TYPE: Non-fiction (philosophy), practical.
SYNTHESIS: An inspirational and practical guide for advanced and expert practitioners in any field on finding mastery by getting out of your head and surrendering to your art – by jazz pianist and composer, Kenny Werner.
NOTES: We are constantly reminded that only way to improve is to try harder; that all that stands between us and mastery is grit, persistence and effort.
But there’s another side to the story; there are plateaus in every learning journey that brute force and determination just won’t seem to crack.
And the secret, explains Werner in Effortless Mastery, isn’t to try more, it’s to try less. It’s to get out of your mind; it’s to let go of the idea of progress entirely.
Why? Because there’s a point where progress isn’t about playing better, it’s about playing more organically. And to do so, you must turn learning on top of its head.
How? Werner addresses precisely this problem over 25 chapters:
- Introduction – Transcending the self and glimpsing mastery.
- My story – The author’s journey from fear and self-loathing to realising he was enough, just as he is.
- Why Do We Play? – Disconnecting the ego and self-worth; reconnecting with joy, passion and higher meaning.
- Beyond Limited Goals – Rediscovering freedom by letting go of striving (toward goals, away from failure) and surrendering to now.
- Fear-Based Playing – Exploring how the mind and fear in hold back playing and how self-love and mindfulness unlock it.
- Fear-Based Practicing – Understanding the impact of mindfulness, patience and trust on both quantity and quality of practice.
- Fear-Based Teaching – As above but in supporting the progress of others; good teaching starts with self-knowledge and love.
- Fear-Based Listening – Perceiving more, learning better and reconnecting with joy by learning to listen, without ego or judgment.
- Fear-Based Composing – Releasing perfectionism, accepting whatever comes out and remembering that “the first draft of anything is shit” – Hemingway.
- The Space – Discovering unlimited creativity and expansiveness of mind in total selflessness and absolute concentration (see Flow).
- There Are No Wrong Notes – Letting go of intellect, disregarding dissonance and consonance and giving yourself permission to find beauty in “flaws”.
- Meditation #1 – Relaxation, surrender, visualisation, affirmation: “I am perfect. I am great. I am a master.“
- Effortless Mastery – Exploring mastery; starting with persistent practice and ending with total, organic and effortless acceptance of whatever wants to come out.
- Meditation #2 – Visualisation and affirmation: I am a master. I play effortlessly and masterfully. Every note is beautiful.
- Affirmations – Reprogramming belief systems by using regular affirmation to create new habits of thought.
- The Steps To Change – Changing yourself through practice; an overview of the 4 steps.
- Step 1 – Relaxing and surrendering the need to sound good; tips on an instrument by instrument basis.
- Step 2 – Using unrestricted improvisation to let go of control and observing the results without judgement.
- Step 3 – Staying out of the way and letting the music play itself, even if that feels like taking a few steps backwards.
- Step 4 – Combining all the steps and learning to familiarise yourself with new ideas by trying less.
- An Afterthought – Having patience; “Meeting with triumph and disaster” and “treating those imposters just the same“.
- Meditation #3: I Am Great, I Am A Master – Affirmation.
- Stretching The Form – Being patient and persistent, detaching from results and enjoying changes in the rest of your life.
- The Spiritual (Reprise) – Surrendering and understanding that doing so is the greatest practice of all.
- Meditation #4: One Final Meditation – Short relaxation, surrender and affirmation.
Kenny’s conclusion? The secret to mastery is already inside you. And you already have everything that you need to find it.
So learn to let go, get out of your head and surrender to your art.
Because mastery isn’t just for the masters, it’s for all of us.