The Importance Of Setting Goals

This article deals with the importance of having clear goals in mind in order to become the player you want to be.

Ultimate Guitar

Learning any instrument can be a frustrating process. We all have periods where it feels like we are making no progress or getting worse! However, if we have a goal in mind and we have a burning desire to achieve that goal we can surpass these feelings of inadequacy by following the steps necessary to achieve said goal.

Now, you were probably yawning as you read that first paragraph and thinking, tell me something I don't know!' Well, most students of music fail because they do not have clearly defined goals. Saying, I want to be a great guitar/piano/saxophone player' is not nearly enough! You must be clear about what it is you think would make you a great player. If your goal is a technical one then you must be crystal clear about what techniques you need to work on, what level you want to get them too and then you need to set a path for you to follow towards the attainment of your goal. Now here comes the most important part; you must take these steps towards your goal every day until it is yours. In the inevitable periods of frustration that we all go through, you must think back to your end goal, get inspired and continue working towards it regardless of how disheartened you may feel! Stick to this plan and you will get results.

Students generally practice seriously for a few days, weeks or months at a time before slipping back into the frustrating self sabotage associated with feeling like you will never reach your goal. I am sure most people reading this article have experienced this. I certainly have! Everyone understands at some level that if you put in the practice, you will reach your goals yet so few really stick to the path. I am not sure if it is a fear of failure or success. However, I do know that if you ignore the nagging voice in your head and put aside time every day to practice music you will amaze yourself with the results.

If you don't know where you are going, you will end up someplace else.' Yogi Berra

Goal Setting

It is important that at least once a week you set aside some time to really think about what your goals are and to assess your progress with each one. You must not be vague about your goals. The clearer you are, the easier it will be for you to imagine yourself in possession of them and so you will be more inspired and driven. Some students have such deep rooted negativity towards the concept of them becoming a great musician that it is hard for them to even visualize themselves owning the skills that they desire. These students should ask the question, what would be my goals as a musician if I knew 100% that nothing could stop me from attaining them?' The idea then is to adopt this mental attitude in everything you do. Achieving any goal is all about having the proper mindset. As soon as you do, you stop procrastinating and you become a do it now' person. Goals are achieved only through the act of doing'!

Final Thoughts

Always have your goals in mind - Even when you don't have your instrument to hand you can be thinking about any aspect of your playing and visualizing yourself being the player you want to be. To enforce your mental attitude in this way I suggest keeping a practice diary. It need not be anything fancy. Just somewhere you can write down your daily goals and most importantly, have the ability to look back and reflect on your progress as time goes on.

Set long term and short term goals - It is better to set some short term goals alongside your big picture' goal. This allows you to start off with some small successes which will keep you motivated and driven towards your long term goals. If you are unsure of what these might be, break down your bigger goals into smaller chunks. You might even think of these as little modules which will work as credits towards your big goals. For example:

-Long term goal Become a virtuoso guitarist -Short term goals learn the location of every note on the fretboard, learn about chord construction and apply this knowledge to the fretboard, increase picking speed by 20 BPM.

This is just a short example but hopefully you can apply the same concept to your goals. If you have any problems doing so, drop me an email with your problem and I will break it down for you.

Have a timeframe - Make sure you are working towards a deadline. Saying I want to have learned where every note is located on the fretboard but not setting a timeframe leaves the goal open ended and without urgency. It is important that you set your timeframe within a period that you would desire the goal, not within the period that you think it will take. Again, this develops urgency towards achieving your goals. It forces you to push yourself out of the comfort zone where frustrated musicians reside.

Be inspired Always believe that you, more than anyone else, are equipped to achieve your own goals. Read books and watch interviews by your favourite musicians or by anyone who inspires you. Seek out inspiring quotes. Get a good guitar teacher who inspires you. Watch as much live music as you can. Most of you reading this have all the tools they require to reach their goals already! If anyone doubts their own abilities, read up on some musicians who, against great misfortune, have reached astronomical heights. These include Django Reindhardt, Tony Iommi, Chris Poland, Art Tatum, Chick Webb and Michel Petrucciani.

Good Luck!

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.' Aristotle

Andy Mclaughlan is a Scottish guitar teacher and musician. Visit for more about Andy and his music.

2011 Andy Mclaughlan

10 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Oscar Ortega
    I dig it. One thing I would add is that when striving for a goal, leave room for opportunities. The road to goals usually never go as planned... so be dynamic in whatever adventures/goals you seek.
    Basically you put the SMART-rule into practice. S - specific, significant, stretching M - measurable, meaningful, motivational A - agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented R - realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented T - time-based, timely, tangible, trackable
    Zach Eapen wrote: Very inspiring and motivating article Andy ! Hoping to read more from you.
    Much appreciated. More articles on the way soon!
    I try tackling songs by virtuosos like Paul Gilbert, Satriani, Rusty Cooley, Vinnie moore, Yngwie etc... the songs will challenge your technique and understanding of music.Which brings you back to isolation exercises for the hard parts. I also try to find out theoraically whats happening within the song.This will help me think like a virtuoso and polish my technique.
    but coming back to your article.I set songs as goals and I started with real easy ones in the beginning and it's now that Im trying these virtuoso songs on for a size. Its quite a difficult task sometimes, but very fulfilling when a song is completed.
    your approach is definately a good one!if you don't already, i would learn these songs completely by ear thus getting the maximum benefit from your endeavour!
    Nice one 'nido' Seemed like nobody just 'learned & played a song' these days its all how many beats per minuite they can play and techniques they focus on not putting anybody down or anything technique is extremely important but does it all have to be so mathematical all the time? :S Goal settings a pretty good idea tho