The Importance of Student Goal Setting in the Private Studio

January has arrived, students have returned from winter break, and it is time to start thinking about the upcoming year.  I always dedicate the first lesson after winter break to goal setting…because let’s face it, they usually have nothing prepared for the first lesson back anyway!  I ask each student to set three big goals they would like to accomplish in the next year and ask them to write their goals down using a goals worksheet.

Why write them down?

A study by Gail Matthews at Dominican University found those who wrote down their goals accomplished significantly more than those who did not.  Both Forbes magazine and Harvard University have published articles on goal setting and the importance of writing down said goals that are well worth the read!


Why not just set the goals for your students?

Of course, I have my own ideas of what I think my students should accomplish, but I have found there is great power in having students set their own goals.  All you have to do is a simple google search to find article after article to support this concept and the majority of them come to the same consensus: goals should be SMART!
student goal setting


Many students try to set very broad goals like “have better technique” or “be a better sight reader.”  While these are excellent goals, they are not specific enough to meet the second criteria of measurability.  Students can take these broad goals and narrow them down to meet their specific needs. You can even provide a sample list of goals for your students.

A few example I give to my students are:
Memorize all 12 major scales
Play my Major scales in eighth notes at quarter note = 120
Sightread at a level 5 proficiency
Audition for mid-state
Make Allstate
Get a superior at solo and ensemble


Seeing progress is paramount in achieving set goals.  If the student cannot see the progress they are making towards their set goal, it will soon be forgotten.  By setting a very specific goal such as; memorize all 12 major scales and/or to be able to play them at a specific tempo, the student can use a chart (scale pass off chart) to track their progress. Being able to see this progress increases the students chances of successfully achieving their goals.


It is your job as the instructor to make sure the goals your student set are challenging but not overly ambitious.  A beginner student goal could be “pass off 30 pages in my book” but probably shouldn’t be “audition for a professional orchestra.”  At the same time, an advanced student should not set goals that are “too easy.” You can guide and encourage students by offering suggestions but ultimately letting them set the goals.


Realistic and Relevant
While realistic goal setting ties into attainability, students also need to be reminded to make sure the goals are relevant to the subject matter. It is very easy for a 6th grade student to get distracted and set a goal of improving their math grade.  When this happens, I remind them that while math grades are very important, that particular goal is not relevant to their clarinet playing.


The final criteria keeps the student on track to achieve their goals in a set amount of time. Without the addition of a deadline such as a specific date, audition, or competition, goals are more likely to be put off and ultimately forgotten.



Having students set their own goals increases motivation and enhances student performance.  While it is important as instructors to guide student goals (making sure they are attainable) students who set their own goals demonstrate greater determination and increase their chances of achievement. Meeting the SMART criteria while setting the goals further aides in student success.
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  1. Pingback: How To Motivate Your Students To Practice - Dr. Lawson's Music Studio

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