Improve your music by Improving your goals

Not getting to where you want to go?

You’ve set goals, but it’s not helping much?

Maybe there’s something wrong with the way you are setting goals? 

Maybe if we improve your music goals, we can improve your playing?

SMART goals to boost your Musical Skills

Today I’m going to talk about SMART Goals. This is something talked about in the fields of project management and marketing a lot. I personally think it can help us breakdown our musical goals and help us get there quicker and more efficiently. We need a laser focused quality to our goals. They can’t be vague and left to interpretation.

What are SMART goals?

SMART goals were first coined in 1981 by George Doran. The meaning of each letter has changed slightly over the years, but here are the commonly accepted words today:







I’ll begin by giving examples of goals that aren’t specific:

Get Faster

Learn Something new

Neither of these “goals” tells you anything specific, they are vague and leave much open to interpretation.

Now, let’s take that last one and make it SPECIFIC. Learn three new chords. Better yet, learn my Eminor, Aminor, and D7 chords. The more specific, the better. Get Faster? Well, how much faster? Gain five BPM’s is a much better goal. If your detailed and specific about your goal, you’ll be more equipped to tackle it. The more detailed you are, the more you can MEASURE your success, which brings me to the next part:


An example of a measurable goal is- Increase my Beats Per Minute five BPM.  Learn three new songs in two months.  These are both things that you can quantify and measure.  Did you increase your BPM by five or not?  It’s easy to measure.

Something vague like.  My goal is to improve doesn’t help.  Improve what?  How are you measuring your improvement?

Think about someone that goes to the gym to lift weights.  Either they lift an additional five pounds or they don’t.  Most don’t go in there thinking, I’ll just put whatever I want on the bar and try to lift it.

If you are trying to run faster, you get out the stopwatch and you time yourself.  You don’t guess if you ran faster.  You need a stopwatch with your musical goals.


Examples of goals that aren’t achievable- I want to learn 12 new songs in 3 days.  My goal is to gain 75BPM on my guitar picking within two weeks.  After I take 3 months of lessons, I want to be able to play the entire Foggy Mountain Banjo album note for note.

These aren’t realistic goals.  You are setting yourself up for failure.  Make it something DOABLE.  For example, I wish to increase my speed by 5BPM over the next month.  I want to go to the local bluegrass jam and play “Wildwood Flower”, both the backup and the lead by August. 

As from the above example, no one goes into the gym thinking, I’m going to add 100 pounds to my bench press today.  Don’t get CRUSHED under the weight my friends!  Make your goals something attainable.


Is the goal you are trying to reach even relevant?  I’ve had students tell me they want to improve their backup skills, but they are only working on lead breaks.  Suppose your goal is to go to the local jazz jam and sit in on a few tunes.  If you practice some song from the 20’s that no one knows, that isn’t helping you meet your goal.  Maybe it’s fun, but what you are working on isn’t relevant to the goal you’re trying to achieve.  This is where a good instructor can come in handy.  They can catch you self-sabotaging yourself! 


This is another area where people miss the mark with goals.  They don’t set a timeline.  As my old teacher used to say, “Set deadlines!”  If you have a deadline, your more apt to accomplish what you seek, rather than floundering about for months on end never getting there.  An example of a time-bound goal is: “I want to upload a video of myself playing “Groundspeed” by August 12th onto my Instagram channel.”

Notice that it defines EXACTLY what the goal is-where the goal is to take place and when.  Nothing is left open to interpretation.

Closing Thoughts

Everyone works differently, but maybe keeping a journal or spreadsheet will help you achieve your goals.  Have some way of keeping track of your Measured, Specific, and Time-bound goals.  This will make you accountable to yourself.  You can track your progress over time. 

I especially find tracking SUPER important for beginners.  After months of practice, they get to a point where they’ll feel like they haven’t made much progress.  Meanwhile, they’ve made plenty.  You need somewhere where you can see your tangible progress.

Hopefully, this article will help you create better goals and help you quickly get where you want to be. Remember, think SMART about your goals!  Once again, here are the important words

Specific / Measurable /  Achievable /  Relevant  / Time-Bound

As always, please let me know if you have any questions and wishing you a great MUSICAL JOURNEY!

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Jody Written by:

Professional Musician of 27 years. I've performed on the stages of Carnegie Hall, The Grand Ole Opry, and The Ryman Auditorium. I've also played in 6 different countries. All things Banjo and Acoustic Guitar.

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