The beginning of a new year is fast approaching, and the one thing that comes to the minds of most of us this season is that formidable word “resolution.” We can choose to think of the word with dread and annoyance, reminded of all the times that we’ve tried to stick to our resolutions and failed, or we can choose to think of each new resolution not as an impossible chore, but instead as an opportunity to improve, grow, and move forward. In order for our New Year’s resolutions to work, they have to serve us, not the other way around.
Every pianist, no matter what his level, is aware of some specific aspects of his piano life that he’d prefer to be different in the coming year. The question is, what are the five New Year’s resolutions that every pianist should make? What are some areas in which we could all grow?
1) Make playing a part of your everyday life
It’s been said that in order to make something a habit, you have to do it for 30 days straight. This coming year, start writing practice sessions into your daily planner, just like you do your appointments and sports practices, and stick to it for 30 days. In order to keep it from becoming a chore, consider playing first thing in the morning before you even know what’s hit you!
2) Commit to ongoing learning
Every pianist has further to go in his educational journey. If you’ve stopped taking lessons, then consider starting back up. If you’re currently taking lessons, then consider taking more often, for longer durations, or even taking a free online college course in addition to your private lessons. Some sites, like Coursera.com, offer free classes from accredited institutions, and occasionally you’ll find ones focused on songwriting, musicianship, and even world music. You won’t get a college credit, but it’s a fun way to become a better musician.
3) Get a few fun, new songs
Whether you get these new tunes from a music store, purchase and print them out from a site like Sheet Music Plus or Musicnotes, or borrow from a friend, doesn’t matter. What does matter is how it’ll breathe new life into your piano practice. The songs inside don’t necessarily have to be new to you, just new to your playing. You can find arrangements of almost any song that you know. There’ll be days when you just don’t want to play, and those fun tunes will be there just to get your fingers on the keys.
4) Stop judging yourself
We’ve all done it. One terrible lesson, one recital disaster, one seemingly impossible song and we’re telling ourselves that we just aren’t as good as we thought we were, that piano isn’t our thing, and asking ourselves, really, who are we kidding? Never, ever forget that even the best pianists in the world have had bad recitals and lessons and really difficult songs that they couldn’t stand. Have compassion for yourself in the same way that you would have compassion for a friend having a tough time with their piano studies. Self-judgment can be the most fatal and growth-stunting mistake of all.
5) Start recording your lessons
There are few things more effective at improving almost everything about your playing than audio or video recording your lessons. With your instructor’s permission, start recording all of your lessons. Not only will you get to hear your teacher’s comments, but you’ll also get to hear everything you play. I’ll be honest: not all of my students are fans of hearing their own playing. But frankly, it can be a sign of our maturity as musicians. And if you’ve resolved to stop judging yourself (see above resolution), there are only two things that you’ll hear in each recorded lesson: great playing, and opportunities to improve.
Think of these five resolutions as five tanks of gas. Each one could get you further along in your journey of learning and your path of self-improvement. Who knows? Maybe this’ll be the year that we stick with our resolutions.