Werner, Kenny. Efortless mastery

Werner, K. (1996). Effortless mastery: Liberating the master musician within. New Albany: JAMEY AEBERSOLD JAZZ, INC.

(The realm of the gifted has always seemed to be an exclusive club. The
common belief is that, ”Some of us have it, some of us don’t.” Implicit in
that statement is the assumption that ”most of us don’t.” The way music
(and, I suspect other subjects as well) is traditionally taught works for those
who ”have it.” Only very gifted or advanced students absorb the language
of music in the way it is usually taught. Perhaps two percent of all music
students ever attain anything. Many others struggle with the various
elements of playing or improvising and as a result do not become
performers. (Werner:1996;9)

We don’t seem to have given much
thought to this discrepancy, simply accepting the old adage, ”some of us
have it and some of us don’t.” In cultures less intruded upon by
”civilization,” everyone is a musician. It has much to do with how music is
introduced into our lives. (Werner:1996;9)

The exercises will help people on different levels in different ways. For example,
there are good players who, for some reason, have little impact when they play.
Everything works fine. They are ”swinging” and all that, but still, something is not
landing in the hearts of their audience. They are trapped in their minds. There is
no nectar, because they are merely plotting and planning an approach along
acceptable, ”valid” lines of jazz style. The same thing commonly occurs to
classical performers. They don’t know what ”channeling creativity” is because
they, too, are 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.” I will
introduce exercises for achieving that goal in music. After one taste of moksha
through the medium of music, one will never want to return to a life of ”thinking
music.” As one moves beyond the acceptable to the inevitable, creativity flows.
Personal power will increase manyfold. (Werner:1996;10)

(though music is commonly regarded as a gift from the gods, many suffer great pain and fear in attempting to play it. But this fear is quite irrational. 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. (pag 51)

Stephen Nachmanovich, in his book, Free Play, writes of five fears that the Buddhists speak of that block our liberation: fear of loss of life; fear of loss of livelihood; fear of loss of reputation; fear of unusual states of mind; and fear of speaking before an assembly. He points out that fear of speaking before an assembly may seem light compared with the others, but we may take that to mean speaking up, or performing. Our fear of performing is ”profoundly related to fear of foolishness, which has two parts: fear of being thought a fool (loss of reputation) and fear of actually being a fool (fear of unusual states of mind).” (pag 52)

 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. The drive to assuage those fears derails the quest for mastery.
Where does fear originate? From the mind? Yes, but not the ”universal mind,” or the ”over mind,” or the ”collective unconscious.” Rather, fear originates in our ”little mind.” One may call that little mind the ego. Let us set aside the Freudian and post-Freudian debate on what the ego is or isn’t. 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. (pag 53)

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. (pag 53)

Here is another example of fear sabotaging your playing: Let’s say you have
been practicing something for a while, and you have a great desire to hear
yourself play it in performance; in fact, you feel pressured to play it. Why?
Because you want to convince yourself that your practicing wasn’t a waste of
time. So ready or not, you will play it! You’ll get it in there somehow. But like a
cake that hasn’t been fully baked, it comes out raw. You have fallen into an ego
trap and sound terrible. Had the piece you were practicing been fully absorbed, it
would have come out naturally and enhanced your performance. But if you had
to think about it, it wasn’t ”ready to serve.” Your sight was clouded by ego in this
case. Fear of wasting your time (pag 54)

Bobby McFerrin said in a workshop that ”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. (pag 56)

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. (pag 57)

The fear of composing, like fear of playing, is irrational. The source is the same: fear of writing bad compositions. 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. It must be said again and again: without the need for self-validation, talent and acquired knowledge flow naturally. (pag 73)

Other elements can be varied as well. For example, you can harmonize a melody, then get rid of the melody and write a new one to the harmony. Then you can re-harmonize that melody, and you have created two melodies and two sets of changes from the embryo. Now you can modify those progressions and melodies in many other ways. Bob Brookmeyer talks about polishing the music: you polish and polish through variation, until it shines with continuity. But I would add that you must resist as long as possible the temptation to make ”a piece” out of it. Just keep doodling. The longer you resist identifying the piece, the more ”stuff happens.” As you detach, the piece seems to ”write itself.” And this is very important: you must feel free to throw things away! (pag 74)

Try writing three bad pieces a day. I bet you can’t do it. Your talent will sabotage you and cause some great music to come out! Another composer-friend of mine told me, ”Kenny, I know that that just doesn’t work. I’ve written a ton of bad pieces over the last thirty years, and it hasn’t done anything for me.” I said to him, ”Ah yes, but did you ever try to write a bad piece? That is the liberation that I’m talking about!” (pag 75)

As I said before, 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. And your self-absorption doesn’t necessarily manifest itself in most obvious ways. For example, you may think you’re humble because you put yourself down all the time, but you’re still caught up in ego because you have to be self-centered in the extreme to feel that bad about yourself! 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.” (pag 75)