A Reading list for the Searching Musician
This is for the player who wants to go beyond the (necessarily) limited bounds of instruction books on music, and who wants to learn how to learn more easily, play more effortlessly, and understand more fully. If you are of the opinion that a book like one of these is something to read once, and then you know it, be appraised in my view that is bunk. You are very unlikely to change habits that you have maybe 20 - 30 - 40 years in the reinforcing of in a reading/ use or two. I've had an email from a (positively thinking) player who said he bought and read Mastery (below) a couple of times after seeing it listed on this website, and didn't get much out of it. He is probably right...or maybe not, maybe some seeds were planted that will sprout in time.
Expect to meet resistance to doing/ using this kind of information. Results come from using the material over and over and over, just like really learning the basics of playing the banjo, versus lots of tunes. The Persians have a saying: " A man can swallow many beliefs, but until he digests them they do not become a part of him". And results do come......
Mastery, George Leonard, ISBN 0-452-26756-0, Penguin Books, NY. George Leonard is an aikido master and president of Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. A clear discussion of what mastery is, societal pitfalls, and how to morph it into your playing. Mastery is in the process, rather than something you attain. Directly applicable to playing the banjo. Here is a quotation from it; the emphasis is his:
"How do you best move toward mastery? To put it simply, you practice diligently, but you practice primarily for the sake of the practice itself. Rather than being frustrated while on the plateau, you learn to appreciate and enjoy it just as much as you do the upward surges."
Zen Guitar, Philip Sudo, ISBN 978-0684838779, Fireside/ Simon and Schuster, NY. Substitute "Banjo" for "Guitar" in the title and throughout the book. A stunning companion to Mastery, above. These two could be your musical lifeline.... for the rest of your life. Here is a quotation from the first chapter:
"I believe that learning to play the (banjo) is inseparable from learning to harmonize mind, body and spirit. To truly play from your soul, you must have all aspects of yourself working together as one."
The Art of Practice, by Lance Giroux with Jeanna Gabellini, audio CD or eBook, $20 each. A similar look at learning mastery in an audio format. Available at Lance's site (www.lancegiroux.com/products/), PO Box 931, Petaluma CA 94953. Lance is one of my long time mentors, and also often collaborates with George Leonard on projects and seminars. If you use this material to learn to interrupt your ineffective practice habits, it will be some of the best money you have ever spent.
One of the most effective and easy tools I know of is to run cassette tapes in my car. I have about 5-6 tapes of this type I just let run until I get the urge to put in a different one. The Art of Practice is one of these. Basic concepts, just like practicing the basics of music...over and over..my plan is to wear them out. It is not about being entertained or amused.
Effortless Mastery, Kenny Werner, ISBN 1-56224-003-X, Jamey Aebersold Jazz, PO Box 1244, New Albany IN 47151-1244. Book and CD. Wonderful, effective.
Body and Soul, Frank Conroy, ISBN 0-385-31986-X, Dell Publishing, NY. Some excellent wisdom in a current best selling novel. Good story line too, accurate musically (with one tiny exception, but so what?).
The Artists Way, ISBN 1585421464 a book by Julia Cameron, and involves a 12 week program where you write 3 pages of longhand in a notebook each morning along with some other support activities. It will get inside you, so that you find out more of what could help your musical learnings. It does require the commitment to do; I found it took about 10 hours a week total. I feel I have been dramatically rewarded for my time invested, and I continue to be.
The two tape Artist's Way set, ISBN 0874778522, is also one of the ones in my car.
Time For A Change, Richard Bandler, ISBN 0-916990-28-1, Meta Publications, PO Box 1910, Capitola CA, 95010. Advanced, info about learning time distortion which will ease real time improvisation and sight reading.
The Einstein Factor, Win Wenger, ISBN 978-0761501862, Prima Publishing, PO BOX 1260, Rocklin CA, 95677. Especially the section starting on p. 212.
Self Transformation Through Music, Joanne Crandall, ISBN 0-8356-0608-2, Theosophical Publishing House, 306 West Geneva Rd, Wheaton Il 60187. Some of the musical exercises yielded very surprising results for me.
The Listening Book, William Mathieu, ISBN 0-87773-610-3, Shambala, Boston. An owners manual for anyone with ears. Music is about listening, right?
Not Pulling Strings, Joseph O'Connor, ISBN 0-9512155-0-7, Lambent Books, London. Deals with the interactions of teacher and student learning a stringed instrument, and the socially imprinted impediments to learning well. Difficult to find in the US, was published by Metamorphous Press, now out of print in the US.
The Art of the Possible, Dawna Markova, ISBN 0-943233-12-7, Conari Press, 1339 61st Street, Emeryville, CA 94608. Offers insight into how different people learn.
The The Power of Your Other Hand, Lucia Capacchione, ISBN 0-87877-130-1, Newcastle Publishing Co., PO Box 7589, Van Nuys CA 91409. A guide to using your non dominant hand to enhance creativity.
The Inner Game of Music, Barry Greene, ISBN 0-385-23126-1. A clone of The Inner Game of Tennis for musicians.
Harmonic Experience - W. Matthieu. ISBN 978-0892815609, Inner Traditions International, One Park Street, Rochester VT, 05767. His opus magnum, leads you you through a graphic structure and singing in just intonation to a very deep understanding of both just and even tempered intonations and why they both are useful. A guide for becoming one with tone. Not for the dabbler of faint of heart...while the cover price may seem high, the real price is doing it... and I'm just starting on this. I make no claim to "knowing" here, having gone first, etc. There is a discussion group on the net too, you can Google for it.
Underground History of American Education, John Taylor Gatto, Oxford Village Press, ISBN 0-945-70004-0, $34.95. How and why American education was dumbed down over the last century and produces incomplete people who have difficulty learning stuff. It validates and documents what I figured out over thirty years, and also happens to illuminate for me how my father was fighting a rearguard action during the 20 years he was in charge of high school mathematics for the State of New York. Part of your life's work to read, study, and use as a self modifying catalyst with you in charge.
For the mathematically adept and determined:
On the Sensation of Tone, Hermann Helmholtz, ISBN 0-486-60753-4, Dover Publications, NY. Yes, physicists, this is THAT Helmholtz.
Music and the Power of Sound, Alain Daniélou, ISBN 0-89281-336-9, Inner Traditions International, One Park Street, Rochester VT, 05767. The derivation leading to the circle of fifths naturally yielding the number 666 is forced on p. 36-37; the numbers don't work out this way without changing the rules of the derivation a bit. (Harry Partch shows how in his magnum opus, Genesis of a Music). I suspect this derivation giving 666 kept some guy in food and drink in a court somewhere in the Dark or Middle Ages, and I have absolutely no proof of it. The book is still worthwhile and a VERY unique source on scales and alternate music systems. It is a reprint of the old rare book that Bill Keith used to refer to in his banjo workshops around 1980.
In December 2017, most of the prices were removed from this page because they were over 10 years old. Current prices are higher in some cases and lower in others, plus now there are a variety of formats including e-books. As a substitute for prices, the ISBN numbers are now links to Amazon.
Last Updated 15 Jul 2006 by PJH
Edited 22 Dec 2017 by WF