Practicing Well, Part I: Burning out and setting new goals

Posted by DannyFratina, 11.04.2012 There have been 0 comments

An unfortunate reality in music is that a lot of kids get burned out playing their instrument. Some drop out while they are still sounding good, perhaps due to boredom. It was never explained to them how to build reachable goals so without a plan, a roadmap if you will, they got lost and simply gave up and went home. Some drop out after mounting frustration. Some of these kids were told over and over early on "you are so good!" or “you are so talented!” and then when things got harder a few years later, they couldn't figure out why they weren't able to “be good” anymore. Some simply don't feel like they've been getting any better. These are very common, yet very troubling issues, and if you are on the verge of "dropping out", reading this article will hopefully give you a second wind.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You are bored. You have you run out of things to do. You love playing saxophone, but band isn't fun anymore. Practicing has become a chore. Everything is too easy or not interesting, and you simply are not motivated.

You need some new goals! Your last set of goals were met a long time ago, so it's time to upgrade. Let’s design a three-tiered system of long-, mid-, and short-term goals:

Long - What do you want to be. A great drummer? A creative composer? An admired educator? Take your pick. You are a better musician than you were last year, or two years ago, or five, and you should update your goals accordingly. You are ready to think big, and more than that, it’s important to think big. Expand or contract the scope of this goal if you need to, but be ambitious and have confidence when you choose your goal. This goal will be a little broad because as time goes by, things will shift a little and you should be a little flexible. For example, in high school I wanted to write music and I knew it by the time I was in my junior year. It wasn’t more specific than that, though to be fair I didn’t really know what kinds of career paths “writing music” could lead me down. So keep it open ended! This goal is typically met anywhere between 4 and 10 years.

Mid - How do you want to get there? Let's use the drummer long-term goal as an example here. What big things do you want to do to become a great drummer? Maybe you'll want to be a master sightreader and focus on that for a semester or two. Maybe you want to learn how to play grooves for all the major styles. Maybe you'd like to specialize in jazz drumming and you want to take a year to focus on the playing of Art Blakey, Mel Lewis, and Elvin Jones, three guys you particular love. One of my mid-term goals as a writer after college was to be able to write a solid chart in a day (changing my average turnaround from days/weeks to a single day). Keep things more specific than your long-term goal, but still give yourself a little room to be flexible. These goals can often be met between 2 and 4 years.

Short - What exactly do you have to do to accomplish these goals? If you want to be a great sightreader, what exactly should you focus on for the next 4-6 months? You'd probably do some digging and try to find as many drum charts as possible. Reading them down with recordings would be good too, to better emulate the style/sound of top players. While you work on actual pieces, it's also good to go into a music library and pull out something totally random, like a book of Elton John leadsheets or maybe the score to Stravinsky's "The Soldier's Tale," anything outside of your comfort zone. A short-term goal of mine as a writer was to practice certain kinds of voicing every day. I'd take random tunes and decide on some parameters, like arranging for a five-part sax section, and I'd practice my mechanical voicings on the melodies until I got faster and more accurate with that particular technique. These goals get cleared between 6 months and 2 years on average.

Sketch out your goals. See them visually. Print them out in 300 point font on banner paper and staple it to your bedroom wall so you never forget them. Well, that might be excessive, but find some way to keep track of them! Meeting short-term goals will make you better at your craft. Completing mid-term goals will make great in your field. Reaching long-term goals, more than anything, will bring you satisfaction, happiness, and a sense of accomplishment.

(At the end of high school, I set and eventually maintained and completed a series of goals, starting with the long term goal of being a musician and writer. These goals developed as I went through college and through several stages of my post-college and professional life, and would sometimes shift as I found myself facing new challenges and new opportunities.)

Reactionary Goals

It's very important to make sure that your goals are positive ones that you truly want. Don't make the mistake of setting a reactionary goal. For example, "I want to get into this school to get into a "better" school than my rival." Or, "I want to master my woodwind doubles to prove my old teacher wrong." Or, "I want to arrange Nardis to show my class how it's done" (after another student has arranged the same piece). These can be destructive because you have a negative motive for your drive and it can build up resentment. Set your goals with a clear mind and heart.

This is sometimes easier said than done. It can be extremely difficult to do when you have had someone in your life tell you that you are not capable of doing something. In cases like these, I highly recommend reading The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. It will help you to understand what your motivations are for creating art and also help you to find that clarity that is so incredibly necessary for a successful career in the arts. If you are seeking to be a professional musician, you are most likely going to encounter many people who will say things to discourage and disparage you. Know that this is normal - many, MANY successful people have had enormous roadblocks in the form of negative advice. Please don't take the naysayers to heart. Make every effort to surround yourself with people who encourage your goals and dreams, and try your best to encourage others. We are all musicians, there is room for each and every one of us at the top.


Practicing Well, Part II: Warming Up

Practicing Well, Part III: Using a metronome

Practicing Well, Part IV: Keeping a practice journal

Practicing Well, Part V: The 2-hour / 15-minute strategy

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