The 5-Minute Musician’s Club™

Do you ever watch great musicians play? Their ability to create beauty and powerfully express emotion seems almost magical. Music seems to flow from within them.

How about you? Have you ever dreamed of making music that way?

Is that dream working out for you?

If not, it still can…  if you have five minutes!

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What inspired the 5-Minute Musician’s Club™?

        Years ago, shortly before I brought my first ocarinas to the market, I became very concerned with how to help people actually stick with music. It’s not just music we have trouble sticking with! Think of all the treadmills that are never treaded upon and the New Year’s resolutions that are forgotten by mid January. A lot of things are competing for our time. As an instrument maker, I can take joy in producing a quality ocarina because I know it may fulfill someone’s life-long dream of making music. Perhaps this is why I feel vaguely troubled when I imagine that same instrument collecting dust at the back of someone’s closet!

        What about my own practice habits in the past several years? Have I been able to consistently play my instrument as much as I would like? Well, uh, not exactly. Despite setting practice goals many times (and despite my genuine love for music-making), my goals have tended to fall by the wayside whenever life has gotten too busy.

        It was only after studying the insights and research expounded by authors like Dr. Robert Maurer, Dr. Neil Fiore, Dr. John J. Medina, and Shawn Achor that I was finally able to develop a dependable practice method—one which allowed me to easily and consistently fit lots of music into my busy life. Their ideas coupled with my own ruminating and years of experimentation have resulted in a simple practice system called fiving. As a result of fiving, my own playing is now more fun, more productive, and more frequent than ever.

What exactly is the 5-Minute Musician’s Club™?

        The 5mmc is meant to be a loose mutually-helpful organization. It has two primary aims: 1) to help one another find time to play every day through fiving, and 2) to help one another form fun, healthy practice habits. We want to make it easy for you to stick with music long enough to realize your music-making dreams.  In fact, with your input and participation, I’m hopeful that we can further hone this fiving concept into something that will help a lot of aspiring musicians.

What is fiving?

“Fiving” is just a quick way to say, “The 5-Minute Musician’s Method.”

What is the primary aim of fiving?

Aim to play for just 5 minutes. Once you get started, resistance tends to fall away…

What is the daily question that we 5-minute musicians ask?

“When is the next time I can play for just 5 minutes?”

        Why ask this question? Any question that we ask repeatedly will trigger our brain’s search mode. Thus, without even our conscious awareness, our brain will gradually begin searching for small opportunities to play. This daily question (and carrying the 5mmc card) puts playing on our radar.

What are the primary fiving tools?

        During waking hours, you carry a business-size card –the 5-Minute Musician’s Club Card– in a protective Tyvek® card sleeve. There is one 5mmc card for each month. For each 5 minutes of play, you reward yourself with a tally mark on your card by the corresponding date. The idea is to keep your card and an ocarina with you so you can take 5 whenever…

        There is also a 5mmc Quick Reminder Card to, uh, quickly remind you of the basic tenents of fiving.

        Finally, there is a simple Wall Display Chart for tracking and displaying your past monthly cards along with your monthly time investment.  This display reminds you of your encouraging progress, reinforces your long-term resolve, and proves to you that music is now an important and consistent part of your life.

Where do I get the primary tools?

        At least for the first few hundred folks in the US, we’ll mail you the monthly cards, the Tyvek® sleeve, and the simple tracking chart for free when you sign up using the link below.  Also, the primary materials (except for the Tyvek® card sleeve) are available in a printable format at www.ocarinaboard.com.

Are there other suggested tools?

        Yes, it helps to carry a pocket-sized pen or pencil and a count up timer such as a wristwatch with a stopwatch mode.

        Personally, I keep my inexpensive wristwatch (with timer) on my wrist, my 5mmc card in a back pants pocket, and a small fisher space pen in a front pants pocket. My ocarina is usually around my neck, in a pocket, or in a cell-phone case clipped to my belt or waistband.

What kind of timer should I use?

        As you know, there are many kinds of timers, including free online timers. However,I strongly suggest that you consider using a wristwatch with a timer. Why a wristwatch? Well, it’s always there when you need it, and it measures elapsed time.

        To me, elapsed time is preferable to a countdown timer such as an egg timer because it takes advantage of pull versus push! The fact is that I often forget to stop at 5 minutes. When I finally glance at my watch, I may notice that 6½ or 7 minutes have gone by. At that point, I feel a strong pull to play for just a few more minutes to earn a second tally mark at 10 minutes. No one is pushing me, but I think, “I’m already half way there!” (By the way, if I do stop at 7 minutes, I only give myself 1 tally mark.)

        Here’s a helpful tip about using a timer. Get in the habit of zeroing out and starting the timer right before you play and jotting down the tally marks as soon as you finish.

Do you ever use a countdown timer?

        Yes, I do, but only when I absolutely, positively have to stop after a certain period of time. For example, I might risk being late to the airport if I don’t put down the ocarina and step away from the music in exactly 10 minutes.

Why is your ocarina such a wonderful instrument for fiving?

        It is durable, wearable, ultra portable, requires no assembly, and it’s nearly carefree. You don’t have to walk to it, tune it, put it together, wet a reed, warm up your chops, or do anything else before you can play. And you don’t have to swab it out, take it apart, or put it away when you are done. This means that if all you have is five minutes, you get to play for the entire 300 seconds. Besides that, your ocarina is relatively intuitive and straight forward, so you can actually make progress on it much faster than you would on many instruments.

Where is the best place to take 5?

        The great thing about your ocarina is that you can play just about anywhere: outdoors, on vacation…  Today I played in our backyard while waiting for my son to arrive home, while reclining with my feet up, while walking on my treadmill desk as I printed materials, while wandering around the house, and in my practice room.

        With that said, make it super convenient to play! Take a few moments to think about your particular situation. How can you reduce even the tiniest bit of friction that might slow you down? How can you make it so that you barely have to lift a finger to get started playing?

        For example, do you have to go find your ocarina or is it right on hand? If you are studying a music curriculum or sheet music, have you set up a quick, easy, pleasant place to practice? Is there a highly convenient spot where you could leave your music neatly arranged, ready to play at a moment’s notice? (Pssst! Don’t put your music away every time you finish playing!) Maybe all you need is part of a desk or a music stand in a corner. Should you add a light, a little space heater, or something else to make your spot cheerier and more inviting?

Why should I make playing as convenient as possible?

        Research has shown that even tiny inconveniences can lead to procrastination. (I mean, how hard is it to mail in that 50 dollar rebate?)

        Think about it! When you are dead-tired, do you really want to have to trudge up a flight of steps to dig music out of a dark closet? Do yourself a favor. Try to structure your life so that it is easier to practice positive habits and harder to practice negative ones.

When is the best time to take five?

        Anytime! (I thought we established that already.) No, seriously, there is a bit more to it than that. If you learn to link your playing to everyday routines, you’ll find lots of little chunks of unused time when you can play. (I’ve written more about this in a section below.)

Psychologically speaking, why is fiving so effective?

        Once again, I should mention that I’ve learned many of these concepts from positive psychologists such as Dr. Robert Maurer, Dr. Neil Fiore, and Shawn Achor. I’ll be crediting them more fully in future communications.

What are the primary causes of procrastination?

        The primary causes of procrastination are FEAR and lack of a clear focus. We humans tend to feel threatened by change—even positive change.

        Let’s say that we want to acquire a healthy new habit, but somehow we seldom get around to practicing it. There are only a few basic reasons why we don’t.

        Sometimes we simply haven’t made a clear decision about what, when, where, and how we will do it. Other times, we have decided, but we keep forgetting. Still other times, we’ve decided and we remember, but we still manage to flee from doing it. Instead, we opt for something easier, even though studies show that hobbies (such as music) contribute more to happiness than passive activities like internet browsing or watching TV. What is the problem? Most likely, we are either consciously or unconsciously afraid of the pain or sacrifice we associate with this new activity.

        (Of course, it also doesn’t help that our brains haven’t yet formed the neural shortcuts, or habits, necessary for this new activity to become easy or automatic.)

Who’s afraid of a little music?

        Not me! I’m attracted to music-making. I love it! Unfortunately, it’s the pain that I fear which has sometimes kept me from what I love.

        By the way, we are often unaware of the pain just as we are largely unaware of our fears. What children call fear, we adults usually refer to as “stress.”

So what are we afraid of?

Fear takes many forms. For example:

  • We may fear the pain of feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, or stupid when we try something new or unfamiliar to us.
  • We may fear the mental anguish of failing at yet one more thing. Sometimes it seems safer not to start if we’re afraid we won’t stick with it anyway.
  • We may fear the boredom, loneliness, or exertion that our minds associate with a long practice session.
  • We may fear missing out on other fun activities such as spending time with friends or family, or watching a favorite TV program.

The next couple of fears are the ones I can best relate to.

  • We may be afraid of hurting our school work or our career. “I’ve got a big deadline. How can I take time for music this week?!”
  • We may fear being a bad spouse, parent, friend, etc. “How can I even think of taking an hour to practice tonight when I haven’t seen my family all day?!”

What’s wrong with goal setting?

        Nothing! Goals are important. Until we actually decide what we want to do, we usually don’t do it. This is why I say that if simply setting practice goals works out for you on a consistent basis, go with it! Stick with what works! The problem for many of us is that setting goals doesn’t always overcome our fears. In fact, sometimes goals can even illicite our fears!

        For example, let’s say that we take the “crash diet” approach to music. We decide that we’re going to practice for an hour every day. (Aren’t we great?!) Then something curious happens. We soon start to feel rebellious and threatened. When keeping our commitment becomes painful or terribly inconvenient, we may resent feeling obligated to follow through anyway. And all this expenditure of willpower starts to wear us down too, but we struggle on because we don’t want to feel like a failure. Then, on that fateful day when we fail to live up to our high expectations (because life happens!), we may start to avoid even thinking about music because of the guilt and mental anguish involved.

        That’s when we tell ourselves that there’s just no time in our schedule for music right now.

        What a shame! We’ve taken something beautiful and ruined it. Music should be a joy—not a burden.

How does fiving address both fear and focus?

        Fiving allows us to tiptoe around Fear! By aiming for something so trivial as playing for just 5 minutes, we can calm our fears & get started. Once we get started, our resistance tends to fall away.

        In addition, fiving helps us zero in on short periods of time that we usually don’t use for anything special. As a result, we find that there is time to play without sacrificing important areas of our life. And since it’s always easier to quit  a healthy habit than to acquire one, fiving provides a simple ongoing system to keep us going.

Why is 5 minutes a better target than 30 minutes?

        Five minutes is such a ridiculously short period of time that we know we can do it. “It’ll only take me five minutes!” As a result, it doesn’t “wake up” our amygdala, the region of our brain that stimulates our fight or flight response.

What is the best way to effect LASTING change?

        The best way to create lasting positive change is by taking frequent, BABY steps in the direction you want to go. Baby steps often work where ambitious goals have failed because they tiptoe around fear. (They are just so easy to do!) At the same time, baby steps train your brain and allow it the time and practice it needs to gradually rewire itself, one neural connection at a time.

Can even my adult brain actually change?

        Absolutely! No matter what your age, practicing new habits and skills actually causes certain areas of your brain to expand in response.

        Your amazing brain is the home of billions of neurons, or specialized nerve cells. As you acquire new skills or knowledge, these neurons begin to form into networks or pathways that convey electrical currents in your brain. Each time you practice or review a skill, more connections form. Little by little, these short repeated exposures take a slow, narrow, inefficient pathway and pave it into an 8-lane super highway, able to speed important messages to wherever they need to go. This is why difficult skills or habits gradually become easier and more automatic with practice.

        In practical terms, as these neural pathways grow progressively stronger, tough songs & techniques grow easier (like magic!). Likewise, your habit of frequent daily playing eventually becomes as natural as eating.

        And then music begins to flow from within you…

What do you mean by baby steps?

        Each time you pick up your ocarina & play for just 5 minutes, each time you take out your card & look at it, and each time you reward yourself with an encouraging tally mark, you are not simply building new skills. You are also taking one more baby step toward strengthening your healthy new habit.  As Horace Mann said, “Habit is a cable; we weave a thread each day, and at last we cannot break it.”

Will baby steps ever get me to where I want to go?

        You might worry that you are off to a slow start, but take heart! Like a tiny snowball rolling down a mountain, small repeated actions have a way of gathering speed and momentum that eventually dwarfs the initial effort. Yes, tiny steps do more than dodge fear. They are also champion habit builders! They are so easy to repeat that it costs you little to practice them often–-and more frequent is more habit forming. (Especially with an immediate reward.)

        And never forget that slow, steady change usually far outlasts rapid, radical transformation!

        Besides, which is better: 5 or 10 minutes of actual practice every day or 60 minutes a day that you never get around to? Five beats zero every time!

Which are more efficient? Short practice sessions or long ones?

        Actually, short, frequent daily practice builds brain pathways much better than once-a-week marathon sessions. Also, studies support the fact that we maintain a higher degree of alertness & focus over shorter periods of time as compared to longer periods. As a result, a few short sessions are more productive than the same amount of time spread across one long session.

        But even if short frequent sessions were not a better way to form new habits and skills, I’d still keep fiving because it’s a lot of fun once you get into it. I use 5-minute play sessions as satisfying rewards to break up periods of demanding work. In fact, I’ll see you in about 5 minutes…

Why is a reward system so important?

        Psychologists say that if you want to increase the frequency of a behavior, reward it! That’s why we reward ourselves with a tally mark for each 5 minutes of play. It is a way of saying, “Well done!” (As hokey as it may sound, try a little positive self-talk. It can turn planet earth into a more pleasant place.)

        Moreover, short sessions are inherently more rewarding than long, forced sessions because we can stop while we’re still enjoying ourselves, before fatigue, loneliness, or boredom kick in. If you want to stick with something for the long-haul, don’t make practice feel like punishment!

What is so rewarding about a tally mark?

        Actually, tally marks are a surprisingly effective and immediate form of positive reinforcement. Think of it this way. Why do we value money? Why do we enjoy earning it? Well, those pieces of colored paper represent what we hope to obtain with them. Likewise, we value tally marks and enjoy earning them because each one represents a bit of personal growth–a wise investment in our dreams.

How does Pull versus Push work?

        Instead of pushing and forcing ourselves to slog through an entire hour or half hour of practice, we aim to play for just 5 minutes. Once we get started, let’s see how we feel. We know we’re free to stop at 5, but it’s surprising how often we find ourselves pulled into playing for just 5 minutes more, & then 5 more, & then maybe…

What can I possibly get done in only five minutes?

        Believe in the Power of 5! If you are like me, I think you’ll be surprised to see how much you can get done in 5 minutes!  For example, I’ve been impressed with how fast I’m able to master new pieces and techniques when I return to them in frequent short bursts.

        With a focus on 5, I find myself scanning for brief opportunities to play throughout the day. Thus, by aiming small, I actually find more time to play than I did back when I set ambitious practice goals. Those big chunks of time are simply too hard to come by without significant pain and sacrifice.

        What is more, a big chunk mentality leads to a lot of missed opportunities. For instance, if my goal is to practice a half hour each day, why even bother to play if all I have is 5 or 10 minutes before dinner? Anything less than a half hour feels like failure or a waste of time.

        There is something else that I want you to know. Even if you only play for 5 minutes every day for the next year, you’ll have made some amazing progress. Beyond that, you’ll also have an ocarina habit that will be hard to break.

What is one of the best ways to find time to play every day?

        Link your new routines (habits) to old established ones. Here is how I think about this. In a relaxed, non-pressured manner, I try to link my playing to R&R (Routines & Rewards). After enough repetition, these everyday routines not only serve as automatic reminders to play but often begin to trigger my desire to play as well.

What are some examples of Routines that I could link my play to?

        Well, perhaps you could play for 5 minutes while your coffee or tea brews in the morning; or right before or after work; or when you feed your dog; or before dinner; or waiting for your child to arrive home on the bus; or waiting for your tired old computer to boot up; etc.

What are some Rewards that I could link to?

        You could play for 5 minutes before going out with family or friends; before running errands; before exercise (if you love to exercise); before a delicious meal, a snack, or a coffee break; before bed; before watching a movie or TV; before surfing the net; etc.

        You may find that an enjoyable activity feels even more enjoyable when you “earn it” by practicing a positive habit before hand. At the same time, you are further reinforcing your ocarina habit by following it with a rewarding activity. Win, win!

Can fiving add up to significant amounts of time each day?

        Well, yes, some days it can. Last month, my fiving averaged out to a little more than an hour each day. Some days I played 100 minutes or more. Then again, things were pretty busy on my wife’s birthday this year, so I only played for 15 minutes. Fiving allows me to be flexible.

        Here are a couple of things I find encouraging about fiving. First of all, I find it easy to play every day. Secondly, each hour of play is made up of several shorter, more efficient practice sessions.

        Though your playing will naturally tend to ebb and flow depending on how busy your schedule is, the important thing is to keep asking, “When is the next time I can play for just 5 minutes?”

Can you overdo it?

        Possibly. If you haven’t been playing a musical instrument for very long, you might not have developed the mental software yet to sustain long periods of daily practice. There is no need to overdo it at first!

        Remember: playing should be rewarding rather than punishing. Continue to celebrate each 5 minutes, knowing that your marvelous brain will amp things up in its own good time, when all the necessary neural connections are in place.

Where does the 5-Minute Musician’s Club fit into things?

        Positive change is usually easier with a support group. We’ll be sharing lots of helpful practice and troubleshooting tips together, so please consider joining the club.

        If you are a Mountain Ocarinas customer living in the USA, you can sign up below to receive your free 5-Minute Musician’s Club kit.

        For our friends living outside of the USA, we invite you to sign up also.   Although we can’t afford to mail the kits overseas, you can print the materials yourself at www.ocarinaboard.com.

Copyright © 2011 Karl Ahrens of Mountain Ocarinas Inc.

Quick Summary:

  • The primary causes of procrastination are FEAR and lack of a clear focus about what you want to do.
  • Why use the 5mmc card?  Fiving helps you tiptoe by fear, it provides focus, it builds healthy habits & an encouraging track record, and it immediately rewards your efforts.
  • Keep your 5mmc card, pen, watch, and ocarina with you so you are free to play anytime…
  • Let your amygdala sleep! Tiptoe around fear by aiming to play for just 5 minutes. When life gets really busy, remind yourself: “I can ALWAYS find 5 minutes to play!”
  • Ask yourself, “When is the next time I can play for just 5 minutes?”
  • Starting is the key. Once you get started, resistance falls away.
  • Pull versus Push: Aim for 5 minutes, but allow yourself to be pulled toward earning that next tally mark…
  • Link your play to “R&R” (Routines & Rewards).
  • If you want to increase a behavior, reward it!
  • As you give yourself tally marks for each 5 minutes of play, tell yourself, “Well done! Little by little, you’ll go a LONG way!”
  • Believe in the power of 5! Frequent short sessions are more productive than long sessions. They are also better at forming positive habits.
  • Too tired today? A pain to play? Remove the friction! Clear the way!  (Have you made it as quick & convenient as possible to practice?)

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