Fear-Based Playing

fear of sounding bad robs the music of all its strength.
Believing that playing is a difficult, painful process, we shun anything that seems easy.

Get fully absorbed in your art, don't let the ego cloud your mind. Fear is wasting your time.

”You will be free of the world’s turbulence as soon as you calm your thoughts.”

”improvisation is the courage to move from one note to the next.” It’s that simple. Once you conquer that basic fear, when you are able to make that leap from one note to the next without thinking or preparing for it, then you are improvising

Just before I play, I like to feel that no one has ever played the piano before, that I’m in complete virgin territory, and that every note I play is the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.

In fear, we expect; with love, we accept.

Chapter 6 - Fear-Based Practicing

"The wise man in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger, but for deliverance from fear."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

The mind wreaks havoc, and the ego has a picnic.

A fearful mind won’t allow you to concentrate and absorb.
the mind is exerting subtle or not-so-subtle pressure with the thought of the other things that need tending to.
When you skim the surface, you acquire many bad habits.
Repetition of these bad habits causes them to grow ingrained ever more deeply into your subconscious, so that you are actually doing what I call negative practice.
In this way, one hour of practicing is better than two, thirty minutes is better than an hour, and no practicing at all would be preferable to that kind of negative practice!

Many are so fixated on complex elements that they fail to spend enough time on the basics.
Eighty percent of all jazz standards are comprised of the II-V-I progression, a succession of chords. If you really master that progression in all keys, you’ll find that you can fly through most tunes instantly. But before mastering this fundamental progression, your restless mind may have already driven you to study more exotic ones.

Sometimes the mind is so restless and filled with anxiety that you can’t practice at all. A person in this state thinks himself uncommitted or just ”lazy” because he can never get it together to practice.
If this is you, be kind to yourself. You’re not lazy, you’re just completely overwhelmed!
In your mind, there is so much to accomplish that you can’t get started. You’re caught in an energy field of angst.

I joke with students in my clinics, saying that I want them to borrow five minutes from those hours they spend each day obsessing about themselves, and use that time to practice!

Chapter 7 - Teaching Dysfunctions: Fear-Based Teaching

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.

”To educe means to draw out or evoke that which is latent: education then means drawing out the person’s latent capacities for understanding and living, not stuffing a (passive) person full of preconceived knowledge.”

People are overwhelmed because They’re very likely to be ”stuffed with preconceived knowledge” rather than having had their ”latent capabilities” drawn out.

Burying the student in assignments will often sink him.

The student knows something is wrong, but may not realize that his teacher is also in the dark.

Sometimes a student comes along who plays well and forces the teacher to confront his own ego. The teacher has to find ways to guide the student, while secretly he may fear or resent that student for his or her gifts.

Sometimes they are humble and honest enough to admit their frailties to their students, and express a willingness to figure it out together. It becomes a mutual journey. I really like seeing that.

Chapter 8 - Hearing Dysfunctions: Fear-Based Listening

Who wants to admit that he hates to hear a great player? But some find it too painful. It fuels the fires of their self-loathing: ”If he plays great, then I am worthless,”.

You should listen the same way that you play, practice or teach: with love and openness.
In this way, you become absorbed in the moment and lose yourself in the music.

Effortless listening is like breathing. It nourishes you without your even knowing it.
Don’t try to listen, but just let yourself listen.

Fearbased listening is trying to play with others while being preoccupied with yourself.

Sometimes you're listening and trying to respond. You want to listen and respond, but you can’t plan your response or you’ll lose the moment.

There’s a nectar that flows from the fruit of egolessness; it is the bliss that we have sought all our lives.

Chapter 9 - Fear-Based Composing

There is really no importance to writing a good composition other than to nourish your feeling of self-worth.
If one weren’t in need of validation as a composer, one could delightfully doodle, happily filling many music notebooks. If a person has acquired the tools of composing through study, then that expertise will manifest in his compositions.
without the need for self- validation, talent and acquired knowledge flow naturally.

Random Composition

grateful acceptance of whatever comes out. I call this random composition: Filling a piece of paper with random notes.
staring at a blank piece of paper. It is much easier to edit material than it is to create from nothing.

If you do this without any emotional attachment, without the need to create anything worthwhile, you are likely to come up with more attractive sets of notes.

you polish and polish through variation, until it shines with continuity.
Just keep doodling. The longer you resist identifying the piece, the more ”stuff happens.” As you detach, the piece seems to ”write itself.”
you must feel free to throw things away.
composing with detachment.

Using a computer, I had the benefit of copying, erasing, or reworking the ideas instantly.
so much music emerged, like having a pipeline to a never-ending ocean of ideas.
when I couldn’t hear anything at all and felt no inspiration, writing random notes and playing with them would cause the creative juices to flow.

Nothing is so inhibiting as needing to write something brilliant.
Why don’t you just write a bad opera? That should be easy.” My friend laughed uncomfortably.
you have a much better chance of doing well if you let go of the anxiety.

Try writing three bad pieces a day. I bet you can’t do it.

trying to sound good is a reflex. The ego is like an involuntary muscle. You wish you weren’t so self-absorbed, but you just can’t help it.

The taming of the mind, the dissolution of the ego and the letting go of all fears can only evolve through patient practice. There is nothing worth attaining on this or any other planet that doesn’t take practice. As you do this, you become aware of another ”space.”

Chapter 10 - The Space

Making The Connection

”You must be nothing but an ear that hears what the universe of the world is constantly saying within you.”
-- Rabbi Dov Baer of Mezritch

inside each of us, The genius, God, lives there. All the creative possibilities of the universe are to be found there.
to channel an endless stream of life-enhancing ideas.
This joyful noise is the sound of the Supreme Being manifesting through us. If we surrender our desires, we will hear it.
At first it will seem distant, like the sound of the ocean when you put an ear to a conch shell, but with practice, one can hear the divine ”unstruck sound” and become enveloped by it.
A most worthy goal is to live one’s life and perform all of one’s duties from this inner space.

There is no fear, because he is not attached to the results of actions. Practice takes no patience, since there is no burning need to reach a goal. There is simply the celebration of the doing, the learning, the achieving and enjoying.

”Expectation exists when there is fear.”
The fear of not getting what we want is predominant in Western society, but the neverending quest to satisfy ”needs” masks our deepest desire: oneness with the divine force.

We think that if we have enough of what we want, we will be safe. But from the inner space, one realizes that everything one needs and desires already exists within.
Christ, or Jesus said, ”First seek ye the Kingdom of God and all else will be added.” He also said, ”The Kingdom of Heaven lies within.”

The Inner Space is the place where joy, pleasure and fulfillment worldly and otherwise are available in unlimited supply.

The performance was so inspired that it stayed with the audience; The feeling it created caused those present to behave differently for a while, possibly with more grace, with more mindfulness of the soul. Spiraling to deeper levels of consciousness, the performer takes us beneath the layers of illusion and peels us like an onion. He gives us the spiritual nourishment that we so deeply need.

A true master is not just a master of technique or language, but of himself.
He can sit serenely in the center of that space while performing his- actions to perfection.
This is a state of selflessness and absolute concentration is called samadhi by Hindus and Buddhists. Meditation is the tool most often used to achieve this state. Once samadhi is achieved, one may perform all actions in that state.

The goal is to get beyond the mind, that noisy little stream of thoughts, and merge into the ocean of consciousness. From there, you experience an absence of things an absence of effort, of caring, the absence of desire or of needs. Things become quite simple.

You’re amazed that you’ve spent so much of your life tyrannized by your mind’ when this ”space” existed.
In the inner space there are no conditions, no requirements; you just are.

The mind is thought to be divided into three parts: the conscious, subconscious, and super-conscious.
The space we're talking is the super-conscious mind.
As an artist, one would want to transcend the conscious mind, where all the noise resides, change the negative messages that have been stored in the subconscious mind and become attuned to the super-conscious mind. That is where inner perfection may exist.
Changing the messages in the subconscious is a matter of steady self-effort and patient reprogramming.

Bill Evans calls this space the universal mind. ”I believe that all people are in possession of what might be called a universal mind. Any true music speaks with this universal mind to the universal mind in all people.”

Copland said, ”Inspiration may be a form of super-consciousness, or perhaps of subconsciousness I wouldn’t know. But I am sure that it is the antithesis of self-consciousness.”
The highest state a musician can be in is a selfless state. Just as a river bed receives the great waters, we receive inspiring ideas.

One of the attractions of art is the possibility it affords of opening the heart, of being exposed to a level of inspiration not usually experienced. It excites and delights.
Some seek it by sailing or climbing mountains, and others by shooting heroin or eating sugar.

To achieve that level of focus, there is no room for a cluttered mind; no room for doubt or worry.
You know it when you hear it. The room electrifies quickly.

False Idols

Jazz, as well as other types of music, has always been about the search for inspiration and the inner connection.
In the nineteen twenties and thirties, many jazz musicians sought it with alcohol. In the forties, it was heroin.
what is the attraction of heroin? You can’t think, you can only do. You can’t play too much, you can only play what wants to come out.
You accept everything that comes out without worry or pain. So, in their own way, those players were also searching for the ”space.”
But the one great sin of all drugs is … the feeling doesn’t last!
whatever you’re addicted to, be it violence or chocolate cheesecake - the result is always sad or even tragic.

after the effects of the drug wore off, the window always closed, making the natural state feel dry and intolerable.
The folly of human history is the search for this state in things outside us. This explains all wars, all quests for money, power, sex and other sensory experiences. The ultimate security one seeks can only be found within.

whatever force is the guiding principle of our existence, He/She wants us to feel that good all the time. That power has provided a nectar within our very own Selves.
If we would just stand still and quiet ourselves long enough to sense that power, we would come to know an ecstasy that lasts.


We must let go of all desires and focus on love. To have the nectar flow through us, we must honor our inner being, and practice receiving what is being given.
We must practice and strengthen this connection daily.
We may even have to go outside.
This is really important, because playing, being so addictive, pulls us easily from the true goal and draws us back into more mundane realms.

But when you have made the inner connection, playing becomes more like taking dictation from within. Work with the thought.
Then just put your hands on the instrument, trust them.

”Do not fear mistakes. There are none.’
Miles Davis

Chapter 11 - There Are No Wrong Notes

Appropriateness and correctness are products of the mind.
Trying to live within those imaginary guidelines inhibits the flow.

It should sound tremendously dissonant, but everyone is amazed to hear how fresh and stimulating it sounds! There is a secret here: if dissonant notes are played and the player embraces them as consonant, the listener will also hear them as consonant!
Conversely, even the simplest harmony will sound strange to a listener if the player hasn’t understood that harmony.
If you listen to the wrong notes, meditate and embrace them with your heart, affirming their beauty, they will become sonic rubies, sparkling with tone.

Manson had such a love for violence that the people under his influence accepted his insanity. The same thing was certainly true of Hitler. People were so ”inspired” by his message that they followed his lead. It’s the inspiration itself we crave.
When a person acts with complete confidence, even for insane purposes, it fills a void in us.
Charismatic individuals make their followers do insane things by the force of their personalities.

if the notes sounded wrong and unusable in the 14th century, how did they become desirable in the 15th century? The answer is that they were never wrong! We just heard them that way.

Zen saying: ”Truth starts as heresy, grows into fashion, and decays into superstition.”

your taste for consonance and dissonance shifts back and forth like the desire for hot and cold.

The Monk Principle

why was Thelonious Monk so revered? The answer is that he had the depth of sound, the arrogance to play what he wanted to play. He was uninhibited by mind and fortified by spirit. Behind every note was the belief that ”this is the truth.”
Do you believe that every note you play is right, or are you always looking for the right notes?
The authenticity of Monk came from the permission he gave himself. to take scraps of junk that most of us wouldn’t know what to do with and to proclaim, ”This is beautiful.”

Mind Behave!

As you play, there must be no intellectual interference.
Intellect is good for picking out an instrument, teaching or getting to the gig on time.
It’s good for academia, it’s good for practicing scales, reading books and studying.
But it is not good for creating. Intellect has to surrender to instinct when it’s time to play.

I have often looked around me on stage and viewed with amusement how others were caught up in a drama of their own making.

Most of us think that the license to create is for others, not for us.

William Blake said, ”Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse not from rules.”

I don’t wish to borrow I want to open my own account! I don’t want to play the way Monk played, I want to feel the way Monk felt when he played.
I like to feel that no one has ever played this instrument before me; that it’s like a blank stone for God to emblazon his commandments on.

”That’s The Most Beautiful Sound I’ve Ever Heard”

When I drop my hands on the piano, no matter what comes out, I say, ”That is the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.”
Sound is neither good or bad, beautiful or ugly. We superimpose those values onto it.
Or both statements are true, depending on what you believe

Wanting to play well and wanting to make an ”inner connection” are often contradictory goals. Sometimes it is absolutely necessary to allow yourself to play what your intellect calls ”bad music” so that the inner connection can be established.

The point is: you too can have permission to believe in yourself but that permission has to come from you. No one will give it to you until they see that you already have it.

Chapter 12

Meditation #1

As we go through our lives, day by day, the most essential thing is breath, yet we tend to take small ones.
Right now, on this beautiful day in your life, breathe in deeply. Breathe in your own greatness.
This very day, commit yourself to reclaiming the greatness inside you.

Take another deep breath and really enjoy it, as if I had said, ”Have another piece of pie.” Imagine I baked a big delicious pie. The piece I gave you really wasn’t big enough, and you just have to have some more. Right now, treat the air like that. Treat your next breath as if it were a craving. Begin to relax.

Start to feel your body relaxing. Feel relaxation from the top of your head on down.
Make yourself as comfortable as possible.
Now relax your head and your face … let your cheeks relax, and your jaw … and let your eyes relax, and your mouth… tongue … throat… and ears … let them relax and imagine the canals are getting wider and wider, until your whole head … disappears.

Relax your neck … and your shoulders. Many of you feel a lot of tension in your neck and shoulders because the enemy, fear, keeps them tense. Fear of people … fear of playing … fear of sounding bad … fear of not
surviving … fear of not being well thought of… fear of not being a successful musician … all this registers itself in the neck and shoulders. Even though you may not be able to rid yourself of this tension, just notice it and be willing to let it go.

As you breathe, notice any pain you feel and just let it go. If it persists, then just observe it. Step back and observe it as if it were someone else’s body.

Now relax your shoulder blades … your chest… your upper back …. breathe deeply as you focus on the muscles and the bones and the rib cage, and just let them go … let them drop. Imagine you were gripping these muscles tightly in your hand … and then imagine relaxing your grip, opening your hand, and releasing them as you would release a bird into flight.

Relax your stomach … lower back… and your spine. Now try to sense your inner organs. Relax your liver … your kidneys … your lungs. See if you can sense your heart muscle. Sense where it is in your chest. Right now, relax that muscle. Keep breathing deeply and relax even more.

Feel your hips relax … let them hang loose … and your buttocks … thighs … knees … your calves … your ankles … and your feet. Your feet are usually abused by tight shoes, walking, curling your toes while playing, as well as fear. Fear lodges itself in the feet. Stretch your toes out and then let them just relax.

Take another deep breath and send that breath through your whole body. Hear that breath going in and coming out. Let yourself descend into the deepest, most relaxed place inside your body…

We are establishing a connection from your innermost self to your instrument.

Relax the mind and observe the thoughts that might be going through it.
just observe … as you observe your thoughts, you might find that your mind is quieting down. Take a breath and let go of the need to play well… take another breath, and release all pressures to play music … release the need to play music … just for a moment … it won’t hurt you … you can have all your obsessions back right after this exercise!… but for right now … just let it all go …

Now take another very deep breath and blow out any more thoughts of limitation or negativity. Imagine an incredibly bright light shooting into the top of your head, filling every cell of your head with warmth.
This healing light is filling your head, just as a fish bowl is filled with water or a balloon is filled with air. Feel this very bright light entering your neck and shoulders. Imagine it warming every cell in each part of the body.
Feel the light running down your spine like a bolt of lightning, shooting all the way down to the base of your spine and exploding out through your back and vertebrae.
Imagine the light filling your stomach, buttocks and hips, and shooting down your legs.
Feel it shooting out of every toe like lasers. Now imagine light pouring down your neck and shoulders, pouring like molten lava into your arms and forearms and wrists and hands. That light is now shooting out of every finger like lasers … shooting out of your eyes, ears, mouth, nostrils, fingertips, toes and every pore of your body. Light is pouring through your body, and you are an empty vehicle for this light.
Let yourself imagine it all. Don’t worry if it’s true, or if it’s working; just make believe. Imagine the light is getting brighter and brighter … hotter and hotter … and … now … you … disappear! All that is left is light!

Take another deep breath and take in the light as a fish takes in water through its gills. Let yourself become very comfortable in this space. Imagine that it is not some special place you can only go to in meditation, but this is who you really are. Imagine that this is your real self.
Imagine you are blowing out any darkness left inside. And with every inhalation comes the thought, ”I am great, I am a master.”
This new image of yourself may be uncomfortable. We’re quite comfortable with our limitations.
put the message in every cell of your body and mind: ”I am great, I am a master.” Scan your body and mind for any remaining negativity, and release it with an exhalation, saying, ”I am great, I am a master.”

Go to the very center of your being … and breathe in the idea, ”I am a master, I am great.”
Let this thought become more and more comfortable. Let it seem more normal every second, not special, not unusual. I am a master. I am very great. Everything I do is great. Every note I play has greatness. Let this feeling take over your whole being.

Surrender… give up your imperfections now.
Become the master you already
are … now. It is the truth that you are already perfect. Surrender to this truth. You are what you think. Fill your head with this fragrance, I am very great.
When you do things with limited beliefs, they manifest limited results. So right now, start a practice and maintain it every day for the rest of your life.
For just a few moments a day, you will remind yourself, I am great. I am a master. I don’t need my actions to prove this to me, I start my day with this belief.

Rest in the knowledge of your greatness.
releasing all thoughts … and loving yourself … acknowledging the master inside you.
You were born great, and you’ve never lost your greatness for a single second.

Finally, let’s practice, one more time, without any doubts, without embracing any rational arguments to the contrary; pretend fully with all your imagination, like a child might: ”I am perfect. I am great. I am a master.”

Chapter 13 - Effortless Mastery

If something can be done perfectly, every time, without thought, it is said to be mastered.

Effortless Execution

Whether or not you’re a pianist, go to the piano and just drop your finger on one note. Notice how easy and thoughtless that is.
Even the most difficult passages in classical music should feel this sure- handed.
we are all masters of using a fork. You could be talking, making love and doing your taxes and you’d never misuse a fork.

Practice To Perfection

How well should the material be learned? I compare this to a tightrope walker in the circus. He has to learn to walk the rope so well that he could never make a mistake. It has to be easy for him to do it, no matter how hard it looks to the audience.

If one’s life depends on doing something right, as in the case of the tightrope walker, one will practice on a much deeper level.
many students and professionals are not properly rehearsed in the basics.
That ”little voice in your head” won’t let you stay with a subject long enough to master it.

Unfamiliar, Not Difficult

Instead of saying "it is difficult" say ”it hasn’t become easy yet.”

Master One Thing First

You should stay with one exercise until mastery has been achieved.
If you did this, you would hear yourself playing this one phrase on the level of great players. This would inspire you and give you the confidence that you might become one.

Achieving such mastery is like climbing a mountaintop and beholding a new vista. Now you know it’s there and that you are capable of reaching it

Mastering The Ego

We must illuminate the ego’s ruses and see how it sabotages our progress.
All we have to do is practicing and playing, so why don't we do it?
it is because we are in a hurry - we need to sound good today, in our quest for a good self-image.

We aren’t in touch with our own inner beauty and so we seek it in our level of play.
Selfcenteredness, which some musicians suffer from in the extreme, is the wall between us and mastery.

Technical Mastery Creates Freedom

Most of us never get past the stage of struggling with technique. But we can never experience our deeper feelings in music if we still have to think about rhythm, phrasing, form or the chord changes.

Seeking new levels of technical mastery should be a life long pursuit - not because you want to impress, but to facilitate any direction the great spirit inside you wants to go.

The Classical

One composition learned on the master level will have more meaning than an entire program learned the ordinary way.

Mastery of Sound

one of the pianists asked him what he practiced. his answer was very succinct. ”I practice the minimum.” He meant the minimum amount of material, not time.
For me, this was a complete confirmation that focusing on a small amount of material, getting inside it, investigating all its variations, running it through different keys. In short, mastering it was what separated Bill Evans from so many others. It was his pathway to mastery.

Mastering the Body

Those disciplines require great concentration rather than strength. To focus the body’s energy into one act.
Most musicians play while holding tension in parts of their bodies that don’t need to be tense.
In karate, to break a board, you have to be very focused and very relaxed.
You have to be so focused that your movement happens by itself. There is great tension, but it is purposeful tension focused exactly where it is needed.
You must have the faith that once you start moving, it’s going to happen.

If you allow your body to learn without interference from your mind, it will learn what it needs to perform the task
Our body knows instinctively how to move. When practicing or playing is forced, you tend to use more muscles than are necessary.
most saxophonists use much more effort than needed. They strain facial muscles that are not needed for the production of tone.

the place that puts your body into alignment so as to serve the goal of mastery.

Mastery is Available to Everyone

focused work habits, determination, and a positive outlook will compensate for talent to a surprising degree.
The specially talented are blessed (or cursed?) by the ease with which they can imbibe music, but greatness is not their exclusive property.
In fact, many people with extraordinary talent have failed to achieve greatness precisely because they could never focus and lacked discipline.

The Result: Connection to All Wisdom

I don’t get my technique from studying technique. I get it from letting my hands and arms find their way without my interference.
Effortlessness allows us to become our own teachers, paving the way to mastery.
effort gets in the way of great playing. Effort and/or lack of preparation blocks true mastery.

Horowitz came out on stage to a standing ovation. As everyone settled down, you could tell that he was also settling down: letting all the emotions, all the nerves, all the political implications subside in his mind so that mastery could emerge, and his hands would perform what they had been trained to do so well. Watching him unburden himself in this way was electrifying for me, because I understood what he was doing.
Then, with no warning, his hands began playing the Scarlatti Sonata in E Major. The camera work was wonderful. First, it showed a long shot of him, then zoomed in on his face. He was the picture of concentration. Without seeing his hands, you could hear the music, but you wouldn’t have thought he was playing. He looked like a kindly old man waiting for a bus. Then they showed his hands, and that was the strangest thing. No matter how difficult the music was, no matter how fast or slow, no matter what the challenge, the hands looked as though they were hardly moving!
They looked like little animals peacefully grazing along the keys. The picture was disorienting because there was absolutely no effort. He was just observing his hands playing the music. What sublime sound they produced, so many colors! He had absorbed the written music to the point of mindlessness, with enough expression to intoxicate the gods! I use a video of this concert frequently in my clinics so that everyone can see and hear a clear manifestation of mastery.

Same with: Bill Evans on the Creative Process.

Have Patience

For the seeker, this sunrise is a metaphor, to have patience with each stage before it evolves into the next. The sun rose in its own time. It may be slow, but it always happens.
Great patience and objectivity emanate from the inner space.
The thing is, it’s okay, no matter how long it takes.
But by practicing small amounts, chewing fully and digesting everything from the lesson, extracting from it all the vitamins possible, one becomes mighty!


Mastery is comprised of two things:

  1. Staying out of the way and letting music play itself.
    I accept whatever wants to come out. I accept it with love. I accept the good and the bad with equal love. Without the drama of needing to sound good, I play from an effortless space. This takes deprogramming and reprogramming.

  2. Being able to play the material perfectly every time without thought.
    I practice thoroughly and patiently until the material plays itself. The ego no longer terrorizes me.When the material is properly digested, it comes out in an organic way and manifests as my voice.

Effortless technique, effortless language, total acceptance of what wants to come out: these are the components of the ”master space.”