As the New Year approaches, millions of people around the world are reflecting on 2015, asking themselves what went well and what didn’t. As we look forward we must ask ourselves where we want to be and what we want to achieve.  For jazz musicians and musicians in general this is especially important. We must always commit ourselves to becoming better players.

I often emphasize the importance of setting goals for your jazz playing.  The statistics are out and they’ve been out for a while: those who set goals for themselves are far more likely to achieve success than those that don’t. We all want to become better jazz players. We want to know more tunes, we want to play better solos.  We dream all day about these things, but unfortunately where most musicians get snagged is the execution part.

In the United States alone, it’s estimated that about 45% of people will make New Years resolutions but only a staggering 8% of those people will actually keep them.  This comes as no surprise of course.  You may have failed to keep your resolutions in the past and you wouldn’t be alone!

I want to encourage all of our readers to set New Year’s resolutions for their musical goals this year. Don’t write it off, don’t call it silly! If you have been jaded by New Years resolutions due to past failures, give it a second, third, or fourth chance this year. 2016 has all of the potential to be the best year for your jazz music yet!

Before you make your New Year’s resolutions, check out these 4 important tips that will help you actually keep them. These tips will help you avoid the painful failure of not being able to commit to your resolutions:

Be realistic.

The biggest temptation when making New Year’s resolutions is being unrealistic about what you can actually achieve. It’s easy to dream up all of the amazing things you can accomplish and where your jazz playing could be, but it’s another thing to actually do them.

I want you to exercise some discipline on your dreams.  Your goals may be to learn a new tune every week, or transcribe a new solo every month. You can fill in the blank for yourself, but maybe those goals are a little bit ambitious for you. Maybe you need to take it down a few notches so that you can actually accomplish them.  Maybe instead of learning a new tune every week, you should learn a new one every other week or every month.

Maybe your goals are along the lines of more practice time. It’s easy to say you are going to practice an X amount of hours, but unfortunately life happens. We all lead busy lives with families, jobs, friends, commitments, and it’s not always possible to dedicate the amount of time we would like to our instrument. Make sure your goals are realistic for the life you are living now.

Don’t be ashamed of toning down your musical goals. It’s far better to do less and accomplish your goals than to set the bar too high and end up doing little to nothing.

Make a plan.

Once you’ve established your musical resolutions for 2016, don’t stop there! It’s easy to say the things you want to achieve but if you haven’t created any logical steps to accomplish them, you have already started out on the wrong foot. Once you’ve established your long term goals (resolutions), start to make short-term goals. These short term goals should be based on your long term goals. Essentially you are breaking down your long term goals into more digestible pieces.

For example, if one of my goals was to learn 25 jazz standards in 2016, I would start by figuring out how often I needed to learn a new tune. In this case, I would roughly need to learn one new standard every two weeks. I would then start by saying: I’m going to learn and work on It Could Happen To You, for the next two weeks.  After those two weeks I would pick another one. The key is to take your resolutions down to earth by breaking them down and creating multiple “checkpoints” to achieving them.

Create momentum.

The hardest part about achieving your New Year’s resolutions is actually starting them.  Once you’ve decided what your goals are, you shouldn’t waste much time before getting started.  Decide to act on them now and take the first step! As human beings, we love to talk about all of the things we want to achieve. We get an exhilaration talking about them and imagining what it would be like if we arrived at them. Unfortunately, this is where it stops for many of us.

Don’t be a talker be a doer. Pick up your instrument and go! Stop yourself before you come up with any excuses why you shouldn’t start. The biggest mistake you can make is to push it off. Every day you wait you are hurting your chances to succeed.

Once you get started, keep the ball rolling! Don’t slow down or you may just come to a stop. Keep your eyes fixed on the prize at the end of the race.

Keep motivated.

As jazz musicians, we constantly need to be surrounding ourselves with motivation. We need to be listening to jazz on a regular basis and if possible, going out to see it live. We need to be playing with other like-minded jazz musicians, especially those who play better than us.  We need to fuel the fire to keep us excited about our jazz playing. Staying motivated will help you stick with your New Year’s resolutions and see them through. Without motivation you’ll be dead in the water!

Make a conscious decision to surround yourself with jazz music and other jazz musicians this year. Create habits that will help you make real change in your music! 2016 has all of the potential to be the best year for your jazz playing yet.  We have a brand new year ahead of us to start fresh. Let’s commit ourselves to our resolutions and see them through.

30 Stepsto Better Jazz Playing

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