Goal Setting and Your Sanity

While I very technically am not a therapist, I can assure you, many guts have been spilled (figuratively) in my studio. Anyone who has been taking voice lessons for a while can attest that, occasionally, we all have one of THOSE days where your voice teacher, who hears you at your best and your worst, lays out constructive criticism about your musicianship, your anatomy, your attitude, encourages you, and comforts you in your distress…..can become a bit of a therapist.

The high schools in the area where I live and teach are, like many other places in Texas, known for high-performing and high-pressure environments. Last year, I actually moved back to the same school district I grew up in and graduated just 11 years ago (okok do the math) and it was cutthroat and intense back then and even more so now. The expectation seems to be that ALL students are college – bound (don’t get me started) and that they will be the best at what they do or not do it at all. This is not healthy and frankly, for the vast majority of people, not attainable.

So this is why goals are important, because where I see students get hung up, discouraged, and disappointed, is most often in their failure at perfection because perfection was their only goal. By setting goals that are:


…we can help to set reasonable expectations, focus your practice, and give students peace of mind and satisfaction in the results.


S – Specific. Specific goals are things like: “I want to make it one audition level further than last year.” “I want to make the All-Region Choir.”

M – Measurable. Getting a higher chair than last year? Measurable. Being able to sing notes that were previously out of your range? Measurable. Not dying? Measurable (and a more common goal than you might think! 🙂 ) Having a good audition? Not so much… although, I will be posting soon about how to evaluate your own auditions and learn and grow from them.

A – Attainable. Making the All State choir is, quite frankly, not attainable for 96 – 99% of people….since about 1-4% of auditionees make it every year. Below we will discuss when it is appropriate to have “Make the All State Choir” as your singular goal for the season and some alternative goals.

R – Relevant. A SMART goal is not: “I want to beat that girl who beat me last year.” As I’ve said before… you cannot measure your progress based on how other people do or how you do in relation to them. The whole point of this process is to produce more confident and beautiful musicians. Beating people is irrelevant.

T – Timely. In the case of All State auditions,  we do have macro deadlines that are already set. But if you have micro goals, such as: “Learning all of the notes and rhythms to the music by September 1st” you can and should set benchmarks along the way.

OK, cool, so can you please just tell me what my goal should be now? 

Yes, I am a mind-reader, dear teen. OBVIOUSLY, these have to be personalized, but here are some suggestions and starting points.

My over-arching goal for every one of my students is to make the Region choir by the time they graduate from High School, and the vast majority of people can attain this by their Junior year. I have never had a student who *Took lessons, *Went to Camp, and *Auditioned for four-straight years and didn’t make the Region choir.

The most typical goal is for a student to advance one level each year they audition. In fact, it is very rare that a student, barring illness on audition day, not do better each year that they audition. Maybe the first year you don’t make Region and the next year you do. Then Junior year you make it to Pre-Area and the next you make it to Area.

So, for whom is it appropriate to make a goal of making the All State choir? I would say conservatively, people who have already been to the Area audition. I have never had a student who got to Area once not make the choir by their second try. Sure, I’ve also had Freshmen make it (and we hate them in the most loving way.)

The fact is that the Area audition feels so different from the others…you may have to travel far and sleep in a strange bed the night before, the audition day is long, the format of the audition is different and you are competing against complete strangers from different cities. Just the experience of being there once is so valuable that people auditioning their second time have a major leg up the next time around.

Of course, I don’t blame you if your four-year plan is to make the All State choir! If you start out by making it one rung up the ladder each year you only maybe have to skip one or two steps ahead and the All State choir in your sights! Just remember, nobody has ever made it without a good deal of blood, sweat, and tears, so if you want to reach for the stars, you’d better build a sturdy rocket ship!

Staying focused and encouraged is so valuable to your singing and your sanity, so make sure you are setting goals that will push you to be better, but are reasonable and set you up for success.

Now, go practice!


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