For most of my life, I’ve been entirely focused on drums. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but I wasn’t a reader. At all. After I graduated from high school I didn’t read a single book that wasn’t musical notation. I’d left school with the impression that reading was at best an assignment filled with useless facts to remember only as long as was needed to pass a test. Picking up a book simply felt like homework.
After more than a decade and a half of playing music for a living, my headspace wasn’t quite the “living the dream” experience I had always imagined it to be. I was doing plenty of great projects and I had knocked out my entire list of life goals more than once. I had drum tunnel vision, spending every waking moment either playing, practicing, teaching, or writing. I thought this was the best path to achieve my goals. For all intents and purposes, my career seemed to reinforce this message. In hindsight, I didn’t see that I was actually missing something.
By Kenny Werner
The moment my resistance to reading lifted was on a long drive to a gig out of town with a guitar player friend of mine. He seemed to radiate a new level of chill I’d never seen come from him before. On the drive, we got to talking about life, and specifically mindset. He told me about a book called Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner that really helped him with some of his issues, both on and off the instrument. This sounded like exactly the type of thing I needed.
The following day I went and bought a copy of Effortless Mastery. I was still a little apprehensive about reading but I was trying to keep an open mind. Little did I know, the following moments would grip me into the book and make a reading addict out of me almost immediately. The book opens with “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.’”
The concept of this book is that mastery is something that is available to everyone. The book goes on to explain many of the mental and emotional things we go through as artists, and offers clear direction on how to shift yourself onto a path toward mastery. Even things in my head where I thought I was alone were addressed directly. The best part is that you’ll learn to treat yourself better. It not only opened up music to me in a way that I found immensely helpful, but this new path has also helped me evolve into a better person!
Not bad for the first book I had ever read recreationally!
In Effortless Mastery, Werner references many more relevant books for artists in any discipline at any stage of their development. That’s my favorite thing about non-fiction: almost every book I enjoy leads to numerous others! Two of my favorites (although there are many more) are Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel and Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovich.
Zen in the Art of Archery was the next book I read. The author, Eugen Herrigel is a German philosophy professor. While teaching at the University of Tokyo, he took it upon himself to take up Zen, which in Japan is learned through art forms such as archery. Learning in this way is more about spiritual growth through an art form. I was fascinated to find an uncanny parallel between musical headspace and what Eugen describes in some of his experiences learning archery and, more specifically, Zen.
Free Play embodies the concept of art for art’s sake. It discusses the creative process and dives deep into improvisation. I even learned one of my favorite words from this book: “galumphing”! Nachmanovich explains, “Galumphing is the seemingly useless elaboration and ornamentation of activity. It is profligate, excessive, exaggerated, uneconomical. We galumph when we hop instead of walk, when we take the scenic route instead of the efficient one, when we play a game whose rules demand a limitation of our powers, when we are interested in means rather than an end. We voluntarily create obstacles in our path and then enjoy overcoming them.” It’s not just fun to say, it’s an accurate description of how I feel when I’m exploring and improvising in music.
Since Effortless Mastery first got me hooked on reading, I’ve amassed a library with hundreds of books that I’ve found helpful. Here’s a short list of a few more books in a similar vein you should add to your reading list:
By Victor Wooten
This one is a little bit strange. Within the first few pages, Victor exclaims, “To my friends: This is the book you’ve been waiting for. It’s probably not what you expected but believe me, what you asked for is here. It’s up to you to find it.” A massively insightful read, despite being completely bizarre!
By Dan Millman
Another book in the line of personal and spiritual growth through developing an art form, it’s written from the perspective of an Olympic gymnast. This is an especially helpful read for anyone who holds too much body tension while playing. There’s even a list of stretches inside that I use daily.
By Rich Redmond
In this book, Rich breaks down his “CRASH” acronym (Commitment, Relationships, Attitude, Skills, and Hunger) in-depth and describes how to use each of these in all areas of your life. Written by one of the hardest working drummers in the industry, his perspective is a must-read for any drummer looking to enhance their skills and mindset!
By Bernie Schallen
This book includes exactly what the title suggests, but is the only book on the list written by a drummer for drummers. Goal setting, band dynamics, and motivation are some interesting topics discussed here.
If you want to learn more about “liberating the master musician within”, I’ll leave you with a lesson from Kenny Werner. I know it’s not drums, but I promise it’s worth your time!
By Jared Falk and Brandon Toews
If you’re looking for books every drummer should read, we had to shamelessly include ours. This book includes a 30-day pass to Drumeo Edge, and while it’s geared toward beginner drummers, it’s a great refresher on many concepts for experienced players and educators! You can pick up a copy right here.
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