In business, a company will set a sales budget for the coming year. By projecting a reasonable expectation of growth, the company can compare goals to actual results.
Similarly, you can set a musical budget. Your goals can be long-term, such as things you hope to accomplish in the next year, or short term, things you hope to accomplish in the next hour.
Long-Term Goals. I tell my students to learn one new tune a week and one short phrase a day in 12 keys. A year from now, they should know 52 new tunes and 365 new musical phrases. By any measure, this accomplishment is substantial, yet the daily requirement of time is minimal. It shows the difference between doing a little each day and doing nothing: At the end of the year, the cumulative total is significant.
Short-Term Goals. Before the practice session, decide what you plan to work on. Think about what you practiced yesterday—keep track with a practice log—and practice something different today.
For example: If you practiced long tones yesterday, play flexibilities today. If you worked on double-tonguing yesterday, work on triple-tonguing today. If you practiced a technical etude yesterday, pick a lyrical study today. You don’t need to practice everything every day, but you do need to practice everything every week.
When practicing an etude, work on short segments, say four to eight bars with many repeats. As you play the same segment over and over, you become increasingly familiar with the notes and the order in which they appear, much as you become familiar with each turn on an oft-traveled road. The ingrained muscle memory allows you to increase speed without sacrificing accuracy and address musical concerns beyond playing the notes. In 10 minutes, you will sound like a better player.
Long-term growth consists of many short-term accomplishments. By setting a musical budget, you remind yourself what is on your agenda, give yourself something to strive for and provide a way to mea