It’s the new year, which means resolutions are everywhere, including piano practice resolutions. In January, many people resolve to “learn a musical instrument” or “get better at piano” or some variation therein.
However, it’s one thing to make piano practice resolutions; it’s another thing entirely to keep them.
In today’s video and blog post, we’re going to look at 15 different ways to keep those resolutions, instead of losing momentum after a month and letting your dreams fall by the wayside.
Let’s get started!
1. Make specific goals that can be answered yes or no
Good goals are ones that can be answered in binary terms. You should be able to ask yourself, “Have I accomplished this goal?” and be able to answer “yes” or “no.
For example, if your resolution is to “learn how to play piano”, you might struggle to keep it. At what point have you learned to play piano? When can you answer “yes”?
Instead, a better goal might be, “Learn the Piano Adventures Adult Method Book 1 and 2 in their entirety this year”. That way, you’ll be on the path to learning piano, but you’ll also be able to say conclusively if you’ve accomplished it or not.
A few specific goal ideas
Though most of us aspire to learn an instrument for intrinsic reasons, extrinsic motivators can be extremely helpful. Here are some ideas for the year to keep you motivated:
-Do an exam (RCM, ABRSM)
-Do a recital or performance (see the next section)
-Plan specific “goal” pieces to learn
2. Do a seasonal solo recital
Since I don’t have any exams planned for 2017 (I’m still a little burnt out from taking 6 exams in 2 years, including my Grade 10 RCM), I’ve decided to set a performance goal. I always get my students to perform in concerts and recitals, but don’t do so myself.
Performing is stressful, but luckily there are many ways to perform beyond going up on stage in front of strangers. I plan on doing a seasonal “recital”, which will really just be me playing several pieces for a few friends family members.
3. Set goals you can actually achieve
There’s a fine line between goals that are too easy, and goals that are too challenging. It takes some practice, especially as a beginner, to make realistic goals, and you’ll probably have to course-correct quite a few times.
That being said, always strive to be as realistic as possible. You don’t want to set the bar too high, and then be disappointed if you can’t reach it despite massive effort.
But make sure your version of “realistic” isn’t too watered-down. Goals that are too easy aren’t inspiring. Push yourself out of your comfort zone, but only a little.
4. Have a compelling and intrinsic reason to achieve your goals
In the video Beyond Goals, we talked about the deeper why of learning piano.
It’s great that you want to learn piano, but why? What drives you to music? It’s important to connect to those reasons, because they’re what will keep you going when times are tough.
5. Make your practice space as inviting as possible
This might seem like a superficial point to bring up, but it’s crucial. If you don’t have a nice, inviting practice space, you’ll probably avoid practicing. If your piano is holed up in a dark, cold basement, you’ll have to fight yourself to practice every day.
Make your space nice and cozy. Add some plants. Have ample natural light if possible. Keep your practice space in a low-traffic area, or at least make sure you have the opportunity to practice in solitude sometimes. Make your piano pretty. Put up a bulletin board. Make sure it isn’t cold.
Whatever you do, make your practice space a respite, a place you want to visit daily.
6. Keep a practice notebook
I go through phases using practice notebooks, but I find that I do better when I have one. It’s nice to start fresh with a new notebook each year. And then, every time I practice, I make note of it.
Things I’ll write down include tempos to frustrations to the titles of pieces to accomplishments – anything that seems noteworthy in a practice session. I also make sure to write down when I practiced, and for how long, since this can help to discover patterns – maybe, for example, you work best in the morning, but evening practice is brutal torture.
7. Go see live music
Live music is inspiring. It doesn’t matter if it’s indie or Rihanna, a string quartet or a jazz jam. Going to a concert never fails to give me a rush of energy and motivation to get back on the bench.
8. Build a habit/ritual around piano practice
Habits can be wonderful things. It’s difficult to maintain daily practice if you do it at random times based on a whim. If you practice around the same time every day, for about the same duration, you’re effectively building a habit. This habit is going to carry you through the easy times, and more importantly, the more challenging times.
I also find value in creating a ritual around piano practice. Something as simple as turning on a nice lamp on your piano and sipping hot coffee can make the act of practicing much more enticing.
9. Have a clear road map
If you haven’t noticed, I’m pretty against random practicing with no specific aims. If you want to get anywhere, you need a road map. You need a plan. Otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of gas driving aimlessly, and you might not even get where you’re trying to go.
So think about where you want to be in 3 months. 6 months. One year. What are you hoping to accomplish? A method book? An exam? A course? Your destination will inevitably be highly personal – everyone is different – but make sure you have a destination, so you can figure out how to get there.
10. Take actual, in-person piano lessons
Everyone benefits from one-on-one piano lessons with a good instructor, especially those who are socially motivated.
For some, it’s easier to break a promise to themselves than to another person (like a teacher). The mere act of showing up to piano lessons week after week can motivate many people to practice at least somewhat regularly.
Aside from that, I find my role as a teacher is part instructor, part motivator. I try to incorporate many aspects of music in lessons, from theory to history to improv, in the hopes of giving my students a steady stream of inspiration.
11. Hang around with awesome, motivated people
This is a general point that benefits your life as a whole. Are the people you spend most of your time with interesting? Do they do things? Do they impress you? Can you brag about them?
Even if you’re not acquainted with musicians, hanging out with interesting, positive people can be majorly inspiring. It’ll make you want to be interesting, too. You’ll strive more and try harder to be on their level, with the result that you’ll end up boosting each other ever-forward.
12. Readjust your piano practice resolutions quarterly
A common problem with piano practice resolutions (or any New Years resolutions) is that you make them once, and forget about them by mid-year. Even the best goals need refining and readjusting every once in a while, to correct course and keep things fresh.
I like to review and edit my goals on a quarterly, or seasonal, basis. There are New Years goals at the start of winter, a review at the start of spring (in March), summer planning, and fall goals with the start of the school year.
13. Put your goals where you can see them
This one goes along with #12: Many people make New Years resolutions, but they forget about them for various reasons. Sometimes this is simply because they never get written down or actualized in any way.
Write your goals down somewhere you’ll be forced to see on a regular basis. I like writing goals in the front of my practice notebook. A digital idea would be to save a document on your phone, nestled in with the apps. Or you could write your goals on your desktop wallpaper. I’ve also posted goals on bulletin boards before, and that works well.
All of this helps keep your resolutions in your consciousness beyond January.
14. Play in a group, ensemble or band
This is another good one for those of you who are socially motivated. Speaking for myself, I practice much more diligently when I’m regularly jamming with my band, and tend to slack off when our jams become infrequent.
If you play in a duo, or trio, full band, etc., it creates accountability. If you don’t work, you’re going to disappoint other people. If you do work, you’ll be rewarded with fun life experiences – some of my favorite memories in life are from jams.
You don’t have to do anything fancy. Jamming can be as simple as an excuse to get together with a friend on a regular basis. If you haven’t tried it, I highly encourage you to – even if you’re a beginner. Chances are, there are other beginners out there who would also love the opportunity to play with someone else.
15. Build your self-discipline muscle (for when times are tough)
Lastly, the best-made goals will fall apart if you don’t use self-discipline from time to time. Habits and inspiration will get you through 80% or more of your practice sessions, but there will be times when you really don’t feel like practicing. Maybe you had a bad day at work, you’re exhausted, or the TV is especially compelling.
These are the times when you need to be able to whip out self-discipline. If you let yourself drop the habit, saying “Well it’s okay if I don’t practice just this once”, it’s all too easy for the habit to unravel and disappear. Try to establish piano practice as a law that cannot be broken except in the most epic of circumstances, like being bedridden from pneumonia or something.
I’ve learned this lesson mainly from exercising. I have to exercise 5-6 times a week, because if I don’t, the habit quickly disappears and I get lazy. But if I do it every day, I’m glad for it, and it’s much easier to get myself to do it.
I hope you enjoyed these tips for keeping your piano resolutions. Let me know in the comments of this post, or on YouTube, what works (and what doesn’t) for you.
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