How to Know You’re Making Progress in Singing and Life
How do you know you’re making progress as a singer or in any part of your life?
You have to measure. Often people make the mistake of measuring themselves against someone else, or against a future goal. These are two self-defeating ways to measure your progress. Let’s start with measuring yourself against someone else.
When you measure yourself against someone else, it’s a lose-lose situation. If you aren’t as skilled as whoever you are comparing yourself to, then you “lose”. If you are as good or better than whoever you are comparing yourself to, you still lose, because it doesn’t put the focus on what you are doing right now to continue improving, but instead looking for personal self-esteem in someone else’s lack of skill…not necessarily a healthy way to go about life.
So of course, you measure against a GOAL. Goals have limited use. We have no guarantee that we will reach them, if we will be able to reach them by a certain time, what will get in the way of reaching them, or even if we can control any or all of the factors involved in reaching them. Here’s an example:
Bob the accountant wants to learn how to sing. So he decides to set a goal of learning to sing a song to his future wife for his wedding in one month. The problem is, Bob doesn’t realize that he doesn’t yet know how to sing, that usually it takes at least 6 months or so if you are a stone-cold beginner (with no prior music experience) to get something performance-ready. He also didn’t plan for getting sick and therefore losing his voice a week before the wedding. He also didn’t think about the reality that most of his free time will be monopolized by wedding planning. Lastly, he wants to sound perfect, which gets in the way of sounding good. So as he starts to practice, he keeps looking at this goal and feeling like a total failure, because two weeks go by and he’s not even close.
A lot of people suggest using the SMART method for goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic, and Time-Bound.
The problem with this, especially in dealing with skills being learned by non-computers (humans, puppies, singers, athletes, painters, etc.) is that there are many, many factors that all influence how quickly or slowly we attain a goal. So making a goal realistic and time bound, is both difficult (or impossible since you can’t control the future) and a very rigid way to think about improving your skill in area. SMART goals are great for things that just require brute force to get done. Like making a goal to mow X numbers of lawns this month. There is some skill required, but essentially you won’t have to practice and learn how to mow lawns, you just need to get out and do it.
For learning a skill though, it’s better to have goals that are SMA! Specific, Measurable, and Action-Oriented. Then leave the time-frame open, and as you progress, you will see how to make your goal more realistic (as needed). Living things grow and get better in a very messy, non-linear way. Go out in the forest and see how plants grow. They don’t really grow in perfect bush or tree form, they sort-of scramble everywhere and make a huge mess on the path of finding the sunlight. Babies don’t just start talking perfectly at an exact age, they start mumbling and whining with occasionally intelligible words and then gradually over time you notice they are speaking more and more intelligibly. If you sat all day waiting for the tree to put out a new leaf or the baby to get out a clear sentence, it would seem like they make no progress at all. You’d be wrong though. With learning new skills, slow and steady wins the race. The slower you try to go, the faster you learn.