Intrinsic motivation and goal setting, i.e. how to get anything done when I am my own boss/ Sarah

I can remember just a few months ago when I wanted nothing more in the world than a few days off: the time to do some deep practice, exercise regularly, read, and rest. I am thrilled to be making my own schedule and building the studio I have long envisioned, but now I'm feeling a bit aimless with no deadlines but my own! I imagine my friends from music school felt similarly after graduation with no weekly lessons or looming recital dates kick us into gear. My first year of school teaching felt like just "putting out the fires;" there was so much to do, I always had something that was an emergency that needed to get done! It is much more difficult to be productive without that immediate pressure.

I must confess that I am a master procrastinator; I've never been able to finish a school paper before the night before it was due. I'm infinitely fascinated by Meyers-Briggs personality types, and I wonder if I'm predisposed to operate this way (I'm an INFP), although I know we can all build good habits regardless of our natural tendencies. Still, my Meyers-Briggs type is eerily accurate. Perceiving types tend to focus on big ideas, while Judging types love checking off the to-do list. I enjoy the feeling of getting things done, but I often get swept away dreaming up big ideas and then lose interest when it comes to actually executing the details. In violin playing, this has meant getting excited about lots of different repertoire and only half learning or polishing it before getting distracted by something else. I'm currently trying to brush up on orchestra excerpts and the first movement of the Mendelssohn concerto for future auditions, learn and memorize the Bach g minor solo sonata for an unscheduled future recital, learn a new Beethoven sonata to play with Patrick, and polish the Brahms G major sonata again for another performance. I'm hoping that by putting it out on the internet, I will now hold myself accountable!

Now that I have all the time I could ask for, I'm trying to figure out how to stay motivated and productive. The following are some strategies I'm implementing for myself that I hope will help my students as well.

1. Lock the phone away. I'm addicted to my iPhone and the constant stream of information. I'm a political junkie and I can't look away from this crazy election cycle. I constantly scroll Twitter for the latest updates. We're networking and growing our new business, and I constantly check my email for responses to the messages I've sent. I unconsciously switch between my apps and refresh ones I just looked at a minute ago. Of course there are benefits to the smartphone culture, like being able to connect with friends at all hours of the day and being more informed about what is going on in the world. I hate feeling like a zombie, though, and it's hard for me to practice for 5 minutes without picking up my phone. I love my music apps like Tunable, but it is worth investing in an old-fashioned metronome and tuner to get the phone off your music stand! I've been putting my phone in the other room and only letting myself check it once per hour. And let's have sympathy for our poor students who have never known life before the instant gratification of smartphones; I'm totally addicted and they didn't come out until I was in college! Still, I know I just wasted time in other ways growing up...

2. Schedule performances. I have plenty of grand ambitions about getting out there and performing and learning new repertoire. I suppose I've been waiting until I feel ready, but there is no better motivation than setting a date! Now that I've put it out there, I guess I have to do it. Stay tuned!

The Greater Baltimore Music Teachers Association holds a "matinee" get-together the first Wednesday of every month where they perform for each other. Patrick and I attended our first at the beginning of the month, and it was such a warm environment to ease back into performing and test out new repertoire. We are so grateful to our kind new colleagues for welcoming us and we look forward to attending these meetings regularly.

It is also so important to get our students playing as much as possible, even in casual settings. Regular group/studio classes are great for performance practice and for building a sense of community in the studio. I'm also looking forward to having my students perform for the ASTA certificate exams, a great opportunity to measure progress and get feedback.

I was also excited to learn about the CLEF project based in Baltimore. They perform at nursing homes in the area about twice a month, and any student can volunteer to play. I can't wait for my students to participate as a way to get performance practice and give back to the community. Check them out at

3. If you can't make yourself do it, get a buddy to hold you accountable! I started doing YouTube yoga last August when I moved to Oklahoma. I'm not an athlete and I've struggled to find a physical activity that doesn't make me wish for a swift death, so I was delighted find that I was really enjoying beginning yoga. Patrick and I started Yoga with Adriene's 30 Day Challenge. Once I got into the school year, I had days when I did not want to do the yoga video when I got home. I had woken up at 5 am, taught a full school day, taught Suzuki lessons after school, and just wanted to collapse on the couch and watch Netflix. Patrick held me accountable, though, and made me do it every day even when I yelled at him for it. And at the end of 30 days, I felt stronger and healthier and so accomplished. Then, Patrick decided yoga wasn't his favorite and I started just doing it on my own. When I did the 30 day challenge again later in the year, it took me 3 months to get through it! The moral of the story is sometimes we need the support of our friends and sometimes it's just more enjoyable that way.

Get a practice buddy and tell them your goals for the day. Check in with each other. Send each other videos. A little shame can go a long way! Who wants to be my practice partner?!

4. Remember that excellence is the culmination of a lot of mundane work. The most important ingredient in achievement is just showing up consistently. Every day. For YEARS. We got to see the dazzling feats of the Olympians in Rio this summer, but what we didn't see was them showing up to practice and doing their drills and workouts. For hours. Every day. For YEARS.

Again, I am impatient and easily distracted. I get annoyed when I have practiced a tricky passage the way I know I'm supposed to and it isn't perfect that very day. An inspiration to me in regular, consistent practice is my former roommate Kristin. I heard her do the same Carl Flesch warm-up in the room above me every day. For YEARS. And girlfriend is on FIRE! She plays beautifully in tune! She wins auditions! It is important to stay engaged and fresh, constantly evaluating our practice, but there is no substitute for that daily technique work. I must always remind myself to find joy in the daily routine and know that it is laying the foundation for something greater.

These are some strategies I am trying out to guide my practice now that I'm the only one in charge of my growth, and I'm hoping that putting them into action will help me guide my students better, too. I'd love to hear your ideas! 


Peak's Introduction: The Gift/by Patrick

           We’ve all seen people that astound us with their abilities.  Considering we’ve just had the Olympics and we’re in Baltimore, Michael Phelps comes to mind.  It’s common when seeing these amazing abilities, people react by saying that they’re “gifted” or have a “gift.”  Ericsson, the author of Peak, agrees that these people do have a gift.  But it’s not the gift that most people assume!

            To make his point, Ericsson uses Mozart and a recent study performed in Japan as an example.  Mozart possessed absolute pitch (often referred to as perfect pitch), an ability where a person can remember and identify a single pitch without any reference to another pitch.  It’s a relatively rare ability, so rare that it is perfectly reasonable to assume that some lucky people are just born with this rare gift.  Indeed, this was the general consensus concerning perfect pitch for the last few hundred years.    

            Yet, a study conducted in Japan in 2014 directly refutes this idea.  A Japanese psychologist studied 24 children aged two to six years old.  He devised a simple system designed to teach them to have absolute pitch.  I won’t get into the details of the system or the study too much, but the result was that at the end of the training with the children, every single one of them had developed absolute pitch (this is why the development of aural skills especially in younger students is such an important part of our teaching philosophy).  Thus, it can’t be an innate ability that a person is born with if every single child can be taught to develop it! 

            So, to get back to the opening, Ericsson writes that there is a gift, but it’s not the gift that we assume.  He writes: “In short, perfect pitch is not the gift, but, rather, the ability to develop perfect pitch is the gift – and, as nearly as we can tell, pretty much everyone is born with that gift.” 

            The rest of the book goes on to describe the implications of this idea beyond just perfect pitch.  After researching expertise for over thirty years, Ericsson has found that everyone is born with the ability to develop skill as long as they go about it in an effective way.  This has huge implications for how we understand concepts like talent and also for how parents might raise their children.  It’s also why Sarah and I know that each and every one of our students has the potential to play with artistry and ease.  I’ll continue blogging about Chapter One and “purposeful practice” in the next couple of weeks.      

Our first blog post!/by Patrick Lahan

I'm so excited to share our first blog post with everyone!  Sarah and I have been planning this endeavor for over two years now and things are just starting to come into focus.  On Monday, I will defend my dissertation.  Assuming things go as planned, I will officially be Dr. Lahan in less than 48 hours!  Then, on Friday, Sarah and I start the drive to Maryland (podcast suggestions are welcomed).  By Sunday, just over a week away, we'll be in our new house in Catonsville.

As if the next week won't be crazy enough, I'm sure the next two months are going to be a real ride.  We've already put in so much work towards getting this studio off the ground and it seems like we're only starting to scratch the surface of everything that we need to do.  We've got to form an LLC, buy insurance, contact everyone on the planet, draft documents, meet parents, plan curricula, get my piano shipped from Florida, plan our wedding.....plenty of stuff, I'd say. It will be fun to share a little bit of that process on this blog and we hope that you enjoy following along.  

Sarah and I would really appreciate any feedback on this website now that it is up and running.  If you have any comments or suggestions, please let us know.  We're hoping to have some better pictures to add to it soon.  Also, we are now accepting students for the coming school year.  Our fall semester will officially start at the end of August/beginning of September but we would like to start interviewing students and parents in the next couple of weeks.  If you know anyone in the Baltimore/DC area that is looking for excellent music teaching from expert teachers, please send them our way.  Until then, keep an eye out for more posts from us.  You can follow us Facebook and Instagram (@lahanstudio).  We'll be on Twitter, Snapchat, and other media sites shortly.