For me, I’ve always liked setting goals in all areas of my life – be it finance, hobbies, career etc. Particularly around the start of a new year, I feel a sense of excited anticipation and hopefulness about what lies ahead. But most of us (myself included) despite our very best intentions, fail to meet our often noble resolutions or goals of doing more exercise, losing weight, quitting smoking or learning a new skill like an instrument or language…


Why are we seemingly so doomed to fail, even though we set goals to directly cause some positive change in our lives? It begs the question –

“ Should we even bother setting goals for the year ahead?”

How can we translate these ideas, hopes and goals into ACTION and move them from the realms of dream and into reality? I’ve written previously on the inherent problems with New Year’s Resolutions and specific strategies to help you meet them, which include planning sub-goals, setting an accountability structure in place and leveraging your own progress and successes to inspire change in others.

Today I want to introduce another way of approaching goal setting, based on a concept presented by renowned leadership communicator and pastor, Paul Scanlon.

He calls it ‘HABIT STACKING.’ Recognising that the method of setting a single goal for a future date rarely works, he suggests making small habitual changes that are in your immediate day-to-day that will incrementally produce the change you want to see, without the pressure and discouragement a larger goal often brings. After weeks or months of ‘stacking’ these small habit changes you’ll find that looking back, you can identify that breakthroughs have occurred but without the pain of battling your own will-power or the overwhelming amount of ‘work’ that needs to happen in a defined time frame.

Goal setting absolutely has value and is good for us, but it’s our methods to approach them that need a rethink.     

Here’s an example relevant to our flute playing. Say you’ve been dreaming of learning and performing a certain piece such as ‘Clair de Lune’ by Debussy.

Looking at the sheet music can help us. If we identify some general habits we need to stack day-in and day-out, eventually we’ll have everything we need in our flute ‘tool-kit’ to almost sight-read this piece. And that’s WITHOUT practicing it to death and becoming frustrated or discouraged with the original goal.

To me some immediate challenges leap out when I first look at this piece…

  1. Two complex key signatures! (D flat major – 5 flats!! And E major – 4 sharps!!)
  2. Lots of slurred notes
  3. A slow tempo with relatively long musical phrases
  4. Much of the piece is pianissimo (played very quietly)

If you look at it this way, it’s enough to scare you off right away. So let’s look at the underlying skills I ACTUALLY have to develop

  • Improved muscle memory and recognising uncommon notes written on the music staff
  • Clean finger changes
  • Breath support
  • Maintaining quality of tone

So what daily practice habits will help me tackle these individual aspects that, when combined, will allow me to master this piece with relative ease?


I can think of some BIG ONES…

  • Scales: Familiarise yourself with these uncommon key signatures so playing notes will become second nature
  • Slurred scales: Practice clean finger changes between notes in these key signatures
  • Good posture and breathing exercises: To maximise and gradually increase lung capacity and playing endurance to sustain these longer phrases
  • Long tones (low and high notes): Slow pieces have a tendency to highlight poor tone quality. 
  • Vibrato: Plenty of sustained notes that will need some of this effect to convey intensity and emotion

The beauty of it is, that these (good!) habits you’ve now formed without question start to positively influence other areas of flute playing. So instead of just achieving ‘one goal’, you’ve skilled yourself up to apply these to ANY piece that challenges you in the same way.

So this year, why not try and approach your flute playing in a similar way.

When you think ahead to all you hope to learn and play, what tiny, daily changes will make a big BIG difference?


Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

  1. I appreciate all the instruction, positive attitude reinforcement, and sound methods of learning to play the flute so it doesn’t sound like someone is tearing out their eyelashes.

    I played many years ago after taking lessons for about 6 months…..but didn’t REALLY learn to play the instrument.

    I’ve been practicing scales, long notes, breathing, vibrato ( which still eludes me!) and love the concept of habit stacking, commitment, and dedicated time to practice.

    Learning how to play the flute (correctly) has been the silver lining to the pandemic.

    I have such a long way to go in my learning but can see (hear) progress in my tone, etc.

    So thanks! Congratulations on getting your Master’s Degree!

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Struggling with airy flute tone? 

This free video will help you find your sound, avoid common embouchure mistakes, and produce consistently clear flute tone. Simple and fast.