Learning to Play Music Through Goals & Realistic Expectations

Nov 14, 2018

So you, or your child, are starting out on the exciting adventure that is learning music!


What are your expectations for the journey? Any goals?

If you have some, have you written them down? Have you put them somewhere that you’ll see them every single day? Have you established a daily plan that will help get you there?

Chances are, you do have some expectations and goals, but if you’re like most people, you haven’t written them down yet. Most people never do.

If you have written them down, chances are you don’t look at them every day. Odds are even lower that you have a daily plan to follow.

This isn’t meant to put anyone down – everyone makes this mistake. But hopefully, after this week, you’ll see the importance of having and setting realistic expectations and goals, and start working towards them!


We often hear the questions, “how long will it take me to get good?”

While that’s a valid question, there’s no easy answer to it – it will depend on the instrument, how much time is available to apply to learning it, and how focused and motivated the student is.

Rather than simply using the vague question of what “good” is, it’s better to set goals to work towards.

Having outlandish or unreasonable expectations of how quickly you or you child will become proficient is a great way to be set up for failure. Nothing discourages us faster than discovering something isn’t going to be as easy as we thought when we started.

Realistic goals, on the other hand, give students small, easily measured baby-steps, allowing them to track their progress clearly.

If there is no goal set, there’s nothing anchoring or driving the learning experience – you don’t know where the journey is going. If you don’t define what success is, you’ll never know when you’ve reached it.

Reconnect With Yourself

To get started, lay it all out on the table. Create a map of everything you want out of your music career. If this includes a record deal and thousands of adoring fans – great – but it doesn’t have to. Simply becoming proficient, or learning to play certain songs, is fantastic.

In fact, it’s important to not only think about fans and albums sold, but what you want on a personal level. What will sustain and feed your passion, and keep you feeling fulfilled in music for years to come?

Without a strong purpose it’s easy to lose sight of your ultimate goals.

And of course, those goals are useless unless you actually see them as being worthwhile. If they’re not a strong enough driving force, they won’t get you up out of bed early, or push you to practice, or improve in any meaningful way. If your goals aren’t pushing you forward, you haven’t truly connected with what you want to get out of learning music.

Write them Down

Committing those goals to paper is a critical part of the process. And no, you should most certainly not use a word processor to write and track your progress. Sure, use your phone to set reminders on your calendar, set up reminder notifications, or even use a custom background image with all your goals written out – but always, always, ALWAYS­ write them down with a pen and paper first.

Putting things down on paper like this can help clear your mind of clutter and make the goals more real to you. Some people even go so far as to say that what you write down has a way of coming true. Whether you believe that or not, there is definitely value in the whole exercise.

Again, this is something most people never truly do. If you manage to do it, you’re already setting yourself apart from almost everyone else.

Plan It

Now that you’ve got your expectations and goals all worked out, it’s time to figure out how you’re going to achieve them, and that means a plan. And the first step in any plan is to break down your goals into smaller steps that you can work towards on a daily basis.

If you struggle with this step, your goals or expectations may not actually be measurable or achievable. For example, “I want to be a rock star!” is so vague that it’s essentially useless as a goal, and is a wildly unrealistic expectation to start out with. “I want to have millions of fans and be an internationally recognized rock star” is better, but not by much.

The best goals are something you can start working towards today, on day one. If you can’t think of a first, second, or third step, your goals and expectations are too general.

The best goals are also realistic. Think about it this way: if you have an email mailing list that has 100 subscribers, you wouldn’t expect that number to balloon to 10,000 subscribers in a single year. That’s far too unrealistic. There are certainly things you can do every day to grow your email list, but setting goals that far out of reach is a recipe for failure. Learning an instrument is exactly the same.

You need to be willing to stretch your comfort each time to practice, but not so much that you become frustrated with a lack of perceived progress. Find that sweet spot.

Look at Your Goals Every Day

You’ve thought about it carefully, set goals, and even broken them down into manageable steps.

Now what?

Put them somewhere that you’ll seem them every single day.

Try the mirror in your bathroom, the door to your bedroom, a corkboard in the office – it doesn’t really matter where you put it, as long as it’s someplace you’ll see it all the time.

This constant reminder will help you avoid being derailed by distractions and “shiny things.” We all need to refocus from time to time, but keeping your goals in front of you will help you keep your eyes on the prize.


In the end, the goal isn’t really what’s important – it’s the actions you take in working towards your goal that matter.

That may sound somewhat in contradiction of everything we’ve said so far, but in reality, countless people don’t hit their goals. They either surpass them with flying colours, or they come closer than they ever would have really believed possible if they stopped to think about it.

It’s more about the journey than the destination.