Using S.M.A.R.T. Goals to Achieve Musical Excellence

S.M.A.R.T. Goals

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How do you set goals that are both inspiring and achievable? 

This is a question that all musicians grapple with. While raw talent can offer a promising start, the combination of focused practice and well-defined goals leads to true success. The S.M.A.R.T. framework, an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound, provides a structured approach to goal-setting that can transform your musical journey.

The Initial Concept

The S.M.A.R.T. framework was first introduced by George T. Doran in a 1981 article titled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives,” published in the “Management Review” journal. The original purpose of the framework was to provide a structured approach to setting objectives in a corporate environment. 

The Five Criteria

Doran’s original S.M.A.R.T. criteria were Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-related. Over time, the “Assignable” criterion has often been replaced by “Achievable,” and “Realistic” has sometimes been replaced by “Relevant” to make the framework more universally applicable. The essence of the framework, however, has remained consistent: to create goals that are clear, trackable, and achievable within a specific timeframe.

Beyond The Boardroom

While the S.M.A.R.T. framework was initially designed for business management, its utility was quickly recognized in other fields. Educational institutions began adopting it to help students set academic goals. Healthcare professionals use it for treatment planning. Personal development coaches employ the framework to help individuals develop and achieve life goals. And, as we will discuss, it has also found a home in skill-based activities like sports, arts, & music!

Now that we’ve explored the origins and evolution of the S.M.A.R.T. framework and its broad applications across various fields, it’s time to bring it home. How can this universally practical approach be tailored to meet musicians’ unique demands and aspirations?

Whether you’re a vocalist aiming for a broader range or a drummer wanting to master complex rhythms, the S.M.A.R.T. framework offers a structured pathway to help you realize your musical dreams.

What Are S.M.A.R.T. Goals?

S – Specific
The first rule of thumb for effective goal-setting is clarity. Let’s say you’re an aspiring vocalist. Instead of stating, “I want to become a better singer,” specify what “better” means to you. For instance, “I aim to expand my vocal range to four octaves by practicing specific vocal exercises daily.” Specificity provides a roadmap outlining the steps necessary to achieve your goal.

M – Measurable
Vagueness is the enemy of progress. For example, if you’re a guitarist, a measurable goal could be, “I will master the ‘sweep picking’ technique by practicing for 20 minutes daily and increasing the metronome speed by 20 BPM every week.” Measurable criteria help you know when you’ve hit your mark and allow you to make data-driven adjustments along the way.

A – Achievable
Enthusiasm is great, but overreaching can result in burnout or disappointment. If you’re learning to play the flute, an achievable goal might be, “I will master the chromatic scale in two months by practicing it three times a week.” Here, the goal is ambitious enough to inspire growth yet realistic enough to attain.

R – Relevant
Relevance keeps your goals in line with your overall vision. Suppose you’re a drummer interested in jazz. Instead of delving into drumming styles unrelated to jazz, a relevant goal might be, “I will learn to play two classic jazz drum solos by the end of the month.” This will serve your long-term objectives better than spending time on death metal blast beats (unless you’re also into that!).

T – Time-bound
Open-ended goals risk becoming endless endeavors. If you’re an aspiring songwriter, a time-bound goal would be, “I will write, arrange, and record a three-song EP in the next six months.” Having a timeline forces you to prioritize, focus, and take actionable steps.

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Examples of S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Master the Major Scales on the Piano

  • Specific: I will learn and master all 12 major scales on the piano.
  • Measurable: I will be able to play each scale hands together at 100 BPM.
  • Achievable: I’ll practice scales for 20 minutes each day.
  • Relevant: Mastering scales is fundamental for both improvisation and understanding music theory.
  • Time-bound: I aim to achieve this within two months.

Develop Vocal Range for High Notes

  • Specific: I will expand my vocal range to hit high C without strain.
  • Measurable: I will document my range every week.
  • Achievable: I’ll practice vocal exercises designed for range extension for 15 minutes daily.
  • Relevant: Being able to hit high notes will make me a more versatile singer.
  • Timebound: I aim to achieve this within three months.

Learn The Basics

  • Specific: I want to master basic drumming techniques, including the single stroke roll, double stroke roll, and the paradiddle.
  • Measurable: I’ll record videos weekly to track my technique.
  • Achievable: I’ll spend 30 minutes a day practicing these techniques.
  • Relevant: Mastering basic drumming techniques is essential for becoming a skilled drummer.
  • Time-bound: I will achieve this in six weeks.

Whether you’re a budding musician taking your first steps into the world of music or a seasoned pro looking to refine their craft, the S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting framework offers a structured approach for improvement. Originating from the corporate world, this framework has transcended its initial purpose to become a universal strategy for achievement!

Integrating reflection and enjoyment can elevate the S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting process, transforming it into a S.M.A.R.T.E.R. framework. While meticulous planning and ambition are pivotal, finding joy in the journey is equally vital!

Regularly evaluating your progress, celebrating your accomplishments, and recalibrating your goals are integral to this method. This continual cycle of reflection and adjustment ensures that your musical journey is marked by perpetual growth and learning. It’s essential to pause, reflect on your work, your goals, and your dreams, and assess whether they are still aligned. It’s perfectly normal for aspirations and goals to evolve over time, and the flexibility inherent in S.M.A.R.T. goals accommodates this evolution, leading to the creation of even s.m.a.r.t.e.r goals.

By adhering to the principles of Specificity, Measurability, Achievability, Relevance, and Time-bound criteria, you not only set a clear path for yourself but also create a structured approach that makes your musical aspirations attainable. These aren’t just goals; they’re stepping stones that lead you through a journey of continuous improvement!

Sam Reti is a professional guitarist and guitar instructor with over 15 years of experience in music performance. Currently, Sam is the Founder and CEO of Muzie.Live, a platform developed specifically for online, in-person and hybrid music lessons. Sam has personally worked with 1500+ music studios and teachers throughout his career to help improve their teaching methods and workflows by utilizing technology, which has ultimately led these studios to increase their retention and student engagement.

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