Kenny Werner's Effortless Mastery

Anyone read and\or had experience with a book called Effortless Mastery by jazz pianist Kenny Werner? I read the book a number of times over the years but I’ve never been able to apply it. But now I’m taking a weekly 12 week zoom course with him and it’s very excellent.

He deals with playing on the level of the mind\brain\ego getting in the way of the body’s natural ability to play an instrument. Introduces exercises to create new neural pathways to replace the ones many of us have developed over the years that are based on fear, shame, ego, self image, etc. Basically associates playing the instrument with relaxation and expression. It sounds kinda woo woo, but it’s not. Ask high level sports technique coaches. It’s neurology.

If you’ve ever played stuff well at home and then frozen up on the gig, or had red light fever when you can’t play your parts when the tape is rolling, this is right up your alley.

It’s very much in the realm of neurology\psychology\brain science. Nothing to do with licks and scales, etc, which is refreshing. Anyway, the older I get the more I realize relaxation and headspace is one of the most important things to playing smoothly, fast and well. And with purpose. Good stuff! Highly recommend.



I read it many, many years ago - due for another go, as I only recall it vaguely.

So you feel this Zoom course has helped you actually apply the concepts in Effortless Mastery?

Yeah, in a broad sense. I mean in the sense that it’s relaxing my body and making my playing more fluid. It’s not tied DIRECTLY A-B-C to Cracking the Code concepts specifically or anything, but it’s helping my overall fluidity so I thought some folks here might find it interesting.

I know players who are fluid from Day One, and have always been able to play circles around me, so God bless those guys. But I’ve always been clunkier than I wanted and this helps me a ton.

But I guess the answer is emphatically ‘yes’, it’s helping my playing a ton, especially live where Ive always tended to stiffen up under pressure.


I read it and attended a clinic he did at my college around 2000 I believe. I believe his concepts are true, especially about music students often associating their instrument with stress and stress responses.

I believe that was the case for me as I studied guitar performance in college. I only in recent years feel like I began to associate the instrument with relaxation and joy etc…

I believe his approach is a worthwhile discipline.

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Relaxing was something I once struggled mightily with. When attempting to play something difficult, my instinct was to approach it like it was the same as trying to deadlift 500lbs. After all, if something is physically difficult, that means you need to bite down and brute force your way through it, right? Of course, that is the exact opposite of how one should approach playing a musical instrument, and I lost years of potential advancement because of my wrong thinking. Luckily I eventually got on the right track, but I wish I’d come across a book like this earlier.

To expound a little more: I’d always heard you were supposed to relax, and I would indeed try to, but I never appreciated that “relax” actually means completely and fully relaxed. My subconscious was always telling me that when trying to play something technically challenging, there should be at least some feeling of effort present. It should always feel like you’re “trying” to play, which is as self-defeating as it gets.

I only achieved full relaxation after I stopped forcing myself to play faster than I could play without tension. That’s why I’m not a fan of the “start off playing fast” advice. While that might work well for those who are naturally loosey-goosey, for those like me who have struggled with tension, it’s terrible advice.


I’ve been inspired by this post to re-read this now, and am about halfway through. It really couldn’t have come at a better time.

@WhammyStarScream I think this book may resonate with you, if you haven’t read it.

Very helpful post. Glad I signed up for the masters class. Seeing improvement already…cheers

I read Effortless Mastery about 10 years ago and it had a profound impact on me at the time. I also purchased the Effortless Mastery and Effortless Harmony DVDs Kenny put out, which are great.

However, the method never totally clicked with me, and particularly with regards to guitar, I found it quite a tedious process to undertake.

I would really like to hear about some of your experiences and specific improvements you found from using Effortless Mastery, and even how this new course compares to the material already out there.

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When someone enthusiastically recommends a book which makes extraordinary claims, one of the first things I like to do is check out negative reviews on Amazon for balance. While negative reviews aren’t always informative, sometimes you can find negative reviews with an interesting and thoughtful point of view. One 1-star reviewer had this to say, in part:

“This book will not help you master anything. It simply seeks to define “mastery” as “that which you can do without effort.” So, it just tries to teach you how to play effortlessly, which really boils down to: “play ‘easier’ stuff and branch out more slowly.””
“The main takeaway of this book would be like if Phoebe Buffay wrote a book on running: “Run like you’re a kid – just run around, flail your arms, have a good time.” If you’re a marathon runner that stresses out about running and takes it way too seriously, maybe you need Phoebe’s book to reconnect with your love for running. If you’re an amateur runner that actually needs to learn how to run effectively…not so much.”

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