Setting New Year’s Goals with Your Music Students

As 2020 rounds its final bend, you may find yourself sighing of relief. As teachers, we learned things we would have never dreamed of learning, we did things we would have never imagined doing. If this year was confusing, chaotic, or even overwhelming for you or your student, you can start anew. Begin the new year with a fresh start, a clean slate.

And, why not write some goals for your students at the top of that blank slate? Traditionally, these goals (the dreaded New Year’s resolutions) date back to ancient Babylonia, over 4,000 years ago. Sure, there’s nothing like ‘tradition’, but “Why should I make New Year’s resolutions for 2021?”

It’s healthy and it’s human.

“I think most people want a second chance to improve the quality of their lives. The New Year offers a blank slate — an opportunity to get things right. When we set New Year’s resolutions, we are … aspiring to a goal and following through on it, I have a sense of control over what's happening in my life.”

Dennis Buttimer, M.Ed., CEAP, RYT, a facilitator at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont Healthcare

As music teachers, there is a myriad of New Year’s goals that can be set with our students. Perhaps you’ve already compiled a list of suggestions/goals for them. Approach your New Year’s goals with clarity. Be precise, planning the resources, tools, and strategies you will need to make them happen. With those thoughts in mind, let’s help our students create music-driven New Year’s resolutions.

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Music-Driven Goals

1. Create a Regular Practice Routine

How often do you hear a student (or parent) say that their goal is to “practice every day”? Let’s get real for a moment. First, goals need to be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Most of our students lead very busy lives. How often does dance rehearsal, soccer practice, or even homework get in the way? How about suggesting the following practice routines:

  • 15 minutes a day - 5 days a week 
  • 30 minutes a day - 3 days a week

2. Create a Playlist

Repertoire, a playlist, and a song list are pretty much the same thing. A great resolution for musicians is to set a goal to learn a certain number of songs. Maybe you start with a 5-song list, maybe the goal is to learn 25 new songs. Celebrate when those songs are learned, then make a new list. This process is very important: Set the goal. Work toward the goal. Achieve the goal. Celebrate achievement. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Don’t hesitate to be ultra-specific. Here are some examples: 

  • Learn one new song a week for 12 weeks 
  • Learn 40 songs for the year 
  • Memorize one song each semester.

3. Learn New Techniques

Help your students set a resolution to add something new to their musical toolbox: speed, rhythm, reading, improvisation, diction, phrasing, or any other technique are possibilities. Will power is simply not enough to learn new techniques; discipline and consistency are needed. 

For example: “_______scales played using eighth notes at 120 bpm” or “Improvise for 15 minutes a day, 3 days a week.” Make up your own resolutions and stick to them. 

4. Learn to Compose

What better time than the present to start writing your own music? If your music student is brand new to this concept, then provide an easy, workable framework like Leila Viss’ “Cookie Cutter Composing,” that they can follow. Musical concepts like melody, harmony, form, and articulation can be taught to students of almost any age. Consider letting them try out composition software like Noteflight or Musescore. Assign definitive weekly, monthly, semester goals based upon your composition lesson plans.

5. Hone Memorization Skills

Whether easy or very difficult for your student, it is important for them to exercise the memory muscles. Setting goals, like the following, may help:

  • One ________ per day memorized 
  • One _________ per week memorized 
  • _____________ per month memorized 

A personalized list might look like this: “One technique exercise per day memorized,” “One verse per week memorized,” “One song per month memorized.” 

6. Use Available Tech Tools

There are some great (and affordable!) music educational tech tools (apps) on the market. This January, make it your goal to try and consistently utilize one or two appropriate apps with your students. 

Choose an app and set goals for each student to use them. For example:

  • _______ app (amount of time) for (days/week) for (purpose).

An individual goal might look like this: Use the Tenuto app daily 10 minutes daily for practicing bass note flashcards. 

Starting the New Year Fresh

While this past year left many of us feeling draining, defeated, and dreaming of “unprecedented situations” to end, the New Year brings hope. With the hope of a fresh start, a blank slate wafts on January 1st. Implementing these New Years’ goals can give a note of freshness to your student’s musical routine. Try two or three of these goals with each student. Write them down together, get specific. Make them measurable and achievable. And then, get to work. You won’t regret it. 

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