about the SMART Goal system.

Today’s post focuses on the “S” in SMART.

S stands for Specific.

This is the most clear cut of the five properties of the SMART Goals system.  Essentially, each musical goal must be specific enough so that musicians have absolutely no question about what the goal is.

Sounds simple enough, but it’s more difficult to do well than it seems at first–especially for students.  If a music teacher gives a student a goal that is at all vague, the student will be confused in the practice room.  This confusion can have them veering off in a wrong direction.

Here’s an example of a practice goal that looks specific:

“Learn Etude #21 on page 16.  Be careful of the shift to the high notes in the third line!”

I used to give students goals just like that.  I thought I was being specific enough.  Boy, was I wrong.

For many music students, this just isn’t enough information.  The teacher’s concept of “learn” and the student’s idea of “learn” may not match at all.  Should the student be able to play the etude like a performance or just be able to get through it more or less accurately?

A more specific version of the same goal would go something like this:

“By next week’s lesson, be able to perform the first five lines of Etude #21 on pg. 16 at 76 beats per minute.  You’ll need to focus at least 75% of your practicing on the shift to the high notes in the third line and the shift back in the fourth line.  Make sure this section sounds as good as the rest of the music.  This etude will eventually be played at 100 beats per minute, but you should go no faster than 76 for this week.”

Self-taught musicians or professionals who aren’t working with a teacher need to make their goals this specific also.

While this level of detail may seem crazy to many performers, I have seen Specific Goals pay off for many musicians.  It just makes practicing easier.  You know exactly what the goal is, and you know how close you are to the goal at all times.

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