Plans Are NOT Goals

Anyone who has read any of my articles related to the subject of learning/teaching guitar knows I am very goal oriented in my guitar teaching. Before I begin teaching or coaching (yes there are differences between the two) I always begin by asking the student what his or her musical goals are (both the short and long term).

Most of these students don’t really have (or at least aren’t able to communicate to me) any true goals. Because of this, they often have had only limited success in working with previous teachers, and usually even less success trying to teach themselves. It is easy getting almost every student to answer my question, “What are your short and long term musical goals?” the problem is, they confuse plans with goals. In their mind, these two ideas are interchangeable, having the same meaning.

A plan is: “something ones does towards the attainment of a desire goal”, “something one will do towards the attainment of a desire goal”, or at least, “something one intends to do towards the attainment of a desire goal”.

A goal is: “something one wants to achieve”, “something one wants to attain” or “something one wants to obtain”.

At first it may appear that these things (plans and goals) are basically the same, but the nuance of the two meanings are really very different. In simple terms: goals are the “What”, plans are the “How”.

Here are some typical replies I receive from new students when I ask them about their goals:

  • I want to learn lots of music theory.
  • I want to go to a music college or conservatory.
  • I want to relocate to another city/country where there are more opportunities.
  • I want to play fast on guitar.
  • I want to play on stage.
  • I want to learn more about the guitar.

My response to these types of answers would often be, why? For what reasons do you want this? If I can give you these things today, what will you do next? To want anything from the list above is ok, but those things are only tools (or potential tools), now what will you do with these tools if you get them?

I like offering people this analogy. Let’s say you and I (a couple of musicians) want to go into business together as home builders, mechanics or general handymen. We will invest all of our savings and maybe take out a loan from a bank to have additional money to buy all the tools we will need (plus a truck, rent a small office, pay for advertising, buy insurance, etc.). Now we have hundreds of tools, so we should be in business right? Wrong! We (let’s assume we both) have no idea how to even build a simple bird house correctly, so how could we build a house, or fix a furnace or remodel a kitchen? You see we spent all of our efforts on obtaining tools and other things we would need, but never invested anything (time or money) on learning how to use all the tools we have. Don’t be the mechanic that owns every tool available, but cannot build (or fix) anything with them.