If you’re like me, you love making new year’s resolutions. The year ahead is a clean slate, filled with possibility, and it’s important to me that I feel that I keep growing, keep improving, keep learning. Musicians form short-term goals to improve our skills; we practice playing a difficult musical passage smoothly, our exercises, memorizing a short piece, or learning the minor 7th chords in all 12 keys, etc. But all makers of art also need to resolve to develop an enduring plan for maintaining the good practices we cultivate while working towards our creative goals.
To maintain a music practice, we might speak in terms of intentions rather than goals. Life coach/author 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:
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 at least four days per week,” or, “I am exploring improvisation in my piano studies this year,” or “I am going to halt negative self-talk by celebrating my accomplishments,” 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 better note-reader, your structure might be to open one of your piano books and play one random line a few times each day at the beginning of your practice session, and to draw random notes on lines, spaces and ledger lines on manuscript paper, then write the letters next to the note heads, four days per week. You might also make some flash cards for the ledger line notes you consistently have trouble reading. 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 self-recrimination.
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: Yourself. –Alan Alda
I hope you are enjoying new found resolve in 2018. I took a long, wonderful trip in December/January, and though I was missing playing my piano and working with my dear students, I was still learning as I listened to a lot of music with wonderful exotic flavors. I also journaled during the trip. You might consider keeping a music diary or journal, recording your thoughts and feelings about playing the piano, or writing about your successes and challenges, and especially writing about a practice technique that is working for you (i.e. playing before bed, or leaving a difficult piece and coming back to it after a walk, etc.)
If you missed my last blog post and would like to see/hear what I saw/heard in Morocco and Tunisia, click here. I hope you are enjoying a beautiful winter’s day wherever you are.
I love your comments; please share any piano practice intentions you are forming for 2018 so we can support you!
With love and music, Gaili