Many learning strategies include setting goals. There's lofty goals like winning an international piano competition and landing a full-time University teaching gig in 7 years. Or one might look more at the short term. A piano major at the beginning of a university semester might set the goal of performing a senior recital in 8 months time with a certain set of repertoire. Then working backwards, they decide what progress needs to be made and at what point in time.
I did this with preparation of my Choosing Joy Recital. A few months out, I decided how many complete run-throughs from memory I'd like to do in the weeks leading up to the first performance. I decided which pieces or even which sections of pieces would be most difficult to memorize. I decided where the most pressing technical challenges were and I made set goals of when to manage these goals. I thought intently about how much time I needed to solve the most difficult sections, but also how I could spread these out so that any one or two weeks wouldn't feel overwhelmed with work.
In the end, I had a week by week list, and in some cases, day by day breakdowns, of what practice accomplishments I needed to make. And I didn't follow any of it.
Really by the second week, I was off track. Inevitably something got in the way, and probably something legitimate. I didn't practice when I wanted to, I didn't get done all that I wanted, and soon my schedule was worthless.
This article helps explain why. It states what's perhaps on obvious trap (but one we always fall into) which is that unreasonable goals are so easy to make. You can decide on a goal to become a millionaire in 5 years, even break it down into smaller savings goals of $30,000 every two months, you're still probably not any closer to reaching your goal.
I'm lucky that my failure to reach my goals never made me unhappy. In fact, while perhaps a little behind, I was well prepared for my recital, and it went off rather well. This is likely because I followed the suggestions in this article, namely that I set rules, and enjoyed the process.
I'm very keen on a keeping a set schedule (I'll probably write about some of my routines in a future post). As I prepared this program, I had set days and hours that I practiced. I tested myself regularly (see Monday's post), and I adopted daily or weekly goals based on those results.
The work got done, and I enjoyed myself. I didn't feel guilty about not setting an arbitrary schedule which had no flexibility for life to get in the way. The older and more advanced a performer you become, the better to trust your instincts. Have deadlines, and have routines in which the work can get done. Work, and let the results happen on a smaller scale.
"Modern performers seem to regard their performances as texts rather than acts, and to prepare for them with the same goal as present-day textual editors: to clear away accretions. Not that this is not a laudable and necessary step; but what is an ultimate step for an editor should be only a first step for a performer, as the very temporal relationship between the functions of editing and performing already suggests." -Richard Taruskin, Text and Act