The first of January is an exciting time of year. It’s a time for fresh starts, new beginnings and a spotless optimism for what can be accomplished in the year ahead. As a musician your brain is probably already brimming with ideas for new projects and goals for improving your musicality this year.
Sadly, the typical approach of setting New Year’s Resolutions has some fundamental flaws and if you don’t know about them they can sabotage your chances of success. Read on to find out what these flaws are and how you can overcome them as you set your musical resolutions this year.
If you’ve been training your musical ears you can probably already imagine what it will be like to effortlessly hear the detail in music and understand how it all fits together. You might imagine yourself playing incredible improvised solos, singing a powerful rendition of your favourite song and moving the audience, or rocking out on stage with your band.
The new year promises all this, and the classic way to seize that opportunity is New Year’s Resolutions.
The concept is simple: make a resolution (i.e. a promise to yourself) to do something in your musical life this year.
But there’s a catch… Actually achieving those resolutions rarely turns out to be as easy as setting them! In fact although almost 50% of people set New Year’s Resolutions, less than 10% achieve them every year.
So what can you do to maximise your chances of actually succeeding with your musical new year’s resolutions?
We’re going to look at the most common mistakes people make with new year’s resolutions and what you can do to avoid them and set effective Musical New Year’s Resolutions which will actually bring you success this year.
Note: Before you start out making your resolutions you might benefit from reviewing your past year in music and doing an ear training audit so you know where you’re starting from. And if you’re looking for a fully-fledged guide to setting and achieving your New Years Music Resolutions we’ve got you covered.
The Top 6 New Year’s Resolution Mistakes
Setting a New Year’s Resolution for music is easy. Too easy, in fact. Because if you set the wrong kind of resolution you’re practically ensuring your failure! Instead, make sure you’re aware of the six most common problems with resolutions so that you can set yours more carefully and ensure you actually succeed.
Here are the six main reasons that New Year’s Resolutions fail. See if any of them sound familiar to you.
1. Setting too many goals
The downside of enthusiasm and inspiration is that they can lead us to set too many goals at the start of the year. There may be several areas of music we want to improve on, and our natural instinct is to set a goal for each of them and dive in.
Maybe you want to learn to play chords by ear on guitar and start writing songs and improve your voice and learn some music theory. But all of that on top of your regular instrument practice and your other day-to-day life commitments (school, work, friends, family, diet, exercise, and so on) can quickly become overwhelming.
Unfortunately the human brain isn’t as good at multi-tasking as we would like to believe, especially when it comes to staying disciplined. If we juggle too many new resolutions we suffer decision fatigue.
2. Choosing goals you don’t truly care about
If you’ve set new year’s resolutions in the past which you haven’t kept, I’m willing to bet that at least a few of them failed on this point: they were “nice to have”s rather than “absolutely need”s.
For example, you have a general sense that you’d like to be better at singing in tune, so you throw in a resolution to sing every day. But it doesn’t truly matter to you whether you become a better singer or not, and it isn’t really integrated with your musical life.
Or maybe you feel like you should get better at playing scales so you make a resolution to learn the major and minor scales in every key this year. But you don’t pause to ask why playing scales matters to you or how it will improve your musical life.
The problem with goals you don’t truly care about is that it’s incredibly hard to maintain motivation with them. You might get off to a good start just through your start-of-year enthusiasm, but when that wears off you’re left with little to convince you each day to keep pursuing it. Which then leads to failure, and guilt, and frustration.
3. Setting vague goals
This is a biggie. How many times have you heard someone say their resolution is to “lose weight” or “save money” or “get better at piano” etc.?
These vague goals capture a momentary spark of excitement – but then they do nothing to prepare you to actually succeed in accomplishing that goal.
It’s fine to start from that vague idea of what you want to accomplish, but make sure you don’t leave it at that when you set your new year’s music resolutions
Here are some great examples of how to make vague goals more specific.
4. Not making a plan
Many people begin the year with a good resolution which they’re excited about and then the first couple of weeks seem to go great. They’re doing all kinds of things in pursuit of that resolution and they feel like they’re making progress.
A couple of weeks later: nothing’s happening.
The reason is that they set a resolution without making a plan to accomplish it. So after a frenzy of initial excited activity they’re left with no new ideas, and no clear plan for using the ones they’ve just blitzed through.
The result is that they feel they’ve “tried everything” and not succeeded, so they give up.
This mistake goes hand-in-hand with setting goals which are a “shot in the dark”: you pick something totally unrelated to your current musical life and commit to achieving it, but then give yourself no chance of succeeding because you don’t construct any path from where you are now to where you want to be. The goal remains a distant idea, disconnected to your real musical life.
5. Not having support
Some people keep their new year’s resolutions private. Others broadcast them loud and wide. There are different schools of thought on which approach is better for achieving goals, but one thing everybody agrees on: it helps to have supportive people around you.
You don’t necessarily need to share the details of your resolution if you don’t want to, but if you don’t have friends, family, or a musical community to encourage you along the way, your chances of succeeding in your resolutions are significantly lower.
6. No accountability or tracking
Once you’ve set your resolutions it’s essential to track your progress. This doesn’t need to be detailed or overly formal – it just needs to be regular.
Unfortunately most people don’t do this. They might regularly remind themselves of the resolution itself, but not keep clear track of what they’re actually doing to meet it.
This is a very common mistake in new year’s resolutions. In fact it’s practically inevitable if you’ve fallen for one of the other mistakes and set a goal which is too vague or doesn’t have a plan to go along with it. It’s impossible to track something if you don’t actually know what it is you should track!
When you take instrument lessons you get built-in tracking and accountability, as you see your teacher each week. Unfortunately for ear training and learning the “inner skills” of music, if you’re self-taught you will need to take care of this yourself – or find a system which will assist you (see the next section for an example).
If you’re not tracking your progress and staying accountable (at least to yourself if not to somebody else) then you won’t know whether you’re moving towards your resolution goal and that makes it very hard to ever get there.
How to set resolutions you will achieve
Did any of those mistakes sound familiar? I know that I’ve been guilty of each of them in the past myself!
Actually “guilty” is the wrong word because they’re easy mistakes to make, and nobody ever teaches us how to avoid them. I hope that by reading through the information above you’re already starting to see how you can set better musical resolutions this year.
The good news is that each of the mistakes above brings its own solution. Meaning that if we try to reverse each of the mistakes we’ll automatically produce new year’s music resolutions which are actually effective.
Let’s go through them one by one:
1. Set ONE goal
I know, I know, I can hear you already. “But there are so many things I need to improve on!”
I totally get it. But here’s the thing: if you want to achieve all of those things as quickly as possible it will be quicker to do them one-by-one.
See the point above about our brains and multi-tasking. The reality is that none of us are superman and by spreading yourself too thin you actually do yourself a disservice.
So give yourself the best chance of accomplishing what you want to this year by choosing just ONE New Year’s Music Resolution. Because guess what? Once you achieve that one, nobody can stop you setting a “Mid-Year Music Resolution”. And then another one.
2. Choose a goal you care about
There are lots of factors in choosing a musical goal to pursue, including your passions, the syllabus (a.k.a. what you “should” learn next), the resources you have access to, and the master plan you might have for your overall musical development.
So how can you choose just one goal to focus on first? The answer is that there is only one thing which really matters: do you truly care about the goal?
- You might care about it because it’s intrinsically exciting to you.
- You might care about it because it will let you break through to the next level of musicianship.
- You might care about it because it’s something you’ve always felt guilty you couldn’t do.
As long as you feel a deep emotional resonance with the goal, it’s a good one to set your resolution for.
It can be hard at first to let go of some of the other goals you might have had in mind, especially if you’re in the habit of juggling lots of different musical pursuits. Fortunately this is a self-solving problem. Once you realise that those goals are being put aside because you don’t care about them as much as the one goal you chose, then of course by definition you shouldn’t worry too much about letting them go! You are focusing on what you care most about.
3. Make your goal MAGIC
No more vague goals. Whatever goal you chose and truly care about, it’s time to put a very specific definition on it. Your vague big-picture goal might be something like “learn to play chords by ear”, but it’s time to transform that into something like “easily recognise I-IV-V chord progressions in rock and pop music”.
4. Make a Plan
Even with one specific goal you truly care about, you still need to make a plan to get there. It’s good to have that goal as your “guiding light” for the months ahead but unless you construct a path from here to there you’ll just be wandering in the dark.
5. Get Support
Some people are lucky enough to be surrounded by a gang of musical friends who they can share their ups and downs with and get all the encouragement they need.
For many of us though, we need to actively seek out a musicians community that can provide the kind of support, guidance and encouragement we need to help us achieve our musical resolutions.
6. Track your Progress
Consistently writing down how well you’ve been sticking to your resolution brings a myriad of benefits. You can do this on a calendar, just ticking off the days you kept to your resolution. You can do it as part of a daily music practice log. You can do it in private or in a shared space like the music community mentioned above.
However you choose to do it, make sure you are tracking the small steps day by day towards your resolution goal.
Resolve to Succeed
If you take the 6 steps above to avoid the most common mistakes in New Year’s Music Resolutions you will dramatically improve your odds of success. These are all simple changes to make to how you approach making resolutions but they can have a huge impact. Whether you choose just one or two, or decide to implement all six, I highly encourage you to give it a try!
If this sounds like a good approach and you would like a system which helps you put this all into practice and gives you the resources and support you need to succeed with your musical resolutions this year, look no further than Musical U where we offer exactly this kind of goal-setting and planning system along with unlimited expert support and a comprehensive set of training materials to improve your musical ear and become the musician you wish to be.