How you succeed in reaching your practice goals

by Aloisia Dauer (17.01.2023)

As the new year begins, many of us experience a yearning for change, a drive to establish goals and incorporate new habits into our daily routine. However, noble aspirations alone are insufficient, as without tangible measures, our resolutions for the new year rapidly become meaningless. In this piece, Aloisia Dauer outlines effective strategies for setting significant musical objectives and realizing them.


How do you set goals?

For a considerable time, I held the belief that verbalizing goals was sufficient to enhance the likelihood of achieving them. I employed this method for personal and professional aspirations, until I stumbled upon a fascinating study conducted by psychologist Dr. Gail Matthews: The Impact of Commitment, Accountability, and Written Goals on Goal Achievement. She discovered the positive impact of consistently writing down and reflecting upon goals.

Dr. Matthews selected 267 participants, aged 23 to 72, from diverse social and cultural backgrounds for the study, with 149 participants completing it. The subjects had varying professional and personal goals, such as increasing income, learning a new skill, selling a house, and more.

Participants were instructed to identify what they wanted to achieve within four weeks and evaluate their goals based on difficulty, significance, prerequisites, and motivation. They were divided into five groups. Group 1 solely verbalized their goals, and 43% of them achieved their objectives. Groups 2 to 4 wrote down their goals and, in some cases, specific steps towards accomplishing them. More than half, 60%, of these groups attained their goals. Group 5 documented their goals and specific measures, as well as sending a weekly progress report to a designated person. Astoundingly, 76% of participants in this group accomplished their objectives.

This study indicates that writing down goals significantly increases their attainability, and progress is further enhanced by regularly reporting to another person. Accurately stating and documenting objectives assists the mind in comprehending what is required to be accomplished.

This approach has not only improved my personal practices but has also benefited my students, whether they are preparing for a performance or competition, or advancing in their general learning process.

About the author |


Aloisia Dauer is a violinist, pedagogue, and violin consultant for the Bavarian Singing and Music Schools in Bavaria. In addition, she operates her own online learning platform, called Your Music Mind (Instagram: ...

How can one formulate goals for musical learning?

Learning objectives for music education are highly individual and can be formulated independently or with the guidance of a teacher. To be effective, learning objectives should:

  • Be clearly motivated.
  • Be precisely defined.
  • Be realistically achievable.
  • Be assigned to a timetable with start and target dates.
  • Be measurable in terms of progress.

For larger musical goals, it is recommended to divide them into smaller chunks and plan accordingly. This approach turns complex goals into measurable and easily achievable milestones. Additionally, the sense of achievement, even after short practice sessions, can help sustain motivation.

It's easy to focus on only a few things while practicing, while neglecting other important musical elements. Setting specific practice goals can add variety to the week, make progress visible, and help the musician to concentrate on important elements. Here are some suggestions for small goals when learning a new piece of music:

  • Listen to the piece of music.
  • Learn the voices, notation, and intonation.
  • Consolidate rhythm and tempo.
  • Optimize sound and posture.
  • Emphasize dynamics and articulation.
  • Consider breathing, shaping, and phrasing.
  • Understand the musical character.

Keeping musical resolutions

What keeps us motivated to learn?

So, how can we stay motivated to achieve our learning goals and resolutions? Motivation primarily comes from within and starts in our mind. It's sparked by a craving and desire for something. Inner motivation is present when we do something out of pure enjoyment and satisfaction. To succeed, we need realistic musical goals that we can achieve with the instrument in the near future. It also helps to know why we are practicing, such as for difficult technique exercises.

Frustration can set in when we feel like we're not making progress towards our goals: "Can I do this?" - "What can I do?". Self-analysis, such as recording ourselves or playing to a metronome, can help us identify challenges with the instrument, so we can work out how to overcome these difficulties.

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Turning Practice into a Habit

Not motivated to practice? Even professional musicians experience this feeling. Sometimes, we just have to get up and start practicing, even if it's only for five or ten minutes. By setting a short practice time, we're more likely to stick with it and often end up playing longer because we enjoy it.

So, how can we build habits that help us achieve our goals? Don't think about if you'll practice, but when. This is a good way to trick yourself. Start by determining:

I'm going to do [SUSTAIN] at [TIME] in [PLACE].

Taking further steps:

  1. Eliminate distractions! It's easier to avoid temptations than to resist them.
  2. The more attractive an activity, the easier it becomes a habit. For instance, starting or ending practice time with your favorite piece.
  3. A motivational ritual can help - do something you enjoy just before a difficult activity.
  4. Control your mind - instead of thinking "I must," think "I may."
  5. Consistency is key, not perfection.
  6. At the beginning, you need a reason to keep going. Reasons can include playing in an orchestra or band, learning a famous piece, or preparing a surprise concert for someone important.
  7. Track your habits - a practice diary in which you record when and what you've practiced can help you stay on track.
  8. Additionally, regularly communicate your progress to a partner.
  9. Remember, it's better to do less than you had hoped than to do nothing at all.

When we receive feedback that we are making progress, we become more motivated to continue on that path. It feels good to see results growing. We stay motivated when musical challenges remain manageable. We enjoy challenges, but only in an optimal difficulty zone. Therefore, it's crucial to set realistic musical goals that we can achieve.

What other factors are important for practicing?

  1. A suitable practice space: a place where we feel comfortable and free from distractions.
  2. A consistent practice schedule: don't wait for free time, but schedule practice time as a fixed appointment that fits into your daily routine. Otherwise, something else will always come up!
  3. A musical environment: making music together brings the greatest joy and motivation.
  4. Good practice habits: reflect on your own practice and make adjustments as needed.
  5. Concentration and mindset.
  6. Confidence in oneself!

Tips for effective practice

  1. Identify which elements need work and prioritize them for the week.
  2. Record a short audio or video of a practice section, listen back, and evaluate if it matches the idea in your head.
  3. Practice with variations: creativity pays off!
  4. Use a stopwatch and focus for a few minutes on a single aspect such as a tricky passage or specific movement.
  5. Keep a clean sheet of music and write down fingerings, breath marks, bow strokes, or other notes to make them easily recognizable.
  6. Simplify technically challenging sections during practice, such as playing without rhythm, focusing only on notes, or practicing a rhythm figure with only one note.
  7. If you're struggling to start a new piece, listen to it in different interpretations and get to know other works by the same composer. Once you're familiar with the piece, try playing along with a Playalong at home.

I hope you enjoy your time playing your instrument or singing. It's a gift to experience music, to feel it, to make music together, and to always discover new things. Enjoy experimenting and keep at it! Even if you fall out of your routine, you don't have to wait until the next New Year's Day to start again and work towards your musical goals. As long as you enjoy it, it's worth the effort to keep going, even when it's challenging.

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