This blog post is about something very close to my heart, goal setting…. I know, I know, not particularly rock ‘n’roll, but, a very relevant point I feel in music education.
You’ve probably heard about the ten thousand hour theory put forward by Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘Outliers’ (heres the wiki page) and whilst this is a hotly debated topic one thing is pretty certain. The hours are not as important as the type of practice somebody does (after all 10,000 hours of un-structured, un-specific practice probably won’t make you Pino Palladino).
Before we consider how we practice, more importantly is why we practice. Its something I continually ask myself. Is it because we know that ‘I must practice to get better‘ or is it ‘I know what I wish to achieve and I have a plan to get there which requires practice‘? Both viewpoints are similar but which one do you think will give better results.
If your like me and think the latter is going to produce better results, being able to assess what our goals are quickly becomes very important.
So, what are S.M.A.R.T goals? S.M.A.R.T goals are a method of creating goals. View it like a checklist almost. S = Specific, M = Measurable, A = Attainable, R = Relevant, T = Time measured.
Have a more thorough look here:
So, how does this relate to practicing bass guitar?
Well lets take an example of something I hear a lot. ‘I wan’t to get better at arpeggios‘ Lets put the system to the test and see how it stands up as a S.M.A.R.T goal.
Is it specific? The more specific a goal, the more likely you are of reaching it. Our goal doesn’t even state which arpeggio, and the answer ‘all of them’ will definitely not work with the latter stages of this process.
Lets just pick one, minor 7. Our goal now becomes ‘I want to be better at minor 7 arpeggios’. Now, could it be even more specific?
The sort of questions that aid being more specific could be: In one position? All positions? One key? All keys? Root position or all inversions? All over the neck? or in a particular area of the neck? The list goes on, but for the purposes of this example, lets say ‘I want to get better at Cminor 7 arpeggios in root position from the lowest root possible, utilising the fingerings afforded to me by starting on the first, second and fourth fingers, ascending over one octave‘.
By just working through ‘s’ we now have something that is quite removed from the ambiguous un-attainability of ‘I want to get better at arpeggios’
Now, Measurable, how will we know when we’ve reached this goal. I find its very hard to decide when to stop practicing something. It can easily lead to that feeling of being in a rut and not knowing what to practice, which we’ve all probably experienced!
Making something measurable could easily be a tempo (and subdivision) at which you desire to play something at. It could also be tone based, for example, playing through an exercise with no fret buzz. It could be as simple as playing through with no time, but no mistakes (a la Jeff Berlin) a number of times, 5 possibly, or a mixture of all these. (These will need to be recorded if you wish to be totally thorough)
So for our goal lets say ’I want to play 16th subdivision Cminor 7 arpeggios at 70bpm in root position from the lowest root possible, utilising the fingerings afforded to me by starting on the first, second and fourth fingers, ascending over one octave‘. We now know definitively and can measure when the goal has been completed.
A is for Achievable and this pertains really to do you have the resources and time to achieve a particular goal. So, if your bass is in the shop and your schedule is packed then maybe put off starting a musical goal until your bass is home and their is room in your schedule. So most of the time this just means asking yourself do I have a bass (or your particular instrument) and time… Simples.
Relevance brings us back to the beginning of this article, why you are practicing something. Does the goal align with your bigger musical goals. A Cminor 7 arpeggio is pretty relevant to all musical endeavors, but, lets say you wished ultimately to get better playing pop and rock in a wedding covers band, then hammering minor major 7 arpeggios may not be relevant to that particular musical goal.
Almost there now, so ‘T’ is for time bound, this is basically setting a date for when you will achieve this by. This is hard when thinking about music because it will easily take more time than you think. It is always best to think how long will it take? then add a week. (Also remember if you don’t make the deadline, you made it, so it can be changed!) Also committing to some time you will put aside to achieve the goal is a very important part of this final step.
With that in mind our goal could evolve into ’I want to play 16th subdivision Cminor 7 arpeggios at 70bpm in root position from the lowest root possible, utilising the fingerings afforded to me by starting on the first, second and fourth fingers, ascending over one octave, I will spend twenty minutes every day working towards this and record myself in two weeks time’.
Now I hope you can see how evaluating your goals through this prism can highlight how to make musical study less scary and more manageable. A teacher can obviously help you with creating manageable goals that feel achievable.
Please feel free to direct any questions my way and also let me know how you get on creating S.M.A.R.T goals for yourself.