Right now, millions of people around the world are choosing to stay in and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. In this challenging and unprecedented time, Musical U’s priority is to provide new free training daily to keep you engaged, excited, and learning during your extra time at home. We’re continuing to collaborate with world-class music educators to bring you everything you need to continue honing your musicality in this time.
In this interview, Brent Vaartstra of Learn Jazz Standards and the Passive Income Musician podcast shares his four “defaults”: mindset ideas for getting through this difficult time while staying positive and connected through music.
He talks about:
- The power of gratitude and how to focus on the things you’re grateful for on a daily basis.
- The impact of generosity, and ways to volunteer and donate your resources.
- The importance of community engagement.
- Goal-setting, and how to take this time to invest in your dreams.
- Recognizing the activities and routines that will help you make the most of every day.
Brent’s “defaults” are the perfect antidote to the unusual circumstances we have found ourselves in – his ideas are as helpful for your daily well-being as they are for your musicality. Enjoy!
Watch the episode:
Links and Resources
- Learn Jazz Standards
- Learn Jazz Standards podcast
- Passive Income Musician podcast
- Musicality Now – How to Stop Doubting and Start Performing, with Brent Vaartstra
- Musicality Now – An Ear for Jazz, with Brent Vaartstra
- The Sedona Method: Your Key to Lasting Happiness, Success, Peace and Emotional Well-Being by Hale Dwoskin
Enjoying Musicality Now? Please support the show by rating and reviewing it!
Christopher: Hello, this is Christopher Sutton from Musical U. I’m here today with Brent Vaartstra from Learn Jazz Standards and the Passive Income Musician podcast. Brent had a fantastic episode of his own show, the LJS podcast this week in which he shared some of the mindset tips and ideas that are helping him in the current crazy world situation that we’re all finding our way through at the moment.
Christopher: I wanted to share those with you, our Musical U audience, so I invited Brent onto the show. Aside from just having the chance to catch up with him which is always a good time, I asked him to come on and share those four ideas that he had on his own show. Brent, first off, how are you doing? How are things in New York and what’s the latest?
Brent: Yeah, doing good, thanks for asking. Like a lot of places around the world like New York is, we’re having a hard time, a lot of businesses closed down, a lot more people getting infected every day or at least reported infected. It’s so strange for such a vibrant city and the strange feeling that’s in the air, but I know a lot of people are struggling with that as well. I’m assuming it’s similar over where you’re at as well.
Christopher: Exactly. Yeah, here in Valencia we’re in total lockdown, you’re not even allowed to go out for exercise. It’s odd to look out the window and see the streets so empty, but it’s definitely the right move at the moment, and that’s why we’re encouraging people to stay in and play on at the moment with our dedicated website.
Christopher: I was saying to you before we hit record, I think it’s a bit tricky for people like us who normally do a show about music learning to know what to say at the current time, whether we should just kind of focus in on music learning, or talk more broadly to our audience given that we probably understand a little bit of what they’re going through. I thought you found a beautiful balance on your show this week with your episode, and so I wonder if you could share those four defaults you were saying were particularly helpful for you at the moment.
Brent: Yeah. I’ve just kind of found some ways in my life when things are challenging or things are tough, some different things that have helped me, and they may not help everybody, but they’re things that helped me and I wanted to share with my audience those things.
Brent: They don’t hear from me often like you said about things about personal life or personal development at all, I teach jazz. I think those things are so important right now because while we are all concerned about our physical health, we should be concerned about our mental health as well being locked in, not having much access to the outside. It’s a lot to deal with, and these are things that have been helping me. As you mentioned, I have four defaults that I’d like to share.
Brent: Default number one is to default to gratitude. Gratitude is really important. Now, a lot of us have heard that before, like be thankful for things and you’ll feel better, and it can kind of sound a little bit kitschy, a little bit like, is that really going to help? But about a year and a half ago, I really started taking this seriously. I was dealing with some negativity and anxiety inside me.
Brent: One thing that really started helping is really just intentionally, everyday, focusing on things that I was grateful for, and not necessarily just surface things. For example, I could say I’m really grateful for my wife, and then move on to the next thing. Why am I grateful for my wife? My wife is there to support me, my wife is there to love me and me to love her back because I have her in my life. We have this, and this, and this, and then I’ve just created a whole other list of things to be grateful for.
Brent: What I mentioned in my episode was I’m really grateful for my office, although I’ll be moving out of it, unfortunately, but really grateful for that because working from home for me was a really big source of stress over four or five years of my life. When I was able to move out of home and really get this office space to start serving my audience through, that had a positive impact on my mental health.
Brent: I think about that and then I think about, “Well, who made it possible that I could have this office space to improve my sleep and my mental health?” Well, it was my audience, and then I start being grateful for all those people in my audience over at Learn Jazz Standards and how important each one of those people are.
Brent: When you start thinking about that and it starts to get bigger and bigger and balloon and balloon, and if we spend just some time, I like to do it when I run, have some time where I’m running and I can just really focus on those things. It really does start to program the way your brain thinks a little bit, and it helps you at least shift when things are negative to something that’s a little bit more positive.
Christopher: Absolutely. Yeah, that one resonates with me so much. It’s funny, just before we jumped on today, I was doing an interview with a chap named Dylan Hart, and he was talking about the importance of coming from the right emotion when you play music. He acknowledged the fact that as musicians, we often… we might be frightened to dismiss that and just think purely intellectually and rationally about getting the notes right. Actually, a big part of what makes your performance musical is coming from the heart and wanting to express something.
Christopher: I think that’s so true here too, where for me, you can intellectually be like, “I will write down three things to be grateful for today” and you think of them and you write them down, but you’re not really connecting with the emotion. I know for me, if I take the time and I try to really feel that gratitude, I forget where I heard it said but “you can’t feel fear and gratitude at the same time.” You mentioned anxiety there, I think the same is true, if you really get into that feeling of gratitude, you can’t help but escape from whatever negative emotions might have been going on. I think that’s such a powerful one.
Brent: Absolutely. It’s also important to say that it’s funny how sometimes we know we should be grateful but we don’t want to go there. I don’t know if you can relate to that. Sometimes we know that an antidote is to focus on the things that are going right in our lives, but we don’t want to do that, there’s something that seems hard about doing that. But when we can surrender to that, that’s where I’ve found the real transformation.
Brent: Especially in times like these, these are times where we really need to not focus so much all the time on what’s going wrong. There’s a lot of things not going right now, we need to start thinking for ourselves, what is going right? What can I latch onto? That’s been helpful for me.
Christopher: Absolutely. Default number two?
Brent: Default number two is important because when we realize what we have to be grateful for, when we realize things we have, we start to realize that not everybody has those things. Whether it be financially, maybe you’re not below the poverty line and you’re grateful that you’re not below the poverty line, but then you have to acknowledge there’s someone who is. Maybe it has nothing to do with money, it has to do with family or it has to do with any number of things that you might realize you have but someone else doesn’t have those things.
Brent: So default number two is to default to generosity. Study after study shows that one of the biggest things that impacts our well-being as humans is actually to be generous, is actually to give. That sometimes seems untrue to us because like sometimes we’re like, “No, I feel better when I get things,” or we just want to say the right answer we know we should say, “Oh yeah, when I give things to other people” but deep inside maybe we don’t completely believe that.
Brent: More than ever, now is a time to be a little bit generous, and it doesn’t have to be through money, it could be through time. For example, yesterday I was working with… and I am not saying this to toot my own horn or anything like that, but it’s just an example. I was working with a teacher who is running Facebook ads to Skype lessons, and so we were working on a sales page. We’ve been spending hours every day working on this sales page.
Brent: That’s giving of my time, right? That’s something that you could do because this person, he doesn’t have what I have or maybe what you have, Christopher, we have online music presences. A lot of musicians right now are going, “I relied on the gigs that I had. I relied on the private lesson that I had before in person, and now I don’t have that anymore.” They’re like, “I don’t know how to pay my rent.” You realize something that you have and how can you help someone else that doesn’t have that.
Brent: A good example here in New York City is a lot of restaurants are really, really struggling, and a lot will close down because of this crisis. In New York City at least, there’s still take out and delivery. Now is a time that me and my wife have been maybe ordering a little extra from that local coffee shop or bar to help support that business a little bit more because, ultimately, they need that help. There are little ways that we can think of being generous, and that not only is going to help others around us during this time, it’s going to help us up here to help us get through this.
Christopher: Yeah, for sure. I think that’s important to underscore because I think at times like these, if someone says to you, “Why don’t you volunteer or why don’t you donate?” It’s so easy to be like, “I just don’t like it. I don’t have time. I don’t have money. Let me just look after myself for a little bit and then I’ll get back to that good charitable giving that I know I should do.”
Christopher: But as you say, ironically it’s kind of self-serving as well because Not to go down too woo-woo a rabbithole here, but it’s in a book called the Sedona Method. The guy talks about how actually we all think that being loved will make us happy, and actually that’s not true. If you think about it, some of your past experiences, it’s when we’re most loving when we love someone the most that we feel the most joy and happiness.
Christopher: I think this is the same way, the act of generosity. If you feel like you are giving, it really does help you on the inside as much as it helps the person on the outside. If anyone’s doubting that they have what it takes to be generous at this time, I just really encourage you to think of it in those terms, that it’s not a totally selfless act.
Brent: Yeah. Sometimes being generous too, like I said, I’ve mentioned time, we mentioned money, but sometimes it could just be moving yourself out of your comfort zone. One example I can think of is perhaps you’re an introvert but you have an extroverted friend, but right now your extroverted friend is probably doing a little worse than you because your extroverted friend needs other people in the sense of community. It’s harder right now where we’re only mostly able to connect digitally, if anything. Maybe that’s that extra video phone call that you could throw that person’s way. Maybe you don’t feel like talking today, but you know that somebody else might need to be talked to. That’s another way we can be generous.
Christopher: Absolutely, yeah. I just had an email from an uncle who considers himself a real extrovert and he commented on that. I have to confess, it with the first time I thought about it, because for me, staying at home four days in a row, not such a big deal, not to see people in person everyday, not such a big deal. But for him, that’s a total life changer. It’s important to think about.
Brent: Yeah, absolutely. It’s surprising that we do get in front of cameras and mics and stuff, but a lot of us do have more introverted personalities. It seems strange, but it is, and so sometimes it’s hard for us to think about that. A lot of musicians are actually very introverted as well, artists, that’s why we’re able to stay and practice our instruments all day for like 10 hours or something like that and not really think about what else is going on and who else needs my help. Now is a time to open up to that, I think. That’s a cool thing about uncle, that’s important.
Christopher: Default number three?
Brent: Yeah, default number three actually goes a lot along with what we were just talking about. Default number three is to default to community. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, now is the time more than ever to get engaged in a community or a number of communities. Now, obviously, we’re not talking about this time going out in person and being with each other because that’s not appropriate right now. We need to not be around each other essentially.
Brent: This is an opportunity to get involved in things like your Musical U membership, right? There’s a community in there if people that are learning music together that you can be a part of. If you are meeting with a group of friends every single week, now is the time to make this, specially make that regular and do Zoom Meetings. I know that since this whole thing has started and the chaos has ensued, a couple of groups I meet with a couple times a week, we’ve switched everything over to Zoom and we’re making sure that we’re showing up for those things because now more than ever it’s important.
Brent: Whereas every once in a while I’d be like, “Ah, I can’t make it tonight. Too busy.” Now it’s like, “No, we’re going to be there tonight, to be there for each other to keep that going.” It’s really important that you embrace community now more than ever. For me it is. I stand sort of somewhere in the line between a little bit more introverted, but still really needing other people to get some energy.
Brent: It’s important to realize that we all need that right now. Even if you feel like you don’t need that, there’s someone else you know who does need that. Number three is default to community. Have you felt for yourself any like loss of community, Christopher? Feeling like something like that has been taken away from you since all of this has happened?
Christopher: I felt the danger of it to be honest, I think part of why your episode this week resonated with me so much is that… as we were saying before we hit record, like it’s a funny time for us as business owners to know quite what to do and how best to serve the people we care about serving.
Christopher: Ten days ago or so, we’ve decided on our strategy at Musical U which was basically just like let’s get out there and do as much as we can and open our doors. We’ve got a 30-day free trial at the moment just to let anyone come in, get access to whatever we’re doing for our members which in the week ahead is going to be like a daily live session so that … and connect with the community, talk to us. It’s all themed around music learning, sure, but it’s really doubling down on what we believe in which is the power of community and online community.
Christopher: I know the LJS, you’re in the year of community at the moment so I don’t need to deliver that point to you of all people. Yeah, I think it’s a funny one because it draws together that generosity that we talked about where we were of like, “What should we do? How can we make sure the business is okay and be responsible?” At the end of the day we were just like, “Let’s just do everything we can. Like let’s just give away what we can for free, let people in for free. Let’s put on extra events, extra live sessions.”
Christopher: Once we made that decision it was like, “Oh, okay, no, that’s great.” It cleared up a lot of things, and it was clearly coming from the right place, and it was focusing on our community which is the most important thing. I think it wasn’t obvious before we made that decision, but in retrospect it was clearly the right move for us at the moment.
Brent: Yeah, that’s fantastic, yeah. That’s a great example of you being someone who is willing to foster community for others so that they can engage in that. I guess along with that as well, I guess I’ll move to default number four, the last default I want to talk to you about, and that’s a default to goal-setting.
Brent: Now more than ever is a time to double down on your plans. Now is not a time to step away from your plans. Now is not a time to make up excuses and say, “Well, you know, because of everything that’s happening in the world, because of the limitations now of me having to stay home that I’m going to just go on the sidelines.” No, not at all. Now is the time to be like, now more than ever, I’m going to invest in whatever it is that you want.
Brent: Maybe your musicianship, and so Musical U is a great place for that, and you want to get even more invested in reaching your musical goals inside of that community. Maybe it’s something in your personal life, I want to get more fit. Now is not the time to say, “Just because I can’t go outside and go running or go to the gym, that I can’t get fit.” You can get fit.
Brent: Whatever your goal is, fill in the blank for yourself. Now is the time to really get clear about your goals. I know that Christopher, you’re a big goal guy and that’s a big part of what you do, is really setting up frameworks for people’s success. For me it’s also very important, most of the things that I talk about in my community, Learn Jazz Standards, as far as music goes, is not little music theory hacks, and work arounds and tricks, and maybe if I want to just one video it’s going to change everything. I mean it’s just not.
Brent: For example, all of the materials that I put to get, well, all my courses that I put together, they’re all practice programs. They’re not like, “Here’s a new random thing every single… ” they’re all practice programs, because goals are important. Whatever that looks like for you, double down on those goals. If you had some aspiration before all this went down, go, “I’m going to work even harder on that.” Not to be the guy that say, “Hustle and grind and all,” I’m not really about that, but to just say that I want to rededicate myself to whatever it was.
Brent: We’re not that far off from the beginning of the year. I’m sure a lot of people made New Year’s resolutions and they’re already starting to die off. Well now is the time to go, “Well, hold on a second. I made that New Year’s resolution, now it’s time for me to dive even deeper into it.” Because when you come out on the other side of this, whether you’ve lost your job, maybe you’re dealing with sickness yourself, whatever it happens to be, but when you come out on the other side of this, you’re going to be way ahead. You’re going to be accelerating your growth and whatever it is in your mind, in your physical abilities, in your musicianship, your personal life, whatever.
Brent: Number four is default to goal-setting.
Christopher: I love that, yeah. I think a bit like the generosity. It’s easy to look at the external circumstances, and let yourself off the hook, and shrink back, and just kind of huddle in a corner. At least I know I have that emotional instinct a lot of the time at the moment. Actually, the best thing you can do for yourself is to lean in and expand, and be ambitious, and cultivate that positive attitude.
Christopher: A lot of the emails we’ve been getting in the last week or two as we’ve been announcing these initiatives have been not like thank you for this specific thing, but just like thank you for being encouraging and supportive and positive at this time. I think people are really craving that positive environment, and I think a lot of what we’ve talked about today is about equipping yourself internally with that positive attitude, and positive mindset, and productivity rather than letting yourself shrink back and be susceptible to the fear and the anxiety.
Christopher: I love that you ended up with goal-setting where it’s so concrete, it’s let’s focus on something tangible but I wanted to do anyway and see if there’s maybe a silver lining here, where this can be my opportunity, this can be my moment, and I can actually come out of this in some sense better off when things returned to normal.
Brent: Yeah, absolutely. Being able to stay busy as well during a time like this or to stay focused is really important. I was mentioning before that I had stopped working from home and I had gotten an office space, and for me that was a real positive thing for me personally. Now that I’m… mostly I’ve been home at this point, it’s been kind of hard on me a little bit, but it’s easy to get sucked down into depression, or anxiety, or things like this, our emotions we all feel, and our reaction sometimes to that is just to curl up on the couch and watch TV.
Brent: But if we’re able to just every morning wake up and be like, “Here’s what I need to do today to feel great,” and you have that written down, and hopefully you have what you wanted to finish by the end of the week, and by the end of the month. If you have that sort of mentality, it’s going to help us get through these times where there is no certainty of when this is over. No one knows when this is going to be over.
Brent: There’s people on the news that will make predictions, but you don’t know. So you have to have that mentality of I’m not expecting things to change tomorrow or next week or even next month, but it doesn’t matter because here’s what I’m doing in between so that I can carry on with my life and be even better than I was before.
Christopher: Absolutely. I love that you rounded off your episode by just underscoring that you’re there and you’re listening for your audience. I know that here on the Musical U team, we’re working every day to figure out what can we do, we’re listening to our community, we’re trying to cultivate both for ourselves and for our community that positive attitude. I’d love if we could finish up by just sharing what you’re up to at LJS, and if someone hasn’t listened to your show before, or visited the site, or if they’re interested in Passive Income Musician, maybe you can share out what you’ve got going on over there in the weeks ahead.
Brent: Yeah, absolutely. Learn Jazz Standards, first of all, we’re doubling down on a goal to build community which is our membership that we’re launching a couple months. It’s something that we’re pouring a lot into to make sure that it is a wonderful place for our community to feel motivated, to feel excited, and to feel like they’re in a safe place to explore their musicianship. That’s something that we’ve just been working so hard on and pouring our heart and soul and our entire passion into right now.
Brent: Outside of that, we’re just continuing to make sure that we have a free podcast episode and a free video out so that there’s… so every single week, people can have something to help them. Of course, just adding to our library of just free stuff out there that everybody can take advantage of no matter what.
Brent: There’s a lot of, there’s a lot of different things going on that we’re doing, but those are the things that I think come to mind, just doubling down on what we’ve already been doing and just really pouring in to something that we believe will be kind of the next step, the next best help we can offer to everybody in the community.
Brent: If you are a musician and you are interested in trying to figure out how you can start your own online music education business, I do have like a little side podcast that I have done for fun to help other musicians. It’s called Passive Income Musician, you can check that out if that’s something that might be something you’re especially interested in. Now, if you’re a music teacher and you’re feeling like, “Well, I lost some students or I’m not able to play gigs,” that might be something that could help you out over there.
Christopher: Fantastic. Well, Brent, I just want to applaud you for putting out your episode this week because I know it takes a bit of gumption to speak outside your usual subject area and trust that your audience will come along with you. I hope our audience today have appreciated that slightly different message from us, but very much aligned I think with what we’re all about here at Musical U. I just want to say a big thank you on behalf of the audience and myself for joining us to share these 4 defaults. Maybe you can just give a nutshell recap of everything so people can go away crystal clear on how to cultivate that positive mental attitude themselves.
Brent: Yep, absolutely. Default number one, default to gratitude. Default to gratitude, wake up every morning, pick a time to really meditate on that. Default number two, default to generosity. What’s one small thing I can do to be generous to somebody today? Default number three, default to community. Who do you need to get involved with? Who do you need to be a part of to remain unified during this time? Default number four is default to goal-setting. Double down on your plans and get clear about what they are.
Christopher: Tremendous. Well, we’ll have links to Learn Jazz Standards and everything else mentioned in this conversation in the show notes for this episode. You can find everything that we’re doing at Musical U and everything we know about is going on at the moment at stayinplayon.com. Thanks very much again, Brent.
Brent: Thanks Christopher, thanks for having me on.