Book Notes #1: “Effortless Mastery” (By Kenny Werner)

by | Mar 17, 2022

This is the first book I have read in a while.

I picked it up because a friend who is a musician recommended it. Though this is a book about learning an instrument, it has useful insights for anyone who is learning a craft or trying to improve oneself.

Effortless Mastery
By Kenny Werner


Here are 7 takeaways:

  • We all have music inside us
    Werner believes that anyone who can talk, can also play. We determine whether folks have musical talent at a young age. But there are late bloomers. And you don’t have to be the second coming of Mozart. One doesn’t have to fear playing music.

    A person might give up playing for reasons of insufficient talent, when upon closer inspection it becomes clear that the problem was the mode of study, or the lack thereof.


  • Intro Screed
    In the book’s introduction, Werner sounds off on television and consumerism. I didn’t love this section because I wanted to get to the self-mastery part. At least when you read this section, you’ll get a better understanding of Werner’s opinions and development as a young musician. He is a gifted artist, and he’s shares these abundant gifts with others through his performance and philosophy. 


  • One note meticulousness
    Werner spent months learning how to play one note. He studied piano with Madame Chaloff. That they focused on one thing with such meticulousness helped Werner understand the importance of singular focus.

    She taught the perfect way to drop a finger. This was my first introduction to effortlessness…Madame Chaloff was a real stickler for the perfect drop of the finger. I spent months learning to play one note. I think that once or twice I got it right, and we actually went on to the second finger! Madame Chaloff was very one-pointed in her focus. Music was about playing for God.


  • Be nice to yourself
    During practice, it’s easy to turn on yourself. Negative self-talk is also self-defeating. Werner exhorts that one should be kind to oneself.

    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.


  • Music is part of nature
    There is something intrinsic about music. It’s been part of human history. It was also a primary method of communication among our ancestors. It is part of our oral tradition of passing down facts, lessons, insights, myths. We are composed of vibrations.

    “A study of ancient traditions reveals that the first divine messages were given in song, as were the Psalms of David, the Song of Solomon, the Gathas of Zoroaster and the Gita of Krishna.”4 So writes Hazrat Inayat Khan, the great Sufi musician.”

  • Embrace the surrender 

    To achieve effortless mastery, you have to surrender your desire to sound good. Because that is ego-driven. You have to play for the sake of playing – and let the consequences be what they are. Of course you need to practice and put in the work. But ultimately, it’s about letting go and detaching from wanting to sound brilliant.

    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 that most people can prove through their own experience.


  • Stick with it
    Play a piece until it’s second nature. You can close your eyes and perform it effortlessly without any mistakes. That’s the true definition of mastery. It takes work, for sure.

    It takes what it takes. The fact is that if you don’t stay with the material long enough for it to become comfortable, you’ll find that it doesn’t stay with you. Then you will truly be wasting your time! It really doesn’t pay to move on until something is mastered.





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