Our goal as jazz musicians is to always improve and become better players. We obsess over it and sometimes we practice long hours in hopes of achieving this. We all know and agree that practice is essential to becoming a better musician. But as I talked about in my article 5 Keys to Jazz Improvement, how we practice is crucial to whether or not our practice sessions will reap good results. We can spend many hours practicing and get very little done.
As I have preached many times on this blog, and in our free Jazz Guide to Practicing, setting goals for your jazz playing is essential for jazz success. Without setting goals and coming up with a plan for how you will improve, you are walking into your practice sessions with a handicap. Studies have shown that those who not only set goals but write them down are far more likely to succeed than those that don’t.
So we need to set goals for ourselves, and then create a plan for how to carry them out. Only then can we start having focused, efficient, result-producing practice sessions.
In the past I’ve described three different kinds of goals that I think are important to set. Let me quickly define them:
Long Term Goals: Goals that may or may not be broad. In general take a longer period of time to achieve (half a year to a year).
Short Term Goals: Goals that are informed by set Long Term Goals. These goals will break down the Long Term Goal into more achievable pieces.
Micro Goals: Goals that are informed by set Short Term Goals. These goals break down the Short Term Goal even further and are actions that can be taken now in order to achieve them.
So the Micro Goals are informed by the Short Term Goals, and the Short Term Goals are informed by the Long Term Goals. They are a support system to ensure that a desired result is achieved.
But I want to add one more kind of goal to this mix: Master Goals.
Master Goals are even broader than Long Term Goals. Master Goals are your dreams and aspirations; the kind of musician you ultimately want to be. These are the kinds of goals where you shouldn’t be afraid to dream big. If you want something in your music, but think you can’t achieve it, bingo: you just discovered one of your Master Goals.
When setting Master Goals, you want to ask yourself some important questions:
What do I want my playing to sound like?
Is there a musical desire I have that I don’t think I can achieve?
If I were to imagine myself as the best musician I could be, what would that look like?
Once you have established your Master Goals, your “dream big” goals, you can start creating meaningful Long Term Goals. Once you have established what you truly value as a musician, you can start figuring out how to actually move towards them. This is how we start to create meaningful practice sessions, that actually produce results.
I want you to take a look at this flow chart. At the end of this article, I will have a blank pdf version of this chart so you can download, print it (or keep on your hard drive) and fill it out yourself. But first let me explain it. Take a look:
What I want you to do is pick 3 Master Goals. Just 3. Really do some thinking and soul searching and ask yourself what you really want to get out of this thing. Now these don’t have to be permanent forever. Master Goals can change over time. Some of them won’t and some of them will. Ultimately they just need to be things that are either broad because they are a concept, or because they don’t provide any actionable tasks to accomplish them.
Once you have established those Master Goals, you can start creating Long Term Goals. Remember that the Long Term Goals should be in the same category as the Master Goal they are under. These goals are much more specific and require actionable events (Short Term and Micro Goals).
Then create your Short Term Goals. These goals are going to help you reach your long term goals. Often times, these goals take significantly less time to achieve than Long Term Goals (Think maybe a month or maybe weeks). Then establish your Micro Goals (days or a week) that will be the most specific tasks to help you achieve those Short Term Goals.
Here’s an example of some of my goals right now. Hopefully this will give you a little bit of a better idea of how these goals work, and how I am building my practice sessions to produce results.
First notice how broad my Master Goals are:
I want to have no technical limitations on my instrument. It sounds nice, and it feels good to say it. Basically I want to have the ability to play whatever I want without my instrument holding me back. But there is not actionable material here.
I want to come out with an album. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for years, but one thing or another in life has held me back from doing it. So I’ve finally decided that I need to write it down and start taking some steps. This might seem more specific, but it’s not. There is nothing truly actionable here. It’s like me saying I want to open a successful restaurant. It sounds nice, and many people have said it before. But a lot of thing have to come in to place for that to actually work out.
I want to be able to play incredible jazz language. I just want to play stunning jazz lines and keep improving on where I am at now. Super broad. I’m basically just saying “I want to be good”. No actionable items here, but this is truly what I want.
Just take a look at the 1st Master Goal column on my goals chart. It starts with “no technical limitations”. Since there are a lot of different aspects to achieving this goal, I start by picking one: playing at fast tempos. That certainly can have something to do with technical ability. Then I get more specific. I pick the jazz standard Cherokee (an up-tempo tune) as my vehicle of choice. I also pick a specific speed (bpm) I want to work up to. Then I set very specific, actionable, micro-goals to help me work on playing Cherokee at 250bpm.
Now, I guarantee that if you take the time to do this, you will be starting on the right foot every time you hit the shed for a practice session.
So what are your goals? How are you going to achieve jazz (or musical) success for yourself?
PDF of Jazz Goals Chart
If you want to fill this chart out for yourself, here it is:
If you would like to share your goals with our jazz community, feel free to upload a jpeg of your chart in the comment section below!