Effortless mastery - Liberating the master musician within - Kenny Werner


My belief is that, if you can talk, you can play.

Many people are crippled by an inability to focus and by a sense of being overwhelmed.
something is not landing in the hearts of their audience. They are trapped in their minds. There is no nectar. dominated by their conscious minds.

One must practice surrendering control to a larger, or higher force. It’s scary at first, but eventually liberating.
In Sanskrit the word is moksha, which means liberation. Moksha is attainable through the surrender of the small self to the larger ”Self.”

If you are inhibited playing with the toys you have now, you will not play differently with new toys.

it may be a revelation to know that one can live in the meditative state while playing an instrument. The mind is the chief culprit in most playing problems.
Music can shoot through the musician like lightning through the sky if that music is unobstructed by thoughts.


There is an ocean. It is an ocean of consciousness, an ocean of bliss. Each one of us is a drop in that ocean. In that sense, we are all one. We are all connected.
Illusion would have us think that we are all separate entities, separate drops. But if that were true, we would all evaporate rather quickly.

As we expand our limited selves into this infinite consciousness, we tap into a network of infinite possibilities, infinite creativity great, great power.
We move around and around until we remember who we really are.
it is our destiny to conduct an inward search.

As they listen to the music coming through us, they too are inspired to look within. Light is being transmitted and received from soul to soul.
We let go of our egos and permit the music to come through us and do its work.

We will no longer be caught in the mundane world of good music/bad music (”am I playing well?”) Instead, our hearts and minds will be focused on receiving this God-inspired information and translating it faithfully.

Chapter 2: My story

the salt and sugar in all the food kept our senses occupied.
the Greeks and Romans had a crude form of television before their downfall.
Television and its programming contributes more to the dehumanization of society than any other development in history.
Mindmelding with TV robs us of an inner connection and makes living in the moment intolerable.

Teachers often didn’t relay the information with any enthusiasm. In school, we were asked to care about things we didn’t care about and stop caring about the things we did.

School Daze

Most Popular Guy

I would have been a total loser in school but for one thing - I could play the piano. And I could play very well. I started playing at seven, and by eight, I was playing for assembly. At nine years old I was playing gigs.
I made absolutely no impression on my fellow students until I would sit down to play. Then the world changed completely.
The athletes, who otherwise didn’t know I existed, suddenly put their arms around me and proclaimed me their friend.

I depended heavily on my playing for a sense of self-worth.
Playing the music came so easily to me that it was hard for people to believe that I was malfunctioning.

Suicide Watch at The Manhattan School of Music

When I would hear a pianist play better than me, I would want to die! I would literally feel worthless. I had come to depend so heavily on my talent for validation that I couldn’t face not being God’s gift to music.

Manhattan School of Music was a real slap in the face. There were students with talent equal to mine, but they could practice long hours. I was devastated. Instead of being the special one the musician I was, for the first time in my life, just another musician, and not a particularly distinguished one at that.
I was nothing. I had no purpose, no direction. I didn’t even know why I was playing music anymore.

Madame Chaloff

She spoke of the secret of playing piano. It had to do with the pianist’s arms ”defying gravity.”
She taught the perfect way to drop a finger. This was my first introduction to effortlessness.
I spent months learning to play one note.

Joao Assis Brasil

a simple exercise that a teacher in Vienna had shown him: a five- finger exercise that consisted of releasing the fingers effortlessly, one by one, onto the keyboard.
This exercise only needed to be done for five minutes a short amount of time to focus without pressure.
Concentrating in this manner, five minutes became ten, ten became twenty, and so on, until one could practice effortlessly for as long as one wanted.

I was biting my fingernails. I was thinking so much, I could barely hear the music. Thoughts like, ”Oh, that playing is so great… it’s really painful to hear it!… This means that I am nothing … unless … if I practice eight hours a day for the next twenty years…”
He must have been reading my mind, or at least my body language, because he said, ”BE KIND TO YOURSELF!” This statement, uttered at that moment, was revelatory. It showed me the folly of my thoughts.
I was sitting there enjoying the music for the first time. I became aware of what was wrong with me. This was a key lesson about myself.

The five-finger exercise that Joao gave me seemed simple enough. I only had to practice for five minutes. As a dysfunctional learner and undisciplined person, that sounded great. But the assignment at first terrified me.
He wanted me to practice nothing but the five-finger exercise for two weeks! I was to do absolutely no other playing. I could observe the panic in my mind and the illusions it was creating. I thought that in two weeks, I would forget how to play.
I would lose so much valuable practice time. What practice time? That was my problem to begin with: I never practiced!

I noticed some good things. It occurred to me that, for the first time in my musical life, I was actually doing the work assigned to me by a piano teacher!
It was so simple that I never felt overwhelmed. Five minutes seemed to be the right amount of time.
One of the reasons I never practiced was the belief that I had to sit there for five hours for it to mean anything.
Another reason I was now practicing was that the material was so simple: the effortless release of each finger to the key.
Thumb to fifth finger and back; then the other hand; and then….finished!
It had a very calming effect, cleansing me with a feeling of a new beginning. I felt really good.

I wish I could say that I made it through the whole two weeks without playing anything else, but after about six days, I played hooky.
When we arrived at the party, people asked us to play. I apologized for what was about to happen. I explained that Victor’s crazy brother had me touching the piano for only five minutes a day. I was out of shape and had no idea what would come out. What followed was something I will never forget.
We played Autumn Leaves. I put my hands on the piano and they played! I mean that they actually played by themselves while I watched! And what they played was blowing my mind and everybody else’s. Not only was it good, but it was so much better than I usually played!
The change was astounding. In just six days of meditating, more or less, at the piano, I was totally different! My touch, usually hard and strained, sounded balanced and beautiful.
And again, I must stress the point that I was only observing, not doing!

This powerful demonstration made a believer of me for life. I realized that the goal is letting go of my ego and being kind to myself, playing only what wants to come out effortlessly.
I now knew that I could observe myself play and embrace the spiritual ideas of service and surrender.
The pursuit of these ideals would stretch me further than my limited consciousness could ever do and make me a better player! This blew my mind.

I have found many sincere but ego-ridden musicians. As I was, they are defeated by selfcenteredness, and lack vision and purpose.
And, most important, they don’t know what music is, who they are, and what they are really doing here.

Chapter 3: Why Do We Play?

Your First Time


I’ll never forget the day it arrived. I could hardly wait to touch it. I started to pick out the notes of some songs I knew, and I remember running into the kitchen to proudly exclaim to my mother, ”Good news, mom. I won’t be needing any lessons. I’ve already figured out how to play!”

Take a moment to contemplate your first time.

A friend of mine who is a painter told me that when she was a child, she was trying to draw a bracelet on a wrist, but she couldn’t get the perspective right.
he bracelet is not supposed to be seen behind the wrist. After a long time, she became frustrated and started to cry. Her mother came in and showed her how to hide part of the bracelet behind the wrist, making it look much more realistic.
Her own experimentation had led her to yearn for this knowledge, and her mother’s teaching was right on time. That lesson really stayed with her.
Similarly, you would have been excited to have a teacher come forward at the right time and show you what you craved to know.
(But unfortunately most of us never traveled that road.)

Education: The Death Knell

”You must have a teacher,” or ”Nothing will come of this if you don’t practice.” Even if that is true, the dreariness of this message drones on, and the magic evaporates.

Just as abused children become abusive parents, music teachers forcefeed dry information from generation to generation.

I used to love to play stick ball with my friends. We would play until it was so dark that we could hardly see the ball.
Compared to: I hated to come in to get my practicing done. That was no more inviting than doing my homework.
I am just citing some of the reasons why an overwhelming amount of people lost their love of music through studying it.
Later on, many regain it as listeners, and hence the common outcry, ”I wish I’d never quit my piano lessons!”


the quality of a person’s playing can determine his or her self-worth.
It seems as if in order to be good you have to play good. Musicians who fall into this trap generally don’t enjoy life. Every day brings anxiety.
Each solo is the acid test of apparent worth. Their self-respect is more volatile than the stock market.
They rarely play anything of depth. They are like the person who is always trying to get us to like him; we usually don’t.

Fear of Failure

You’d be a failure if you didn’t quit! You might miss an opportunity in some other field.
At Manhattan School of Music, I was afraid to quit because it would mean that I was a failure. It was obvious that I was no more suited to be a concert pianist than to be a nuclear physicist.
Fear of failure blinded me from this fact, but only after I moved on did my life begin.

I’m Going To Be A Star!

”Try to imagine the first musician. He was not playing for an audience, or a market, or working on his next recording, or touring with his show, or working on his image. He was playing out of need, out of his need for the music. Every year the number of musicians who remember why they play music in the first place gets smaller, and the greatest loss from this handful was Miles Davis, who died last year.”

In the movie, The Piano, Holly Hunter plays a mute. she has little patience for idle chatter. In such a person, the divine musician manifests, and nothing is wasted.

”The original musician was not looking for his image; he was using his voice to learn about the world. He knew the world to be liquid (i.e., not made up of discrete entities).”

”we see the world as ’bits of information,’ ” and laments that ”fewer and fewer musicians let us know who they are by the expression of music.”

The Original Purpose

in the beginning, music was our sole means of communication.
The original purpose of music was worship, divine intelligence, and basic communication. Music penetrate human soul.

”In the beginning of human creation, no language such as we now have existed, but only music. Man first expressed his thoughts and feelings by low and high, short and prolonged sounds. Man conveyed his sincerity, insincerity, disinclination, pleasure or displeasure by the variety of his musical expressions.”

So it can be said that all language is derived from music. Music can put a baby to sleep or inspire a soldier in war.

Music is derived from sound, and sound is composed of vibration.
Although we see solids when we look at an object, what we are really seeing is fluid vibrations organized in sufficiently gross frequencies to form solid matter.

”Music is the only means of understanding among birds and beasts.”

Even the conqueror in war what is he looking for? No matter how much of the world he rules during his life, he will have to surrender it when he dies. So what is he really after? Although he doesn’t realize it, he is seeking oneness with the self in all things.
It is said that one drop of ecstasy tasted from the self, the God inside us, renders all other pursuits insignificant

Chapter 4 - Beyond Limited Goals

Limited goals, such as trying to impress people, find security, play "good enough" block that goal.
Surrender is the key, and the first thing to surrender is one of your most prized possessions: YOUR OBSESSIVE NEED TO SOUND GOOD! This is a paradox.

Musicians Who Care Too Much …

Think of a time when you really needed to sound good.
How well did you play under those circumstances? Didn’t your whole system freeze with the desire to sound good?
Now think back to times when it really didn’t matter.
You didn’t care that much, and it really flowed.

Usually, a bad gig follows a good gig for the following reason: you are thinking about how you made it happen the other night, and you want to do it again.
When you don’t try as hard to be good, you play better.
Truly, your own experience should prove to you that when you don’t care, you play better.

An Involuntary Muscle

”Okay, now that we’ve proven that not caring leads to better playing, you’re all never going to care again when you play, right?” That always gets some nervous laughter.
Like an involuntary muscle.
No matter how much people are intellectually aware, they will not be able to control their concern once they start to play.
You may have read the most profound books on spiritual creativity and be certain that you know what it’s all about, but when you approach the instrument, that will not matter one bit. You will still be consumed with how good you sound!

How many people are willing to get up on stage, play their instruments, and sound awful? And then, after sounding awful, how many people could say, ”I love myself?”

”The easiest way to do art is to dispense with success and failure altogether and just get on with it,”
A person who is not afraid to die, knows how to live. A person who is not afraid to fail, succeeds.
And a person who is not afraid to sound terrible may sound great. there are other factors involved but this essential element must be there.

Afraid of Sounding Bad …

Doesn’t it seem odd that horn players wouldn’t take a deep breath? Why is that? Because they are afraid to commit themselves to what’s going to come out. A really deep breath is going to add tone and weight to the next phrase, but the horn player is not sure about that next phrase. His lack of confidence causes a shorter breath.
The result confirms the player’s fears.

If a horn player were to hold his breath as long as possible, almost passing out, and then release that breath into the horn while just moving his fingers over the keys, not worrying about the notes, he would experience a tone, force, dexterity and energy that he never knew existed.

Fear takes away the strength of what you are doing. Without fear of wrong notes, you would feel the body’s craving for more air, and a new posture would emerge spontaneously.

”The right shot at the right moment does not come because you do not let go of yourself. You do not wait for fulfillment, but brace yourself for failure.”

It is the drawing power of the inner self. It emerges when one has a true sense of oneself and one’s powers.

The sad fact is that most musicians judge their value as a person by their level of playing. Therein lies an unhealthy linkage between musical proficiency and selfworth.

Music is not supposed to be a source of depression! Music is a gift. Music is ecstasy.
But, you have to discover a reason for living that is more important than playing! You need a sense of self that is stable, durable and not attached to your last solo.
And, paradoxically, that makes you play better! It removes the consequences and puts everything in perspective. The pressure is gone … and you play better.
It takes more than knowing that intellectually in order to change. You may need a system of ”reprogramming” to put your relationship to music on firmer ground.

Going Beyond

It is a gift from God to allow us to express the incredible ecstasy of our inner nature.
Music is us for expressing any of the countless feelings associated with the human condition.
All other goals are limited goals. It’s nice to play well, but that is not the point.

Once you call yourself a drummer, it becomes more difficult to enjoy it unless you’re a good player. You forget that it’s more important to have a good time than to sound good.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to play well, but needing to play very well is the problem.

You Sounded Good, How Did I Sound?

”Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.” -- Edgar Degas in 1856
Every ten minutes: ”How do I sound? How do I sound now?” You walk around with that concern all day, and when you go to the gig, that’s what you project.

your sense of security is coming from outside you. What a lie.
You already are great. If you play from that perspective, your music will become deeper.

Chill Out

Playing can be a joyous celebration of who you are. When I play, I try to ignore the mundane considerations in my head and focus on the truth. I like to fill my head with words like ”THANK YOU.” Thank you for the experience of playing music. Thanks for this job in life.

It’s Only Music!

Stop breathing. Now how important is music?
The only thing that’s really important is your next breath. We lose sight of reality very easily because of the little dictator in our heads: the mind.
Our mind is always feeding us messages: ”I must sound good;” ”This is the right music, that is the wrong music;”
”I’m not supposed to play really great, because I’m a woman,” or ”I’m white,” or ”I’m too old, and I can’t learn to play any better.”.
The mind is always supplying a steady stream of these illusions of limitation.

Music is the Icing on the Cake

The truth is that every breath is a gift, and playing music is optional.
For the people in Somalia, food is important. For the people of Bosnia, it’s peace.
Food, shelter, clean air, clean water, clothes to wear: these are more important than musical concerns.
Music is not the cake. It’s the icing on the cake.

People without real problems can dwell too much in their thoughts. They may be consumed with their egotistical need to sound good. There is no ecstasy, love or spiritual sustenance.

Who Cares?

Who cares if you ever play another note of music? No one.
We don’t need you!


Artists take all that technology, all that language, and say something. They express something from very deep in their soul, or their deepest thoughts.
Such people are not caught up in the petty issues of the day, but keep their eyes fixed on the truth as they know it.
They may be visionaries, luminaries that light the way for the rest of us. They give us art from the soul, or the genitals, or from whatever drives them.
"We need to hear the process of a musician working on himself. We don’t need to hear who is more clever with synthesizers."

They have the opportunity to tell us a story and make us feel its meaning, but they miss the point.

Creativity and Discipline

If you master the English language, does that make you a poet? Being able to speak in complete sentences is not an art, but a technical skill. Being a poet, a playwright or lyricist that is art.

One camp says, ”I don’t want to absorb too much technique, too much language, because it will squelch my creativity.”
Other say that if your talent can’t stand a little training, it must have been pretty fragile to begin with.

Helps the Planet

Ultimately, musicians of the world must come to realize the potential of their calling. Like the shamans, we may serve as healers, metaphysicians, inciters, exciters, spiritual guides and sources of inspiration.
If the musician is illumined from within, he becomes a lamp that lights other lamps.
Then he is serving as a vehicle for the healing ocean of sound to wash over our planet and its people, healing what ails us.

It is said that ”only one who obeys can truly command.” When the artist is immersed in service, giving himself up over and over again, another paradox occurs: HE IS BEING SEEN BY ALL OTHERS AS A MASTER.

Chapter 5 - Fear, The Mind and The Ego

"For it is not death and pain that is a fearful thing, but fear of death and pain" -- Epictetus

Some of us play as if there were a gun being held to our head, and there usually is because we’re holding it!

We assess our self-worth with every note, or with every stroke on the canvas; it doesn’t matter which art form we are talking about. Enslaved by ego, we are encased in fear.
What are the consequences of playing poorly? Nothing really, compared with the consequences of, say, jumping off a cliff. Yet if you ask some classical musicians to improvise, they might behave as if you were pushing them off a cliff!

Why is this so? As stated before, many of us have formed an unhealthy linkage between who we are and how we play.
We fear being inadequate and that leads to ineffective playing, practicing, and listening. Fear closes all doors to the true self, that brilliant center where the ecstasy lies.

without excess mental baggage, playing music produces a feeling more exquisite than the sweetest nectar this world has to offer. It is the sound, smell and taste of grace.

People who have unusual difficulty learning and playing might have been told at an early age that playing music is very difficult, or that they were untalented.
Once that is believed, it becomes very hard to progress.
The menacing voices from childhood become the voices in one’s own head: ”You’re no good, stupid!” The messages can be more subtle than that, but lingering fear of being a fool translates into fear of not being worthy, of not having value. I see that in so many students.

Where does fear originate? From the mind?
Yes, but not the ”universal mind,”. fear originates in our ”little mind.”
For our purposes, we are referring to the ego as the limited ”I” consciousness. It is the lens through which we perceive our separateness from each other. Separateness invites comparison and competition.
This is where problems originate: he’s younger than I, more talented, and so forth.

By contrast, dissolution of the ego and union with the divine is the goal of Indian music. Oneness with the universal mind is ”called sadhana, the supreme act of ego surrender of merging individual identity into the object worshiped.”

Tyrannized by our egos, we live in a state the Hindus call maya, or delusion. Engrossed in maya, we can’t see the magnificence of who we really are.
Desires multiply, and we know nothing of real inner happiness.
"The clouds of emotion obscure the clear sight of the soul."

Fear-Based Playing