Pianist/composer Kenny Werner’s Effortless Mastery isn’t just a must-read for musicians. A mix of practical wisdom, psychospiritual musings, and cockeyed humor, the influential 1996 book can help any creative expunge “the impurities of your purpose, your playing, and your practicing.” There’s just one problem: Werner feels a key point has been widely misinterpreted—the one right there in the title.
“You’re God’s right-hand man! He will grant a miracle and you’ll be a virtuoso without any effort,” he crows halfway through his long-awaited sequel, Becoming the Instrument, with tongue firmly in cheek. “Isn’t that what Effortless Mastery means? Hell, no! Here’s what I didn’t say in my first book: It takes a lot of effort to become effortless!”
Twenty-five years after Effortless Mastery, then, we get more Werner—not just setting the record straight about the last book, but offering more compassionate guidance, more raucous encouragement, more dad jokes.
What’s he been up to since the last one? He’s stayed busy as a musician, educator, and motivational speaker, working as the Artistic Director of the Effortless Mastery Institute at Berklee College of Music. On another note, he weathered the unimaginable loss of his daughter Katheryn to a car accident in 2006, and experienced his own brush with mortality a decade later. Although he doesn’t address these events until Becoming the Instrument’s epilogue, it’s not hard to ascertain that tragedy has made him gentler, sillier, more grateful, and even more Werner-esque.
If you loved Werner’s avuncular persona in Effortless Mastery, you’re in luck—it’s now on protein shakes and steroids. He’s just as liable to make off-color jokes as he is to wax about the Inner Light; even a guided meditation contains a non sequitur about Bruno Mars. This ultimately adds to a sense of warmth and camaraderie. When he asks the reader to get really in touch with their breath, one reflexively follows along.
The only issue with Becoming the Instrument is that it could have used a more judicious editor. Much more than its predecessor (which predated the social-media age), it reads like a shaggy-dog Facebook post. Sure, the stray “LOL” is charming, but a few untruncated asides that veer dangerously close to new-age treacle—plus an inexcusable number of typos throughout—add up to speedbumps.
But don’t let these glitches dissuade you: It’s more than worth the price of admission to step inside a true character’s beautiful, off-kilter, masterly mind.