Monday, July 26, 2010

Tip Five: Reverse Goal Settling

This is the fifth installment in our series of articles on hidden or obscure strategies for improving musicianship.

You may have heard this one before. It's almost a cliche. All the personal improvement gurus talk about this one. Earl Nightengale espouses it. So does Brian Tracy, Tony Robbins. All of them. It's a powerful tool, if you use it right. Does it work for learning music? Yes. But I've got a little twist for it.

I'm talking about goal setting. All those human achievement gurus are always harping on goal setting. You've probably heard it all before. Set a specific goal: "I will double my income in 12 months." That's a perfect example. You have a specific goal with a number attached to it and an allotted time period in which to get it done.

Then you must write the goal down. That's what they tell you. And read it on a regular basis. Every day. Then you do the visualization. That's all a part of it. You actually imagine the aroma of the leather seats in your brand new luxury autombile that you will own once you have doubled your income in 12 months thanks to your careful goal setting.

Aaaahhhh. Smells beautiful doesn't it?

So does all this goal setting, visualization, affirmation stuff really work? I think it does. Or at least I think it can.

Does it work for learning an instrument? That's another story.

First, it's a little more difficult to quantify a goal as far as musicianship goes. "I wanna be a lot better," is kind of vague. So is "I wanna be able to improvise." Or, "I wanna play like Oscar Peterson."

Those are tough goals to attain, even if you write them down.

What makes it harder is that your progress comes so gradually, and it's very hard to measure progress in music. I suppose you could use a metronome and measure success in terms of how fast you can play "Donna Lee" or "Tico Tico."

But there's a lot more to music than playing things fast. We all know that.

So how does one set goals, get them on paper, and measure progress?

By doing everything backwards.

To evaluate your progress, instead of writing down how you want things to be in a year, instead, chronicle how things are now. And then store it in the archives.

For example, pick out three tunes you're working on right now, any scales or exercises you're working on, and perhaps a representatve selection of the chords you now use. Assemble all these things at your piano. Now comes the scary part. It's scary, but it really works, so listen up.

Get a recording device of some sort, click the "record" button, and spend the next several minutes playing those songs, scales, exercises, and chords into the microphone. Try to relax and goof around a little too while the tape is rolling. (I know they don't use "tape" anymore, but try to humor me here.)

Just get a good representation of how you play now, warts and all. Then file the recording away for at least six months. Make it six months to a year. Then after that time period has elapsed, pull out the old recording device again and repeat the process. Three new songs, whatever scales and exercise you're working on, chords, goofing off. Record it and lock it up.

But. Don't forget to play the recording you made the year before. Peer into the past to listen to how you sounded back then. You won't remember otherwise. If you play a little every day, you'll be so much better in a year. But you'll never know it until you actually play your archived recording of yourself.

Now you'll see, hear, and experience the goal. "I wanna be a better piano player in a year." You'll actually see those results, once you review your original recordings. Repeat the process once or twice a year to get the best results.

Like I said, it's a little scary to record yourself at first, but you can get used to it. All serious professionals do it.

Of course, have goals. We can't peer into the future to see what we are to become. But we can peer into the past to see from whence we did come. And that often can provide you with the impetus, if not the downright inspiration, to keep on task.

Try to learn a new song every week. New scales. New exercises. Explore books. Take a private lesson every once in awhile. Enroll in a music camp. Play in a band. Do any or all these things, and put in 20 to 60 minutes at your piano every day.

And have fun listening to those old recordings to see how bad you really were compared to how good you are now.

P.S. To get a glimpse of my 18 month master plan for learning pop piano, click on the link and download the Study Guide (Success Manual) that comes with the Integrated Home Study course. It may inspire you to set up a few goals of your own.