December 17, 2010

Book Review: Effortless Mastery

"The effort it takes for you to perform music equals the distance between you and mastery"
- Kenny Werner, Effortless Mastery.

In Effortless Mastery, Kenny Werner tells the story of his falling in love with music, being overwhelmed and hitting to rock bottom in music school, and how he picked up the pieces and put them together to become the master musician he is today.

He also gives you a clear, but thoroughly humbling, path to developing your own mastery of music.

It also comes with a CD with the author guiding you through four meditations with a veil of reverb and over a backdrop of tinkling piano. This can be really off-putting for some people (certainly for me, at first) but it's an essential part of his method and a very effective one at that.

Think of it as an attitude adjustment which most of us genuinely need. For me, it really helped break the cycle of frustration, to relax and enjoy the process.

Don't base your self-esteem of your music

It's really easy for a lot of us to get frustrated with ourselves when we fail. A lot of us try to play music that's too hard for us, or we want to play faster before our muscles develop the necessary coordination. Sometimes we prepare difficult music inadequately for performances and when the performance don't live up to our expectations, the aftermath can feel really awful.

Werner wants us to free ourselves from our judgment (there's a time and place for judgment, and it's not in the middle of a performance!), expectations, and desires  - especially desire to be great, to improve, to not suck for just a few minutes... and open our ears and accept the sounds we are actually making. From this mental space of humility, honesty, and acceptance (yes, even of mistakes), we can begin to make progress.

Steps to Mastery

He presents a method for focused practicing that I won't describe, because you should really read the book and hear about it first hand. It is a humbling process, but from it, real progress can be made... and it can be applied to anything you work on.

You may be surprised at how fast or slow this progress comes, but you can be sure that it is genuine, and that's the best part. In time, you will be able to rely on yourself to perform your music perfectly, effortlessly, and without thought.

It works

This seems like quite an idealistic path but it is actually pretty realistic. We really can't force yourself to improve any faster than we're ready to, but there are a million obstacles we can set up for ourselves that will slow it down. Effortless Mastery is a simple plan for freeing ourselves of those obstacles.

The ideas in this book are not totally new or unique, but I like the way they are distilled to a simple and clear path. I think that most books in this genre say essentially the same things, but they say them in different ways, and some may resonate better with some readers than others. I will review others that I have read when I get a chance.

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