Goals, Intentions, Scheduling, Structure

We know that setting goals can be an effective way to focus our practice time. In the past I have held “Pledge to Play: 10 Minutes A Day” challenges, where everyone pledges to get themselves to their benches for at least 10 minutes every day for a month. During those 10 minute practice sessions we concentrated on short-term goals such as learning a difficult musical passage smoothly, memorizing a short piece, or learning the minor 7th chords in all 12 keys, etc. Challenging yourself to practice every day for 10 minutes is a great way to become a better musician, as research shows that daily exposure is the best way to improve.

Pledges can be a great motivational tool, but what about after the 30 days is over? Just as after a weight-loss program, we have to create an enduring plan for maintaining the good practices we cultivate while working towards our musical goals.

When in maintenance mode we might speak in terms of intentions rather than goals. Life coach Jennifer Louden writes that the word intention comes from the Latin “intendere” which means “to stretch toward something.” Louden suggests that while a goal drives you toward a future outcome, an intention helps keep you in the present. Louden writes:

 The goal feels positive, but closed, almost a should, and it doesn’t inspire the imagination nearly as much as the intention, which feels open-ended, expansive, encouraging….

Instead of, or in addition to setting a goal such as, “I will learn this piece in 60 days,” you might want to form an intention, such as, “I am folding piano practice into my life four days per week.” Or, “I am exploring improvisation in my piano studies this year,” etc.

Write down your intention. Then come up with a structure to support it. You can adjust your expectations and intentions as you go along, but a written intention and structure acts as a roadmap. For example, if your intention is to become a more skilled musician, schedule 4-6 piano practice sessions per week in your phone calendar using the repeat: weekly and the alerts functions. Schedule your practice at times that you believe you can consistently follow through. Some might be 10-minute sessions, some might be 30 minutes or more. If you miss a session, reschedule it, or just let it go and look forward to your next scheduled practice. If your intention is to explore improvising, the structure might be scheduling weekly improv, just noodling around on your instrument or trying my improvising exercises, watching jazz, rock, or folk YouTube videos, and planning monthly visits to jazz and folk concerts (when it is safe to attend concerts in your town!) Whatever your intention(s), find a structure that you can embrace. Setting unreasonable expectations is counter-productive.

When you have to leave town and won’t be able to practice, set an intention to put practice aside until you return, and name the date that you will resume your practice routine. That way, your travel becomes part of your intention, and not an aberration.

When days or weeks pass in which you didn’t fulfill your intention, let regrets go. Start fresh the following week doing your best to reinstate your structure. This isn’t about perfection, it’s about process. Keep it light and enjoyable. Intentions are about how you want to live your life. Your intentions are driven by your values. A little guilt is ok if it keeps you aligned with an intention, but don’t let yourself slide into shame and negative self-talk. 

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz

Be brave enough to live creatively…. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You…get there…by hard work, risking and by not quite knowing what you are doing. What you will discover will be wonderful: You will discover yourself.  

-Alan Alda

Please leave a comment below to share your goals or intentions with our piano community, and let us support you! While we are still battling Covid-19, community support is especially important for our emotional well being!

If you are new to this blog, welcome! I am a veteran piano teacher of almost 35 years! I post free sheet music every month, arranged for beginning to intermediate piano students, plus posts like this one to motivate and inform. I have written piano instruction books for adults over 50 (UpperHandsPiano.com), younger adults and teens (PianoPowered.com), Songs of the Seasons piano sheet music books for seasonal classical and popular favorites, and my latest piano/guitar/vocals books called The Music Remedy – sheet music collections to restore and revitalize the spirit. Check out my books on the websites above, or click below to view them on Amazon.com.

I hope you are enjoying a beautiful winter’s day wherever you are. With love and music, Gaili

10 Replies to “Goals, Intentions, Scheduling, Structure”

  1. just bought your 50+book. It comes tomorrow. Started playing 2 years ago at 67. Just now back to lessons after pandemic. above info good. I planned or plunked daily during pandemic with a fake book. It was marvelous entertainment for me.

    1. Hi Karen- thanks so much for buying one of my Upper Hands Piano books! I hope you enjoy it. Be sure to play through the exercises in the Appendices. How great that you have been able to play from a fake book during the pandemic! Fake books are great! My books will help you learn to read chord symbols– major, minor diminished and augmented triads, as well as 6th and 7th chords. Reach out if you have any questions. Best, Gaili

  2. Thanks for the inspiration, I took lessons for 10 years but over the years life just got in the way and I rarely play now, and it shows! I’ve been saying I’m going to get back to it and so I’m going to decide to write my intention(and start small) and get back to playing again.

    1. Clara that’s great. I suggest going to your piano/keyboard and just get reacquainted – think of it as just shaking hands with your piano, like a dear old friend. Play a scale or two, or a bit of a song if you can remember one. Each day you sit down do just a bit so you don’t feel intimidated. Eventually you can open a book and read some sheet music and see which notes you remember. Just take it slow and keep it small, as you said. No one is judging you anymore, so don’t judge yourself. Though you might have felt pressured as a kid, now playing the piano can be a hobby. With a lot of therapeutic side benefits for the brain/body. I hope you enjoy the process! Thanks for sharing! – Gaili

      1. Again Thank you. I did play for a little this morning. I dug out my one Alfred Basic Lesson Level 2 and played a few songs. It went fairly good. My timing is something I have to work on and I’m hesitant at times. It felt good to be able to play this much. Now I’m excited!

        1. Wow fantastic! I think just getting back to your bench that first time is the hardest part. Now you get to enjoy the rediscovery. Just keep taking it bit by bit. No pressure, just curiosity and enjoyment. Keep us posted!

  3. Thanks Galli, I love your inspiration. I’m working on your Maple Leaf Rag arrangement and finding the rhythms quite tricky. However after persisting, I can now play page one, albeit very slowly..

    1. Yes, the syncopated rhythm in the Maple Leaf Rag is complicated! I am so glad you are managing to work through it! To me Scott Joplin is one of the greatest composers of all time. Good luck and keep going!

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