Mastering a Skill

I write this for myself and others. There is no magic formula here, just things I’ve learned about goal setting over the years from a variety of good sources, and now I’m going to apply it to my music goals. You can apply these steps to fitness, art, writing, career, anyplace you want to see growth and improvement.

#1 Set the goal:

It is important that you have a clear picture of what it is you are working for. Be very specific. What exactly do you want? Imagine where you’d like to be in one to five years?Be bold and honest, but think about it. Go ahead, I’ll wait. . . Got it? Okay, write it down. Seriously, pick up a pen and write it down now. I’ll do the same.

  • I’d like to improve my guitar playing so that I am comfortable walking up and joining just about any bluegrass jam. I’d like to be able to take breaks, some planned and some improvised. I’d like to be able to lead a bunch of songs (25+). And follow along with popular fiddle tunes.
  • I’d like to have a small group that I can perform with. Not on a big stage for money. I mean convalescent hospitals, backyard BBQ’s, farmer’s markets, coffee shops, etc. I’d like to record a few videos I can share with friends who are interested in what I’m doing.
  • I’d like to teach people who are new to the genre about bluegrass. Possibly in a formal setting as well as one-on-one. I’m talking about a presentation at schools, a combination of history and music.
  • I’d like to spend my summers gallivanting around to various bluegrass festivals and sleeping in a vintage trailer that suits my style.

Goals should be bold but attainable. I know I can do this, if I keep the big picture in mind and don’t get distracted by minor setbacks.


#2 Plan your action

How you will meet your goals? Pause again and think about this. Be realistic with your expectations, (don’t say you’ll practice 2 hours a day when you won’t.) Think of things you can actually commit to, in order to reach this goal. Write it down. Here are mine.

  • I will practice daily, at least fifteen minutes of specific skill practice before just “playing”.
  • I will commit to learning lyrics to a new song each week.
  • I will continue to attend a variety of jams to practice playing with others, improve my skills, and learn from others.
  • I will take a lesson at least every 60 days to get input from a master


#3 Create accountability

I hope you have the kind of friends that will encourage you to meet your goals. Name them. Tell them. Communicate your goals with them. FB groups, support groups, texts or phone calls. Determine your tribe and let your goals be known. Be ready to support them as well. Here are mine.

  • FB Song-of-the-Month group
  • Bluegrass jams and folk circle
  • Kerry, Tom, Eddie, Cinda, and Scott


#4 Track progress

I recently recorded and shared myself just learning to play a new song. I saw the video seven days later and was pleasantly surprised to see how far I’d come. If you don’t let people see you be a beginner, no one will see your progress. I’ve written on this many times, but I’ll reiterate; there is no shame in being where you are at. 

So record where you are (if your a runner, write down your times, struggles, etc.) so you can look back and say “Wow! I have gotten better!”

My plan:

  • FB song-a-month club
  • Playing with friends
  • Keeping a practice journal


#5 Plan for interference

Imagine things that might impede your commitment to your goal. What things might stop you? Have a plan to counter each one, but remember to be reasonable! You’ve got to love yourself and your passion, but know that life gets in the way. That is okay, as long as it doesn’t slip into excuse making. So for this one – each inevitable obstacle must have a remedy already in place.

  • Being busy – It’s okay to miss a day, but possibly make up for it on another day.
  • Burn out – Mix it up. Take a break and learn some new songs just for a little while.
  • Plateau – Push through, focus on one tiny thing to master, like a specific lick.
  • Injury – Be academic temporarily. Read and study instead of practice. Learn lyrics.


 #6 Rewards!

This is the fun part. I like to offer myself small and big rewards for sticking with it, besides the true reward of seeing results. When I started running in the early nineties wearing a pair of converse, I couldn’t even run a mile! But I told myself if I ran every day for a week, I’d get a new pair of nikes! It’s good if your reward further encourages your goal. Here are mine:

  • Short term – Post progress on “Song-A-Month” FB group and get kudos from my friends.
  • Long term – Stay on track for two months and buy a travel guitar.

Good luck on your goals! I wish you the very best. Consider me an encouraging friend, if you need it. I love sharing inspiration.


















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