That Will Last Past February…
I love when a new year begins. I love thinking back to the past year, what I did well, what went wrong, how I got through it. I love thinking forward, what adventures are coming, how I’ll grow, what will change, what will stay the same. This time of year is a great time to take all of this reflection, and turn it into something concrete. Goals.
Making and keeping goals is not an innate skill. It has to be taught and developed, just like everything else we do in music lessons. I can cheerlead, praise, and bribe till the cows come home, but it’s achieving a goal they’ve made themselves that really motivates my students to keep improving. I’m still working on it, but here are some things I’ve learned about helping my music students set and achieve goals:
It is so tempting to tell your students what their goals should be, but it defeats the whole purpose. They won’t be nearly as connected to the accomplishment if the goal comes from me. I can help them shape their goals, but I can’t make the goals for them. I may want their goal to be intonation, but they may want their goal to be completing Book 2. This is when I have to swallow my words, smile, and nod. If they want it, they can do it.
The younger the student, the harder time they will have with articulating an achievable goal. Asking them some questions can help them understand what they want to accomplish. This may also be helpful for too-cool-for-school preteens that don’t want to make goals, either.
- What most frustrates you about practicing?
- What do you admire about the older kids’ violin playing? (If they see older kids in group lessons)
- Why do you like playing the violin?
- Why do you not like playing the violin?
- What makes you excited about practicing?
- What makes you dread practicing?
- What is hard for you?
- What is easy for you?
- Is there anything you always hope I forget to do during lesson?
- What have you improved in the last year?
- What did you not improve last year that you wanted to?
- What do you hope to accomplish with your violin before you graduate from high school?
Many of the students that have crossed my path don’t have a clue about how much hard work playing a musical instrument is. They may want the big picture goal (Finish Book 2!), but not the smaller picture every day hard work. Your job is to show them exactly what it will take. This is where you can put your own technical goals into the plan.
Some possible steps to finishing Book 2 may be:
- Listening Every Day
- Playing Tonalization with Ringing Tone
- Practicing Review Songs
- Practicing Preview Spots
As you show your students the steps it will take, they may realize they want to scale back their goal. That’s okay. Achievable is better than impossible.
Types of Goals
Try to get your students to make two types of goals: one process-based and one results-based. A process-based goal is more about improving habits, while a results-based goal is more about achieving a specific end. Most students are naturally inclined to one or the other, so being successful at one kind may help motivate them to work on the other.
Examples of process-based goals:
- Listen 3 times a week
- Practice before breakfast
- Practice with no arguing
- Start every practice session with a scale with straight bows
Examples of results-based goals:
- Finish Book 2
- Play Waltz with vibrato on every note
- Get into All-State Orchestra
- 1000 Circle Bows
Ask your students how they would like to be reminded about their goals. Are they going to post it on the fridge? On their bedroom door? How are they going to keep track of their progress? Sticker chart, journal, or marble jar? This is up to personal taste, but it should probably include something they see every day at home, and something they see at lesson so they can discuss with you.
Know When to Abandon Ship
I’ve had more than a few of my students make an ambitious goal that we were both excited about, then fizzle out in a couple months. There are two ways to handle this common dilemma:
1. Avoid any mention of the failed goal ever again. It’s awkward!
2. Talk about why it didn’t work and regroup. Make a new goal.
The first one I’ve done way too often, the second one I’ve found actually helps my students learn. Most of the time a failed goal is caused by poor goal-making. The effort required to achieve the goal did not fit into the already over-scheduled life of the child or they didn’t set up reminders well enough and forgot about it. Asking your students what caused the failure helps them improve the next time and not just feel bad about themselves for failing a goal.
I feel pretty strongly that goal making is the best way to help a kid learn to be self-motivated. It may take a few tries to get the process right, but it almost always results in an excited student (which is my favorite kind.)
Do you set goals with your music students? What are your tips?