- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Alfred Music; Pap/Com edition (November 1, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 156224003X
- ISBN-13: 978-1562240035
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 200 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,162 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Paperback – November 1, 1998
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This is a great book for any musician, and it has literally changed the way people all over the globe think about their lives and their music. Kenny's candid confession of frustrations regarding his own early development really reveal how *everyone* struggles to reach a place of mastery, no matter what facade of confidence they present publicly. It is an inspiring book that seems to immediately connect with musicians, who say to us over and over, "I've always felt there was something holding me back, and now I know how to let go and move forward!" The accompanying CD of meditations will be helpful for those wishing to investigate further the practical techniques Kenny discusses in the book.
About the Author
Kenny Werner is an accomplished pianist who began performing at age 4 and, by age 11, had appeared on television. While at the Manhattan School of Music he became restless with his musical direction and began to explore Jazz as a new means of creativity and expression. Along his journey, he was inspired by masters of the craft to rethink not only the technical aspects of creativity, but also the spiritual aspects. Effortless Mastery is not only an account of that journey, but also an insightful guide for all those wishing to remove their own barriers to creativity in life and the arts.
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Please do not read this book. Instead, I urge you to do this book. This is a book for your hands, not just your head.
This is a how-to book for the musician who wants to become a master musician. Obviously, you need to learn your instrument, learn techniques, repertoire, scales, chords, fingerings, all that–but mastery, as Kenny Werner sees it, is something else. Mastery is an attitude that affords you a fuller access to all the technical skills and knowledge you have painstakingly acquired over untold hours of practice. Mastery is an awareness that uses those technical tools to create a musical performance that feels more than merely competent, but seems to live and breathe. You have probably already played your instrument with mastery, at least for a few moments here and there, maybe for a few stanzas or a whole composition, maybe even for a whole evening or longer, when you astonished yourself with how brilliantly you were playing, how relaxed and confident you felt, how natural and inevitable the music sounded, and you went, “Oh yeah!! Now THIS is the real me!” And you were right; that is the real you. But then, frustratingly, it slipped away and your playing reverted back to “normal”: not as free, not as playful, not as real, more like work. And try as you might, you could never figure out how you got into that amazing groove in the first place, at least not with any consistency. You might slip into the groove from time to time when you are not expecting it, but then it eludes you when you really need it. This can torture a musician. It drives some of them to drink, or drugs–not in an attempt to “escape” reality, but in an attempt to find it. This book lays out a step-by-step approach designed to teach you how to find that groove at will instead of willy-nilly, as though you were at the mercy of a capricious “muse” or some such mystical nonsense. Mastery is a skill you can learn, not an unpredictable lightning strike.
Werner’s approach consists of a set of exercises whereby you cultivate a state of mind in which your body seems to play the instrument all by itself–hence the descriptor “effortless.” You look down at your fingers moving across your instrument and it actually does feel as though you are watching someone else play. The musician who has never experienced this effortless state will be quite sure the whole notion is pure fantasy or at least wishful exaggeration (or worse, some dissociative psychological disorder), but musicians who have experienced it can attest that it is very real, and worth developing if one only knew how. In reality, it is nothing supernatural, it is simply the unhindered human body doing what it does best (play an instrument, engage in an athletic activity, etc.) when left alone by the overbearing “ego-mind.” Some have called this effortless state “getting out of your own way.” It has lots of names: the zone, the groove, flow, self-actualization, peak performance, and over the centuries, many people have framed it in religious or spiritual terms. But even though it does indeed feel supernatural, it is arguably the most natural state a human can experience, though hardly the most common.
There is much practical wisdom sprinkled all through this book. Many sentences read like aphorisms, worthy of being posted on your studio wall as incisive reminders (e.g. “Play what you CAN play, not what you WISH you could play”). The book is worth reading just for the clear, elegant description of exactly what mastery even is. The exercises themselves are simple but not necessarily easy: they require concentration and diligence, and they may seem counterintuitive at first, even just plain wrong. You will be called upon to loosen your grip, at least temporarily, on some of the most sacred of sacred cows, such as “trying to sound good.” I cannot attest to the efficacy of Werner’s approach in gaining ultimate musical enlightenment, but just one session noticeably freed up my playing around a difficult passage that usually makes me tense my body in anticipation (“Uh-oh, here comes the hard part!”). The exercise helped me stay relaxed right on through the rocky spot and I actually executed it better.
And as mundane as it may sound, I think ninety percent of the “secret” to mastery is just that simple: relax. When your body is relaxed, and your mind is relaxed, you perform better, way better. Every athlete knows this. “Stay loose,” the coach exhorts the players before a game. Your response time is faster, your rhythm is more accurate, your awareness and aesthetic judgment are more free, everything just works better. You have much more control, and yet you seem less “controlling.” And not insignificantly you have more fun, and this comes through the music to the listener. Relaxation is key for instrumentalists, singers, athletes, actors, dancers, public speakers, anybody who performs a physical skill in real time. And yet as widely-known as this un-secret secret is, relaxing easier said than done. Most of us habitually tighten our muscles more than we need, often in subtle ways we are not even aware of–to the detriment of our playing. This is where the book really shines: Werner’s approach gives you a sense that you can control over your own ability to relax, with focus and alertness, when you need it most. Relaxation is a skill you can learn.
But what annoys me about this book is that Werner just can’t seem to resist the temptation to ladle a lot of New Age spiritual goop into the mix. “This joyful noise is the sound of the Supreme Being manifesting through us. If we surrender our desires, we will hear it.” Upon encountering a passage such as this, you might reflexively flip the book around and look at its cover to make sure you did not accidentally pick up your latest Deepak Chopra book but sadly, you did not. This streak of religio-babble wends its way through the book like a seam of coal in a gold mine. It keeps popping up, like that cheerfully pushy guy at a party who latches onto you and regales you with his opinions on reincarnation, over and over and over again. Oy. It’s not a fatal flaw, but it sure is annoying. I found myself skimming past whole pages, whole chapters, to get to the useful stuff, the actual method.
I have no doubt Werner honestly thinks his heartfelt sermonizing is a necessary part of learning how to play from that effortless state of mind. It is not. The effortless state does indeed feel transcendent but it is not supernatural or even particularly “spiritual,” it is just the normal subjective experience of a human being operating at full potential. Dragging religion into it is a gratuitous distraction. If I am reading a book about the science of meteorology, I really don’t care if the author thinks the Lord Jesus Christ is the master of the weather. I just want to learn the science. Werner should have stuck with the science. His tangents into pop theology do nothing to strengthen the central thesis of his book; on the contrary, they actually weaken it, except for the already-religious reader who would make this connection to God anyway. I wish Werner had trusted his readers enough to let us provide our own sense of cosmic significance.
But it’s worth overlooking this flaw because of the practical tools contained in the book. If you don’t like the New Age blather, just ignore it and keep reading–it soon passes. Eat the meat and spit out the bones. There’s plenty of meat in here.
For example, one exercise has you just sit there holding your instrument, feeling the instrument as a mere object, not even a musical instrument per se, just a physical chunk of matter devoid of any meaning or emotional content such as, “This is My Instrument, with which I will make my mark on the music world… I just hope I don’t mess up again…” All those self-involved, up-and-down, crazy-making fantasies we all entertain when we play–be honest now! You know you have them! This exercise can help you connect with your instrument on an elemental, physical level, free from a lot of the “relationship baggage” you may have developed with your instrument.
Another exercise is so simple yet so powerful: when you play, your only job is to LOVE the sound coming out of your instrument, right now. Don’t be critical of it; don’t listen to it with the thought of improving it; just listen and say, “This is the most gorgeous sound I have ever heard.” And mean it! This is something you will find you can do right now simply by focusing on it, and it can have an immediate positive effect on your playing.
So remember, these are exercises for you to DO, not just interesting concepts to think about. If you just read the book, nothing will change. But if you actually do the exercises, they will bring your awareness right into this sensory moment, where music actually lives.
Musicians without this inner reality and stance are not yet artists. They may be on their way; They may be extremely technical craftsmen, but they lack the magic and the inspiration of true art. True art is not an egotistical exercise in showcasing technical skill for the sake of impressing an audience or colleagues (note: they wont be impressed if the motivation is ego..only if it is dictated by music herself!), or flaunting knowledge, artificial complexity, contrived simplicity and catering to the egos' demands for attention. The public can subconsciously tell if you have become music or not. Your ego can't hide anywhere in the performing arts while performing. Offstage you can get away with much egotism if you so desire, but not during union with music...
A week ago I was thanking an old buddy of mine for his solos on 2 projects of mine. He is now one of the world's greatest new jazz bass players. I was telling him how the book was entirely "dead-on" according to my professional experience, which allows me the great good fortune of playing with some of he world's greatest musicians and discuss our musical experiences. He immediately jumped-in and said: " I have the book! I have read it several times".
This artist was already so in tune with his inner being when I met him in a music store long ago on the strength of ONE note with a gliss he played, which attracted my attention instantly!. It is a testimony to the depth and down to earth practical scope of this book that he has found additional key information to further grow his mastery to the point of at which it is today. For me there are also additional insights and realizations to absorb and practice as one's road in music lifelong. Remember: We all get beter with time. Even mozart did!.
I highly recommend this fantastic practical guide to your inner genius. Genius is genius, not average common-sense, so be prepared to abandon many of your old presuppositions and ineffective beliefs that you think are valid...They don't work in a state of mastery and inspiration. What Kenny Werner teaches in a very practical step by step manner does!