Sometimes I think about what I would do if I won the lottery. One of the first things I would do would be do give a lot of that money to family, a few select friends, and some favorite causes. After the big giveaway, I'd probably be left with a mere $50,000,000 or so. Oh, the places I would go. Oh, the guitars I would buy. The problem is that I don't play the lottery.
We all have dreams. If all you do is think about it, your dream will remain just a dream unless you do something about it. If you want to turn your dream into a reality, your first step is to turn it into a goal…not just a goal in your head, but a written out, established goal. Whatever your dream is, write it down and put it up somewhere where you can see it. Stick it on the fridge or tape it to your computer. This helps change your inner dialog from "wouldn't it be nice if…" to "I'm going to do this." Once you truly make the decision to turn dream into reality, you may feel a surge of energy, like the world just shifted around you.
After you've written down your main goal and really decided to go through with it, you have a lot of work to do. It may seem overwhelming, but whatever you want to achieve, it's doable if you break it into smaller chunks.
Nearly seven years ago I started playing guitar and decided to use the instrument as a vehicle for restarting a performance career after my trombone career was halted due to a lip injury. My first major goal, which has been met, was to reach a skill level that I considered to be entry level professional by 2010…not a world class player, but good enough to be making some money through guitar playing.
Once you've decided on your big goal, you're going to want to break it down into smaller bits so you're not overwhelmed by it all. You can break it into several mini-goals, which will all push you further toward your big goal. As you make progress, you may need to revise your mini-goals or create some new ones. The big goal remains the same, but most of the mini-goals are adjustable.
After deciding I wanted to reach a professional level of guitar playing, I wrote down the things a professional guitarist should know, including chord knowledge, familiarity with the fretboard, and lead playing. At first, my goal was to be a fancy fingerstyle folk guitarist, but I took a left turn when I discovered jazz guitar. The overarching goal of becoming a professional level musician remained the same, but I had to make some revisions to my mini-goals because of a change in musical direction. Now I also needed to learn improvisation, jazz comping, chord/melody style playing, arranging, and a whole new world of chords.
Each one of your mini-goals will have sub-goals. For example, learning jazz chords. There are many, many chords to learn if you want to be a jazz guitarist. There are at least five different places on the fretboard where you can play any given chord, and then you can use different voicings to change the texture of that chord. For example, off the top of my head, I can think of 9 ways to voice a basic C7 chord, and I can come up with more if you give me a little time. The point is that there are many chord forms to learn. If your goal is to have a solid grasp of jazz guitar harmony, you'll quickly discover that it's going to take a few years, so what you end up doing is learning them a few at a time and gradually discovering how to put them to practical use. Whatever your own mini-goals are, you can apply the same concept and work toward success a little bit at a time.
Eventually, your big goal gets broken down into a daily routine. If you stick to the plan, you're doing something that contributes to the overall goal every single day. For me, it's practicing guitar with a purpose every single day. Everything I practice moves me closer to becoming the guitarist I'm capable of becoming. Every song I learn increases my repertoire. Every scale I play improves my technique. Every solo guitar arrangement I write deepens my knowledge of the fretboard and my own capabilities. I improve bit by bit. The things that challenge me today will become old hat in another year or two.
My original goal was to reach a professional level of guitar playing. I've reached that goal, and I will continue to improve year by year. My next major goal is to take it to the next level and actually make a living with a guitar in my hands. I may develop a private teaching practice, audition for cruise gigs, or finally break through the barriers in the Atlanta scene. Very soon I'll be sitting down and drawing my roadmap for the next 5-10 years.
Do you have a dream? Do you want to make it a reality? Write it down and turn it into a goal. Figure out what steps you'll take to make it happen. Break those steps down further and further until you have bite sized chunks. Work every day to make it happen. You can start today. You're not going to win the lottery until you start playing.
- Tom Godfrey
- Atlanta, GA, United States
- When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995, served as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 2011 to 2017, and currently serve as Contemporary Band Director at the same congregation.