Ah…summertime. For some, it’s a time to go on vacation, grill in the backyard, soak up the sunshine, and relax.

But for many musicians, it’s the time of year when they immerse themselves more deeply in practice, rework or strengthen specific skills, learn new repertoire, or attend workshops or festivals to further their musical experiences and training.

We often start off the summer with grand intentions, and it’s easy to feel like we have plenty of time. But the weeks fly by pretty quickly, and before you know it, it’s August and nearly time for the new academic year or concert season to begin.

Do you remember in high school, when one kid came back from summer vacation having sprouted up like a weed, looking like a whole different person?

I can’t help you grow 6 inches before September, but there are some key things you can do to encourage a growth spurt of a different kind in the next few months.


The key to having a growth spurt is goal-setting. Or to be more accurate, effective goal-setting. Because you will have more success if you do it in a certain way.

So if you’ve tried setting goals before and it hasn’t worked, give this a shot and see if you don’t enjoy better results this time.

First things first

One of the keys to being successful with goal-setting, is making sure you start with the right goal.

The right goal is one that we feel a strong commitment to. Because if there’s not much commitment, there’s not going to be much motivation. And without motivation, getting yourself to take action becomes a real uphill battle.

What about willpower, you say?

When it comes to behavior change, it’s actually best if we act as if willpower didn’t exist. Here’s a [wp_lightbox_prettyPhoto_anchor_text_video link=”http://youtu.be/RpiDWeRN4UA?t=8s ” width=”619″ height=”348″ text=”short video by Dan Heath” description=”The problem with willpower”] that gets at this and a book on willpower if you want to delve into the subject a bit deeper (and a good review by Harvard’s Steven Pinker, if you want the gist).

After all, summer is too short to get roped into an uphill battle. To make the most of it, you’ll want to maximize the return on your time and energy. And you can do this by paddling like mad with the current, not against it.

Here’s a great bit from The Talent Code, that goes into more detail about the so-called “fuel” of mastery and expertise.

Take action

Here’s how to get started:

Method #1

1. Create a list
Take out a sheet of paper and brainstorm a list of things you’d like to accomplish over the summer. To keep the ideas flowing, write down anything that pops into your head – i.e. do this with no restrictions, as if anything were possible and there were no limits.

If you reach a point where the ideas dry up, feel free to do this in multiple sittings, spread out over the next few days.

2. Cut your list in half
Now, go back through the list and cut it in half. This will force you to pick and choose the goals that mean the most to you.

You may notice as you go through your list, that there are a number of items which:

  1. Are things you could do, but don’t mean as much to you as the other things on your list.
  2. Are not realistic in the time frame you have.
  3. Are “should” goals. Meaning, goals that you have written down not because you truly want them deep down, but because you think you should want them. We get messages every day from society, bosses, conductors and music directors, teachers, parents, and so on. And over time it can be easy to internalize them, and think that the things they want are the things we want. Just watch out for this, and goals that are motivated out of fear of what would happen if you don’t achieve them. Cross those off your list too.

3. Cut it in half again, and again, and again – until you have a top 3
Keep cutting your list in half, until you get down to just three goals. Pick the one that means the absolute most to you – that elicits the most emotion and gets you the most excited.

That’s your big goal for the summer. If you accomplish it with time to spare, then great, you can focus on the next one. But you want to make sure you don’t spread yourself too thin and end the summer with three things half-finished.

Method #2

If Method #1 has you stymied, the next method is in some ways simpler and more direct.

1. Write a letter from the future
Fast forward in your imagination to the end of the summer. Sit down at your computer and imagine how excited you are about your summer and all that has happened. Compose an email to a good friend or close relative (you don’t actually have to send it, but write it as if you were going to), in which you share the latest news and explain how awesome the summer was, how much has changed, and in what ways you are different now than you were when the summer began.

Take the most meaningful change, achievement, or accomplishment from this email, and if you feel strongly about it, that might very well be your big goal for the summer.

What’s next?

Take your time and use the next several days to identify your big goal for the summer. I’ll post the next step in a week!

The one-sentence summary

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.” ~Peter F. Drucker

About Noa Kageyama, Ph.D.

Performance psychologist and Juilliard alumnus & faculty member Noa Kageyama teaches musicians how to beat performance anxiety and play their best under pressure through live classes, coachings, and an online home-study course. Based in NYC, he is married to a terrific pianist, has two hilarious kids, and is a wee bit obsessed with technology and all things Apple.

After Countless Hours of Practice, Why Are Performances Still so Hit or Miss?

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