The week between Christmas and New Years is a time that we often take to reflect on the past year, and to set intentions or resolutions for the upcoming one. I prefer the term "Intentions" over the term "Resolutions." Resolution implies the steadfast decision to accomplish a rigid goal, or to completely overhaul some area of your life. Intention implies a conscious momentum towards a certain behavior or attitude. It's a very subtle difference, but I think intentions lead to more lasting change.
We tend to focus on things like weight loss or financial planning when we make resolutions, but as a musician, my favorite category of intention is of the musical variety! Here is a little list I have compiled of ideas for musical intentions you can set for yourself in the upcoming year.
Expanding Your Musical Palate Listening is a massive part of musicianship, and one that I think is too easily overlooked. We are often so focused on what we are going to play that we forget to take the time to listen. I myself can also tend to get so caught in a cycle of listening to my favorites on repeat that I forget to branch out and experience new music. This intention can be pursued in a variety of ways. Maybe you need to focus on exploring new genres, or giving music you don't enjoy a second, third, or fourth chance. Maybe you need to get off of Spotify shuffle, and listen to entire albums through, with an awareness of who and what you are listening to. Maybe you would benefit from gaining a better awareness of more recent music. This intention is about stretching yourself - whatever that looks like for you!
Playing in New Styles Humans are creatures of habit, and musicians are no exception. Maybe that one style of music you play all of the time is comfortable, comes easily to you, or is paying the bills. Branching out, however, is a sure catalyst to improving all areas of your musicianship, even the one you feel you've already mastered. It leads to more creativity, a broader understanding of all elements of musicality, a wider musical vocabulary; and sometimes you get to fall in love with something new! If you are primarily a classical musician, give jazz or improvisational music a try. If you're a jazz musician, try something classical, or lean into less familiar styles of jazz. If you're into pop or rock, try some Latin or polka. The variations are endless!
Seeing More Live Music All musicians, whether amateur or professional, should have a vested interest in supporting, experiencing, and proliferating live music. Find out where there is live local music in your town or city, and get out and see it! Make space to go experience the music your local has to offer on either a weekly or monthly basis.
Connecting More with Fellow Musicians Find out who the musicians near you are, and make a concerted effort to become their friends and musical companions. Support their shows, invite them over for dinner, listen to their music, share their social media posts, or simply ask them to jam with you. We need each other, and a connected musical community has much more power than a competitive one! Other musicians challenge us, encourage us, motivate us, and understand us in ways that only other musicians can.
Taking Risks This is a personal favorite of mine this year. Are you afraid of cameras? Film yourself. Afraid of playing in public? Book a gig. Afraid of how you are perceived? Put yourself out there on social media. Afraid you can't play that thing you've always wanted to play? Do whatever it takes to learn it. Afraid you can't cut it in your local scene? Go to a jam or open mic. Afraid your ideas are bad? Execute them, throw them into the void, and see what happens.
Increasing Your Practice Time This is the obvious one! All else aside, the best way to get better at your instrument is to spend more time at it. Carve out time every day, but instead of focusing purely on time spent, try focusing on objectives instead. Set goals like mastering a group of scales, learning a certain number of pieces, doing more metronome practice, transcribing, composing, or implementing specific theoretical concepts. Once you have an objective, the hours melt away.
Studying Music History It's important that we know the shoulders we are standing on as musicians. Read biographies, watch documentaries, dig up old articles, scour websites, find podcasts. There are many ways to learn more about the music you love, and the people who pioneered it.
Putting Yourself Out There This can be as simple as sharing what you're working on with family or friends, or getting a teacher and taking lessons again (or for the first time)! It can also mean sharing on social media or sound cloud, going to local jams or open mics, accepting a gig for the first time, volunteering at a nursing home, learning a new or different instrument, or learning to play with other musicians. However it looks for you, set an intention to find ways to open yourself up!
Composing/Creating/Recording I tend to get so focused on working on the things that I need to do for the gigs I have and the bands that I am in, that I neglect to make time for my own pure creativity. I am setting a serious intention this year to set aside time to compose more of my own music, pursue the musical things that give me joy, and record what I am doing more often so that I have things to look back on! I find that the only way I actually make space for these things is if I set aside dedicated time for them, instead of pushing them to the margins of whatever time I have left after I tackle my responsibilities.
Caring For Your Physical and Mental Health No matter how you express yourself musically, your body truly is your primary instrument. If you are not caring for your mind, health, and mobility, your ability to play with suffer. Take walks, move your body, eat nutritious foods, set your phone down, read a book, take a bath, spend time with your loved ones. Life is for living, and art is a product of that living.