August 5, 2011

More thoughts on Effortless Mastery

Life has been busy recently, unfortunately full of real-world work, and not a whole lot of time for music. As I often do in these times, I'm still practicing guitar regularly but focusing on one just thing. This time, it is effortlessness.

It took me a really long time to figure out that the way to play effortlessly is not to struggle with material until it becomes easy and effortless. To date, that method has never worked for me.

The message of Kenny Werner's excellent "Effortless Mastery" book basically boils down to this:

  • To play effortlessly, you have to play effortlessly now.
  • You play effortlessly now by playing only what you can play effortlessly now.
  • To play new things effortlessly, you have to work on them as slowly and/or gradually as necessary to keep the effortless feeling. Develop the comfort zone gradually. 
  • Play the material fast sometimes, too, but keep the effortless feeling and completely ignore mistakes. You can work them out in the slow practice; the fast practice is to get used to the feeling of playing fast. 
So what is effortlessness? 

I used to think it was a physical feeling, but that's just part of it. Keeping a quiet mind is just as important. With the mind quiet and even detached from the physical side of playing, it becomes much easier to listen to what you're doing and develop a listening-based method of playing rather than a physical activity-based method of playing.

It's important to learn the feeling of effortlessness as early on as you can, whether you're working on difficult music, scales, basic finger mechanics, or even just sitting silently with the guitar.