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On Playing Effortlessly, Unconsciously, and 'In the Zone'

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by The Clap, Jun 10, 2005.

  1. The Clap

    The Clap

    Jan 5, 2004
    Scottsdale, AZ

    I've been reading in a book I ordered off of Amazon entitled Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner about exactly what his work's title would imply, playing the bass effortlessly. Werner has a really well-developed narrative going on, but after a while you learn that it effectively involves (among many concurrent things) watching yourself playing, as if from a 3rd person camera, and performing the motions of musical instrumentation from a somewhat unconcious sense of instruction.

    After digesting what he had to say about that, I redoubled my efforts to play everything I learned more slowly and as perfectly as possible; that's how I figured to best improve my muscle memory via this unconscious instruction(, this 'Effortless Mastery'). To be honest though, I only lifted a few ideas from the book and didn't read through to the end, so I'm not looking to discuss the book itself. Rather, I'm thinking about effortless mastery as a habit and how it can be learned, maintained, lost, etc.

    I can feel a definite difference between playing a concerted attempt at a passage, and playing out an effortless flow of one's soul, inner voice, you know. Of course I like playing with soulful intention much more, and I want to know what the methods are for people who do this regularly. I've been having good results with some of Wevner's ideas, the chiefest of which are to:

    1:cool:Believe that the notes you play will be the most beautiful and perfect notes they can be, even before you've played them. It can be helpful to repeat a positive mantra, I.E. "I am an effortless master." or something less cheesy if you prefer, but the point is: if you don't already consider yourself a bass god in a humble, musical way, you should start to. You need complete confidence in what you're playing; you can't second guess your inner music very easily, (and especially not at high tempos ;) ,) so just let it ride. But how do you do that? Not just drugs guys and dolls, but-

    2:oops: Meditate. I've found meditation to be pretty useful in dampening my mind and letting music flow. As Werner recommends it, you should have your hands off the instrument, all limbs totally relaxed, close your eyes and think about every part of your body from head to toe -- just think about relaxing it and take very deep breaths. Especially think about relaxing the parts of your hands/fingers. When I do this, I only just focus on relaxing my hands, and I find it's pretty easy to get in the mode with a deep breath or two after practicing for a couple of months now. It's hard to stay in such a relaxed state as you start playing, and when it slips, you're supposed to take your hands off of the instrument and regain mental clarity. I find it's pretty difficult to stay in the zone meditation-wise while playing new and challenging passages, but keeping relaxed and mentally open for longer periods is probably a goal to work towards.

    Of course it's not practical to stop and meditate in a live situation, but just practicing this at home has helped me make good progress. I heard that Jaco visualized the sign for infinity, a sideways 8, while he played, and I thought that was interesting as well. I think I've raised too many questions already though, so I'll cut it down and ask for informed comment and exploration of effortless playing, and the proper musical state of mind. I didn't really go in-depth with anything, so questions on topics raised and further exploration of these ideas would be great!
  2. Joe Beets

    Joe Beets Guest

    Nov 21, 2004
    Yes, I suppose that might work. A strong cup of coffee and three shots of whiskey does the trick for me. ;)
  3. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I'm all for anything that works, including this. You have to have a positive attitude to do anything with music, and if this gets you one, nothing wrong with that.
  4. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    That seems like a whole lot of thought and effort going into making something effortless. Incredibly complicated sounding also - so of course it has me intrigued. :) I think I'm going to check out the book.

    I believe effortlessness comes from years of playing, knowing yer stuff, and being able to just really listen and connect with the music.

    Time, also - in every sense of the word.
  5. Effortless Mastery made a big impression on me, and helped me take my music to the next level.

    Rather than working on things that you can play using all your effort (I.E. Playing and E dorian scale up and down 3 octaves in 1 second), concentrate on building up the things you can play effortlessly.

    I went to one of Kenny Werner's clinics not too long ago, and he said some eye-opening things. He also demonstrated the things you can do if you're relaxed, which included playing Moment's Notice up-tempo in 4/4, 5/4, 7/4, and 9/4.

    However, I don't think Kenny Werner meant to play "unconsciously", exactly. It's good to be able to play on "auto-pilot mode", but I think the whole idea of that is to get to the place where your mind can be completely free to think while you play (so it's not like you're thinking "E dorian"... "D lydian"... etc.).

    So here are some of my tips that may have not been covered in Effortless Mastery, but certainly are of the same sort of advice:

    #1 Breathe! A lot of times we hold our breaths while we play; I'm not kidding. Make it a point before playing a fast, hard phrase, the beginning of a solo, or even just the start of a song, to take one long, deep breath. Don't cheat yourself on the exhale, either (as this is the most important part). Make it one long audible sigh. I find it does wonders in my playing. Lately using this technique I've been able to play those fast, hard phrases perfectly without making nervous mess ups.

    My second and final tip is to do with nervousness. I learned this from lessons on giving speeches (musicians should learn about public speaking skills, because there is a lot in common with performing). When you're nervous you have a whole lot of extra adrenalin. If you don't make use of it, it will aid you in making mistakes. So don't just stand there. Jump around! Use that energy in your playing! Run in circles around the drums (if you have wireless -- actually, even if you don't have wireless that'd be fun, too), do jumping jacks between songs, and leap to-and-fro on the stage during your solo. Okay, maybe that's a bit overboard, but I think you get the idea.
  6. Mystic Michael

    Mystic Michael Hip No Ties

    Apr 1, 2004
    New York, NY
    Intuitively, it makes a lot of sense to me. With any kind of performance, the challenge is at least 50% mental - maybe more. So anything you can do to first prepare yourself cognitively, emotionally & spiritually is a good thing to do.

    Unlike a lot of other TBers, I haven't done any formal study on the bass - although I'd had some years of musical training in school band. So when I picked up the instrument, I intuitively began to use some of these techniques, in order to "get in touch with my inner bassist" - without consciously thinking about what I was doing, for the most part...

    One other point I will add: I really like the notion of playing "with complete confidence". Maybe more than any other instrument, the bass demands to be played with confidence - and authority. That's where a lot of its power comes from - the authoritative sound of the instrument itself, yes. But most especially when the player is focused, conscious & confident enough to use the instrument's voice to speak with authority :cool:

    Good stuff, Clap!

  7. The Clap

    The Clap

    Jan 5, 2004
    Scottsdale, AZ
    Definitely, this is what I started doing after reading the first half of effortless mastery.
    I couldn't agree more. Certainly what Werner suggests is far from the psychological definition of the unconscious; I meant to use the word in my first post as colloquial shorthand.
    Yes, I actually need to work on my breathing while playing - good advice

    Joe Nerve - I was turned onto this book by someone on this forum. As I recall, it was actually you, but I'm probably mistaken. Anyhow, from the posts of yours that I've read, it seems you'd really like the book. It definitely explores aspects of playing music that don't get enough attention normally.
  8. heavyfunkmachin


    Jan 21, 2005
  9. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    This is great, provided you've already put in the effort. Because no amount of meditation will help you hear that 4 chord without putting in the time....
  10. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    If you are interested in this kind of thing you might also check out "The Inner Game of Music" by Barry Green (a fine bassist) and "The Inner Game of Tennis" by Timothy Galway (in no way a musician).

    What it has to do with is after something is learn then you have to control your thoughts so that you 'get out of the way' of your body and mind doing a task. Its an interesting thing..... and it works.
  11. kesslari

    kesslari Groovin' with the Big Dogs Staff Member Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2007
    Santa Cruz Mtns, California
    Lark in the Morning Instructional Videos; Audix Microphones
    Very interesting thread. I'll play with some of this.
    "Effortless" is the opposite of "trying too hard", and I've known that "trying too hard" can drag your abilities down in virtually any field - just this week one of the guys I shoot archery with was talking about that very topic. His shooting had improved markedly out of a slump he had been in - when I asked him about it he said "I was trying too hard before, now I'm letting myself relax and have fun".
  12. is to play the part in my head without the bass. Mentally hear the notes, feel the fingerings and visualize it all happening. This is incredible practice for focus, and for working through hard passages. And for helping me decide what is going to work and not. I sometimes think it works better than actually having the bass in my hands, and, for sure, is great for when you can't practice.

    Want to try something really hard? Do that. Play through the song in your head, just as if you are recording it, with no errors, no stops and no distractions.

  13. Might as well add Michael Murphy's "Golf in the Kingdom" to that list. :)
  14. Guest043

    Guest043 Guest

    Apr 8, 2008
    i dont want my live shows to be played "effortlessly." i get into the zone by giving every ounce of effort i've got. but thats just me..
  15. Joel S.

    Joel S. Reserved for future witty use...

    Jul 9, 2008
    You're misunderstanding. When you play something effortlessly it doesn't mean you're not putting forth effort, it means you're not FORCING yourself. Music sounds much more natural when the musicians are relaxed, if you're forcing yourself it'll tend to sound rushed and nervous.

    Interesting thread, I know I play better when i'm relaxed and just hearing the music. There are certain songs that I play MUCH better when I'm relaxed even though they're really fast lines. It's hard to consciously get to that point, and because my mind wanders sometimes when I get to that point I jump out of it on accident.
  16. msquared


    Sep 19, 2004
    Kansas City
  17. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    The funny thing my buddy Dan likes to say, in response to a lot of what is written in the book, is " According to Kenny, the only reason I can't speak fluent Japanese is because I'm not relaxed enough."

    Now there are some great things in there; the whole idea of not getting emotionally or intellectually wrapped up in what you're playing, maintaining that objective awareness without that critical, subjective voice is an important one. But, as PACSTER says, no amount of attitude, confidence etc. is going to replace working on hearing with clarity and improving your physical approach to your instrument.

    The other thing that Dan says, is that Kenny kind of glosses over the fact that he was basically a child prodigy. So for him, yes maybe the most difficult hurdle to overcome was a mental/psychological one. For us mere mortals, getting the instrument to NOT be an impediment at the same time that we're trying to turn our aural environment into one that makes some kind of sense is a step we can't skip.

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