Motivation when there are no clear goals

Summer practicing blues and unexpectedly bad auditions are the usual culprits of draining motivation. But this year is different, with a pandemic looming for an indefinite amount of time, how are we meant to establish tangible goals when we aren’t even sure what horrors tomorrow will bring?

What do I work on? What am I working towards? When will I get to play with others again? When will I get to play live again? When will I get to see live performances again? What’s the point of all this?

These are all questions a good handful of musicians have been mulling over since March 2020. Things are uncertain and look like they will be for some time.

Gone are the days of routine and structure that we knew just one short year ago. As a college student in New Jersey that would mean 3 months of summer break (just 3 months of uncertainty) and the other 9 months of the year are familiar, stable and secure in a fixed, predictable school and work environment.

You skip a day of practice, that day turns into 3 days… to a week. And then you realize you haven’t practice this entire month. Why would you? What are you practicing for? You feel torn – an unspeakable loss at the fact that the last time you performed may be the last time you will ever perform with that group of people again… or just perform live again. A bit dramatic, but for graduating students that is a reality that this past semester may have been the last chance they had to perform live. So how do you keep going?

Here are my tips for being motivated when life feels unstructured and insecure:

  • Create a routine – this doesn’t have to just be in music. Make a morning, afternoon, night routine that leaves the time you need to practice. If you make small changes all around rather than trying to wedge practice in you will be more likely to stick with it.
  • Listen/watch performances that bring you joy – I will link a couple of my own at the bottom of this blog post.
  • Determine what you want to achieve before you practice – do you just want to play? Do you want to work on technique?
    • This can be hard when you feel like you don’t have anything to work towards. If you are stumped on this one, record yourself playing and WAIT. Listen back to it a day or so later, and be honest with yourself with what you did well and where you can improve.
  • Be kind to yourself. This is not the time to beat yourself up because you think you sound terrible or whatever hurdle you are trying to surmount. Take the time to become aware of how you talk to yourself and make it a priority to be your own cheerleader.

Performances that bring me joy:

Elgar – Enigma Variations – Nimrod

Barenboim conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1997, dedicated to Sir Georg Solti.

Holst – The Planets – Venus, Bringer of Peace

Hickox conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in 1991.

Dvorak – Symphony No. 9 – Mvmt. 4

Dudamel conducting the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra

Rimsky Korsakov – Scheherazade – Mvmt. 3

Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1978.

Tchaikovsky – Romeo and Juliet

Gergiev conducting the London Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms 2007


How are you staying motivated during this pandemic? Share you strategies and thoughts below – as well as any performances that bring you joy!

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