Great Goal Setting Ideas for Musicians

By Hans Jørgen Jensen 

Achieving success in the arts, business, sports, or academic fields requires an effective approach to goal setting. Sports psychology in particular is a field of study that is readily applicable to performing arts training. Given the overlap in the mental challenges of performing on a stage for an audience and performing on a field, court, or track, musicians can apply many of the findings of sports psychology studies to their own practicing. In a study on goal setting, the authors found that “Many sport psychologists have been fighting against the pervasive winning is everything mentality and have encouraged athletes to set only self-referenced performance and process goals. However, studies that have studied the practices of successful performers have found that they do in fact make effective use of outcome goals.”[1]

Outcome goals are part of a three-stage process in which goals are divided into process, performance, and outcome goals. The diagram below taken from PracticeMind: The Complete Practice Model illustrates the way this process develops smaller process goals into larger outcome goals.

Using multiple goal strategies for better outcomes

Numerous studies show that having multiple goal strategies is much more successful than using methods that do not combine different types of goals. However, it is important to know that process and performance goals should be implemented in the training period long before the outcome event. Research also suggests that for difficult tasks, process goals result in greater levels of performance, lower feelings of anxiety, and higher perceptions of self-efficacy than outcome goals.[2] The most important finding from these studies is the implication that combining the three kinds of goal setting is great for motivation and helps with setting up long-term daily training and practicing strategies that eventually lead to successful outcomes.

In addition to motivation, these short- and long-term goal setting strategies are helpful in the following ways:

  • Helping you to focus on what is important
  • Giving a real sense of personal satisfaction upon achievement
  • Giving purpose to what you do
  • Helping you develop the resilience to persist when the going gets tough
  • Targeting a goal that encourages you to develop strategies and tactics to achieve your goal

The goal setting process forces you to take stock of where you are now. In your personal goal setting journey remember that it is important to set goals that allow you to focus on the process and performance rather than the outcome of competition.

Here is the process adapted to music instrument practice:

Outcome, Performance, and Process Goals for Musicians                  

  1. Process goals are the small steps you take in your daily practice to reach your performance and outcome goals. These goals are completely in your control.

Examples of process goals include:

  • Practicing 3 hours a day for 6 days a week
  • Practicing 6 days a week with 2 sessions per day of 90 minutes; make sure to time breaks accordingly so that you maintain focus for the entire practice session.
  • Increasing the tempo of a fast etude gradually over the course of several weeks
  1. Performance goals involve performance situations like recitals or studio classes that offer opportunities to master and perform a specific repertoire. They are the building blocks that eventually allow you to reach your outcome goals. 

Examples of performance goals include:

  • Performing a show piece at full tempo for your own recording session in two weeks (write down the specific room time and date in your practice scheduler)
  • Performing a difficult etude in two weeks for a few of your friends
  • Performing and recording your complete recital with all the other musicians involved at least 3 weeks before your recital date
  1. Outcome goals are “big picture” goals such as winning an audition or a competition. These goals, by their very nature, are not in your control. However, it is also possible for a performance goal to comprise part of an outcome goal. For example, even if you don’t ultimately win a competition, you can still consider it a rewarding experience if you are able to meet the expectations of your performance goal.

Examples of outcome goals include:

  • Winning an audition for a summer camp
  • Getting into your top choice music school and studying with your favorite teacher
  • Winning a position in a summer festival orchestra or full-time professional orchestra

Combining the three types of goals: journey vs. destination

By creating goals in which all three components work together, you empower yourself to be more in control of achieving successful long-term results. Here are three key takeaways:   

  1. Setting an outcome goal sustains long-term motivation.
  2. Planning out process and performance goals brings structure to your daily practice.
  3. Even if you don’t achieve the specific long-term outcome you desired, such as winning a competition, the entire process is still a wonderful opportunity for growth and improvement. In fact, embracing and learning from all the small steps (or process goals) along the way is perhaps more important than the outcome itself, since it allows you to maintain a healthy perspective on the larger journey. It can also help fuel motivation toward your next big goal. Happy goal setting and practicing!




[1] The Effect of Multiple-Goal Strategies on Performance Outcomes in Training and Competition. Article in Journal of Applied Sport Psychology · September 1999


 [2] (e.g., Vallacher, Wegner, & Somoza, 1989; Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 1997, 1999).