As we enter the new year, we tend to think of it as a new beginning, as an opportunity to change, to grow. Almost like a blank canvas, this massive amount of time feels endless with possibilities. So how do we start? How do we succeed? No definite answers here, but I would like to share what I do and what works for me (mostly). Hope it is helpful to you as well!

Step 1 – Verbalize and write down your big resolution(s).

It may sound obvious but without actually setting your big goals, there is no clarity in what you want to accomplish. This could be one musical goal or many, depending on how much time you have and your aspirations. Here is what this looks like for me:

  1. Release and promote my new Blue Landscapes duet album with Robert Thies.
  2. Finish composing the remaining five compositions for the upcoming jazz quintet recording, get into the studio and record the new album mid-year.
  3. Improve my time feel as well as the ability to clearly hear/write music with no instrument to help.
  4. Learn at least 20 new jazz standards by memory.
Whatever musical goals you choose, it should be for your love of music.

Your goals could be and probably are VERY different. They could be as simple as “Learn to play all my major and minor scales in two octaves at 120bpm” or “Improvise to any recording for 15 minutes every day”. Or they could be set in some way by your teacher. But keep in mind that whatever you do choose, it should be for your love of music. It should be fun. It should feel good. Of course, practicing chromatic scales for hours (if that is an area you want to improve in) can hardly be called fun, BUT the satisfaction of progress and the very fact that we are making music still somehow makes it a positive thing which we can be grateful for. At least that is my perspective – any time we have to make music is a good time.

Step 2 – Set aside time every day to get it done.

No matter what you put out there, try to set aside time EACH DAY to do it. If 15 min is all you have, do it regularly, and you will be amazed at how much progress this adds up to over time. For me, my goal is to set aside at least 2 hrs/day on MAKING MUSIC, no matter what else is going on. During this time, I could be either practicing my main instrument (flute), composing, or working on musicianship in general (e.g. playing percussion, piano, ear training). Over time, I will more carefully plan my practice sessions and develop a plan to get structure into my routine… but more on that at another time.

The process of getting there is when growth happens.

Finally, it is important to remember that your goals are here to guide you, but it is during the process of getting there when growth happens, no matter the outcome. You can certainly change your goals along the way. Maybe they were a lot easier to complete than you thought — or on the other hand, too hard or unrealistic — but you are learning and growing nonetheless. Don’t be afraid to dream too big.

Step 3 – You don’t have to do it alone.

Having a musician friend be a part of your journey helps. It keeps you motivated and accountable. Once you share your intentions, it is harder to go back on them. So partner up with a friend and keep growing together. Sometimes, this is a natural part of your goal – for example, if you are together in a band, or working on music together. Other times, it will require you to reach out to a friend and help them realize the benefits of partnering up. The Metronome Online Facebook Group is also a good place to share with other musicians, if you prefer to stay online.

Damjan with Chris Wabich, Matt Politano, Ric Fierabracci on stage at Alva’s Showroom in Los Angeles

So, what do your goals look like? What big or small things do you want to accomplish this year? Are you ready to make this a part of your daily routine?

If I can give one additional piece of advice, it is this – JUST START. It is the hardest thing to do, but we can do it!

Wishing you much musical success in 2019 and looking forward to learning, playing music, and growing alongside all of you!