With countless instruments to learn and infinite musical avenues to explore, planning and goal-setting are essential in helping you orient yourself in the vast and fascinating world of music.

This month, we’re spotlighting a Musical U member who approaches her musical journey with a pointed pragmaticism while still giving herself ample room to explore instruments and musical styles. J’aimeW captured our interest with her frequent and insightful Progress Journal entries, detailing her adventures with ukulele, guitar, Irish flute, and her own singing voice, and sharing her thoughts and revelations as she progresses.

We’ll be giving you peeks into her Progress Journal interspersed with her interview answers below.

Our interview with J’aimeW is a fascinating look at how one multi-instrumentalist with a huge musical appetite structures her learning to build a foundation that can further her progress in any avenue she chooses.

Q: Hi J’aimeW, and welcome to Musical U! Tell us about your musical background.

I played flute and piccolo in high school band, then in college I took private lessons and played in chamber music ensembles. Besides the modern silver flute, I’ve also played around with some of the other members of the flute family: baroque flute, Irish flute, tin whistle, soprano and alto recorders. More recently I took up the ukulele. I thought it was time I learned an instrument that could play chords!

Q: Quite the diverse instrumental know-how! What’s your favorite music track these days?

One of my favorite singer-songwriters, Neil Finn, live-streamed the recording sessions from his last solo album. I love the casual feel of the videos, like we are there in the studio. Here’s one of them, beautiful song:

Neil is a really inspiring musician to me. I love his lyrics (sometimes moving, sometimes mysterious) and his interesting collaborations (this album had a whole chamber orchestra and choir in the studio at times, plus Neil’s brother and son guesting on some tracks). Plus he is a multi-instrumentalist, which I always wanted to be.

Q: Wow! Beautiful song, and what a great use of vocal layering. What are you currently working on in your musical life?

I’m working through the Playing By Ear roadmap on Musical U. I’m also learning solfa and starting to connect those skills to my flute. I’ve borrowed a guitar to try it out and see if I want to learn more. I like it so far!

Q: So you’re expanding your multi-instrumentalism even further. Before joining Musical U, where were you stuck?

I felt like the skills I had were never appropriate for the musical situations I wanted to be in. I don’t want to be in only classical, sheet-music-reading situations forever. I want to try out bluegrass jams, play folk and rock music. I want to try lots of things.

J'aimeW's thoughts on jamming

I can’t remember if I found the Musicality Podcast or the Musical U blog first, but I followed both for a while, until finally I decided: if the free resources are this good, the paid membership must be amazing! So I jumped in.

Q: What experiences – and surprises – have stood out during your journey?

I really did not expect to be learning solfa. Only ever heard of it through that song from The Sound of Music. However, I’m really starting to see how useful it is.

Q: How have you benefited from Musical U so far? Why is it important to you?

I’ve been a member for three months and I have:

  • Figured out why I thought I was a “bad singer” (I didn’t know what my comfortable vocal range was, or how to choose songs that weren’t difficult for me!)
  • Started to put foundational skills in place for playing by ear, and
  • Changed the way I think about practicing. I am so much more focused now, because I have a long term goal, plus a short term plan that tells me what to do today, and I have confidence that what I am doing today actually moves me toward my goal.

Q: How have your plans changed along the way?

The big picture vision I wrote when I joined was so broad and rambly that I don’t think anything I could do now could count as changing my plans!

J'aimeW's big picture vision

I have switched gears from singing to playing by ear, but if anything, it’s becoming more and more clear to me that the underlying skills for all these goals interlock, so working on one also supports working on the others.

Since I have a lot of varying ideas of things I want to try and experience, it’s great for me to get some solid basics in place that will serve me wherever I go musically.

Q: How has keeping a progress journal helped your musicality?

The accountability of a Progress Journal has been really good for me. I set the goal of updating it about once a week, and I don’t want to write a public post saying I didn’t do anything for a whole week.

J'aimeW sample training plan

As someone with a broad, rambly big picture vision, I also appreciate the clarity of publicly stating a goal for the week. It reins me in, when I might get distracted by a bright shiny new path.

Laying A Foundation

The absolutely incredible thing about J’aimeW is how she is able to honestly assess her own abilities and goals, and follow a pragmatic, let’s-do-this approach to learning music – she can easily spot the gaps in knowledge and skill that separate her from her goals, and recognize what needs to be done to get her where she wants to go.

Realizing that she wants to play a wide range of instruments and styles and break out of just reading sheet music, J’aimeW has pinpointed that laying down a solid foundation of the basics will help her in whatever she decides to do – and so, she is working on a group of highly practical and interrelated musicality skills: playing by ear, deliberate practice, and solfa.

Though the idea of “planning” your journey is off-putting to some because it invokes feelings of rigidity and a strict path, that’s far from the truth – a well-thought-out plan will unlock numerous musical doors and encourage exploration and creativity.

What are the core skills that will help you improve in your chosen musical pathways? Have a think, and write them down. You’ll find that many of these skills will prove helpful in meeting multiple musical goals.