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New School Year - New Goals!

September is an exciting time. New pieces, new students, new goals.

Goals are huge motivators for older students when they are clear and quantifiable. We are all boosted and motivated when we have achieved something. There are big goals like piano exams or student recitals but I am talking about personal progress goals.

To illustrate what I mean I’d like to share an email from an adult student I received last January. For January 2021, I created a 30-day challenge for my adult students. Here’s what Mivi emailed me at the end of the challenge…

Do you know your goalsetting task for the 30 day challenge set me off on a whole new thinking chain? I’ve just been playing the piano probably for an hour, and a lightbulb went on. I have met my goal. This is the goal that I had when I first took up the pursuit all those years ago when I first met you. I wanted to just sit down at the piano and play. And now I can. Goal met. But I hadn’t realized I had done this because the problem with goals is the posts keep shifting. As I improved, so my goal shifted unconsciously and yet I was still striving to meet it. Thus I had an infinite goal....which I would never reach. As you keep reminding us, we need to be specific and clear in articulating a goal so that we can recognize when we have met it. My new goals are so much more sophisticated than what I set off with, and that is exactly what I would want. They are also more defined, which will please you!


It is heartwarming when a student can see their progress and successes. Mivi hit the nail on the head when she said that her goals shifted unconsciously, and she had created an infinite goal she would never reach.

Clarifying goals is a huge motivator. As teachers we can guide students to write down personal, clear, attainable goals. Reaching and celebrating that goal is a joy!

Below is the list of questions I asked my students to reflect on last January. September is another perfect time to do some goal setting. I encourage teachers to use this short list with their older students. If you are an older student, pull out a pencil and start writing.

My examples below are for those learning to play from lead sheets (that’s what I do). Feel free to modify it for your own students.

Clarify your goals

1. What do you want to do with your music in the future?

Here are some suggestions…

  • have sing-alongs in my home

  • play at local hospitals or care homes

  • sit down and play through a fake book

  • encourage children or grandchildren to play by being an example

  • play in a band with friends

  • play with a singer in a local coffee shop

  • accompany a local dance school or choir

  • other (be specific)

This is why I am playing the piano ______________________________________

2. After you have chosen what you want, choose what you want to focus on.

  • sight reading

  • rhythm

  • ‘comping (lead sheet accompaniment in a band)

  • performance (calming nerves, being expressive, etc.)

  • technique (all the major chords, arpeggios, inversions, etc.)

  • chord progressions (IV- I, V-I, ii-V-I, etc.)

I am going to focus on (pick only one for now) _____________________________

One thing I have observed repeatedly - professionals work on the basics at a really high level. When you look at the goals this way it helps you to say NO to distractions and time wasters.

3. Find music you really like and use it to work on your focus.

  • Stride

  • Blues/Boogie

  • Torch songs

  • Disney songs

  • Broadway

  • Beatles

  • Classical (a specific piece?)

  • Music from your teen years

The music I like most at this time is _____________________________________

4. Here is where you write your musical goal for the next 2 months. It’s OK to do other things that aren’t on your goal list but be aware that it is a diversion. Put it in your calendar 2 months from now to remind you to revisit your goal and see how you have progressed. Be specific and make a recording of where you are now as soon as you have listed your goal.

Here are some examples:

  • I am going to learn to play the first page of Fur Elise by memory with perfect rhythm

  • I want to play in a local big band. I am going to play chord chart chords with Youtube videos daily so that my accompanying becomes more intuitive and more rhythmic.

  • I am going to learn a piece by memory and play it for my dog, my friend, my family and eventually at a local coffee shop. I will remember to breathe and hum the melody in my head while I am playing.

  • I am going to sight read 8 bars of music every day to be able to read a piece of music and have it sound like a recognizable piece.

  • I am going to learn to play all 12 major scales with a relaxed hand and the same fingering every time.

My 2–month goal at the piano is



Be as specific as possible. Email it to a friend or to me so we can celebrate your progress with you in 2 months. Create a recording of where you are now and record yourself in 2 months. Compare your recordings, reward yourself for all your effort and set a new goal!


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any questions you may have!

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