Urban Dharma Newsletter...
May 25, 2004
This Issue: Zen Guitar
1. "Zen guitar" will mean different things to different
people ...by Clarelynn Rose
2. Forever Zen ...Craig Smoot
3. Temple/Center/Website: The Zen Guitar Dojo
4. Book/CD/Movie: eBook - Zen
and the Art of Guitar: A Path to Guitar Mastery
guitar is a small orchestra. It is polyphonic. Every string
is a different color, a different voice. / Andre Segovia
your body forward slightly to support the guitar against your
chest, for the poetry of the music should resound in your
heart. / Andre Segovia
"Zen guitar" will mean different things to different
people ...by Clarelynn Rose/Heartwood Music
of the cornerstones of Zen Guitar is that, as we are unique
people, so will our experience with the guitar be unique.
Each person discovers his or her own way.
my experience, the practice of Zen guitar means many things.
new technique arises out of need and direct experience. When
you have a musical idea that cannot be adequately expressed
through techniques or tunings you already know, that is the
time to experiment with new techniques or new tunings. These
may be techniques or tunings you discover for yourself. Or
perhaps you have heard someone else do something that deeply
resonates with you musically. Often these ideas or tunings
will come to mind when you are pushing your usual boundaries.
Or they may resonate so strongly with you that they themselves
my own experience, I learned simply by playing what sounded
good to my ear, using technique that feels very natural and
comfortable to my own fingers. As I have needed to express
more complex musical ideas, the technique has come very organically
through practicing licks or techniques that were slightly
beyond my grasp. If something doesn't come naturally, I figure
it will always sound a little stilted and so look for another
way to play it. Of course, sometimes someone will demonstrate
a cool technique or tuning that completely captures my imagination,
so even if it doesn't feel completely natural, I'll work at
it to see if after a lot of practice it starts to feel right.
But if it still feels awkward, the decision is always to drop
it. Zen guitar is about finding a true, very natural voice,
not about making every voice sound natural and true to a single
you start to play, take a breath. Just as in meditation, it
helps you (and other listening to you) focus on the present
moment and the music being played.
has many aspects, extending to composing, practicing, and
performing. In composing, it might mean being aware of the
value of and using emptiness and space. It also means recognizing
and valuing the peaceful, centered feeling that Zen guitar
music can generate, whether the music is mellow or joyous.
Another example is that mindfulness can foster a feeling of
completeness with only one instrument. There is no need to
fill up the spaces in the music and our minds with a lot of
instruments or a driving drumbeat.In practicing guitar, another
manifestation of mindfulness is to expect and even welcome
mistakes. They contain wonderful ideas. And in performing,
mindfulness can mean things like remembering to connect with
the audience and to remain humble, recognizing ourselves simply
as a conduit of music.
I use space in several ways. Most obvious is the use long
pauses and sustained notes in many of my pieces. A different
kind of space is letting compositions "breathe",
taking as much time as they need to develop. Nothing is rushed,
because if a composition is forced, it will sound forced.
When practicing, I listen to mistakes and then decide whether
or not to discard them. And in performing, I constantly remind
myself that the true purpose of performing is for the benefit
of others, connecting with people through a shared musical
Zen guitar is about exploring a way to communicate with others.
Those of us exploring Zen guitar are blessed with an inclination
towards music, a desire to play, and some level of natural
talent. These are gifts to be shared with others. A second
aspect of humility is to recognize that all things are our
teacher, and that techings that will allow us to advance in
our study of guitar are all around us all the time.
important lesson came from my Tai Chi teacher in China years
ago. It is an old Chinese saying: "The ten thousand things
(all things) become my teacher." That is, you have something
to learn from every person and every thing. That includes
beginning guitarists and even people who don't play guitar.
One of my important lessons in playing guitar came from an
autistic child who could hardly utter a word. The Zen guitarist
tries to remain open to all teachers.
Music is the label owned and operated by Clarelynn Rose, established
in 1999 in Ukiah, California.
Music donates 10% or more of profits to environmental education
programs, with over $500 donated to date. The goal is to raise
another $425 in 2004, bringing the cumulative donation total
to over $1,000.
programs include the Forestry Institute for Teachers (FIT)
and the Redwood Valley Outdoor Education Project (RVOEP).
Through her work as a forester, Clarelynn has been part of
the governing boards of both organizations, and she believes
very strongly in the need to financially support quality,
hands-on environmental education.
Music's two albums, The Redwood Sidthe and Elegant Tern, reflect
Clarelynn's unique life experiences in the woods, in China,
and at the Buddhist monastery. A self-taught fingerstyle guitarist,
Clarelynn lives in California's redwood country.
living and working in China between 1985 and 1993, Clarelynn
taught herself Mandarin Chinese. Her two-and-a-half years
in China included work with the Chinese Academy of Forestry
in Beijing, conducting thesis research on forest management
in southern China, and teaching English in Sichuan and Zhejiang
Provinces. She currently serves as an advisor to the Research
Center for Women & Management of Natural Resources of
the Linan Forestry College in Zhejiang Province.
a practicing Buddhist who has taken the five precepts, Clarelynn
finds time for daily chanting and meditating. She attends
the Abhayagiri Monastery (Ajahn Chah tradition) in Redwood
Valley and the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Talmage, California.
In 2001, she returned to China on a consulting job for SmartWood
and while there made a pilgrimage to Putuo Mountain in China,
where she wrote Song of Putuo Mountain.
Forever Zen ...Craig Smoot
initially created this page years ago as an information resource
based on the teachings of PHILIP TOSHIO SUDO that I discovered
in his book ZEN GUITAR. His book showed me "The Way"
to help me help myself in order to attain my musical goals
and find the true musician inside.
is just a sample of what you'll find in Phil's fantastic book,
ZEN GUITAR. It's a synopsis I came up with for my own personal
use, but it contains all of Phil's primary points as found
within the book's pages (reprinted with permission). I hope
you get as much out of it as I have.
Guitar - The Twelve Points of Focus
Don’t ask, practice.
properly... and the rest falls into place.
Seven times down, eight times up.
defeatist thoughts; visualize "burning away" any
negative thoughts as if they were words on a piece of paper.
The only opponent is within.
are not what matter, but rather, how we respond to them does.
Above all, always feel the "one"!
cannot feel rhythm with your mind; you must feel it with your
Play without having to think about technique.
main focus should be on playing with the proper spirit.
First, you must have something to say.
a player with crude technique has more to say than one with
impeccable technique. Whose song is more uplifting?
Zen is known through the ears and heart, not the rational
correct "Way" is found in the spirit of the expression
and its depth, not its complexity.
Do not allow knowledge to interfere with the naturalness that
play. If it feels right, it is right.
Don’t be too self-conscious when playing.
the mind becomes too preoccupied with what the hands are doing,
it shuts out the music inside.
Overcome self-consciousness through practice.
practice, our muscles develop their own intelligence to the
point where thought and action occur simultaneously (i.e.,
Perfect practice makes perfect!
Learn from mistakes as soon as they happen.
them into the artistic process, and use them as a spring-board
into new areas of discovery.
Remember: Accidents can hold the key to innovation.
Stages and Plateaus
Your path is like scaling a wall with no visible top in sight.
like a rock climber; sometimes you may have to move laterally
or even down a step before moving upwards.
Remember: Two steps forward, one step back is still progress.
all a part of your advancement towards becomming a better
musician. The spirit remains the same; only the strategy differs.
Stay focused on the here and now.
further you climb, the longer the plateaus (i.e., ruts) can
get. So don’t look ahead to where you want to be, or
look back to say, "I've only come this far?!?" You
can't make long-term progress conform to your timetable.
It has to happen naturally.
flower blooms when its ready. Let it be!
The key to self-mastery lies in discipline.
what has to be done, when it has to be done, as well as it
can be done, and do it that way every time!
Do what has to be done...
confuse self-discipline with self-denial. The right thing
done in the wrong spirit (i.e., for the wrong reason) will
manifest itself in other problems along the path. If you have
to ask what has to be done... don't ask, practice!
When it has to be done...
time is now! Start with one task, no matter how small, and
get it done. "Attack the corners" — the little
things that stick out — then work your way in towards
the bigger things.
As well as it can be done...
you are going to take the time to do something, do it right.
There is no sense in practicing half- heartedly. Allow for
plenty of time as to ensure that you are able to do the job
right. High quality does not come of haste.
And do it that way every time!
mark of true discipline lies in its consistent application.
The key to overcoming the pressure is to not think of having
to do it right all the time; just do it right one time: This
time, right now!
Recognize and accept your personal limits.
them, push them, and finally, know and accept them so that
you can begin to work around them.
Do not dwell on the unattainable.
things are simply not in our destiny. If the seed you’ve
been handed grows into a lemon tree... then make the best
damn lemonade you can and have fun doing it!
Know what works best for you.
above all else, you must be natural, yet always of the mind
to try and learn new things.
Goals met are not ends, but merely points along the path.
a hundred-mile march, ‘ninety’ is about the half-way
point. Without the proper follow-through, all that preceded
can be lost.
Do not focus on the goal.
only on the process by which you arrive at the goal. Let your
spirit follow through to the other side of the moment, because
failure to do so cuts your spirit short. Let your mind flow
smoothly and without hesitation at all times.
Don’t compromise your own taste for the sake of appealing
to a wider audience.
everyone is going to like what you have to say with your music
— to each their own. Play the truth and it will remain
the truth for listeners to discover when they are ready.
Always endeavor to find harmony.
your own ego for the greater good, and allow others to lean
on you as you yourself lean on them.
yourself with professionals who are committed to excellence,
and passionate about what they do. Beware of egotists who
degrade your work, and sycophants who flatter you to cover
their own mediocrity. When someone in the unit is unprofessional,
incompetent or indifferent, you are the one who suffers.
project with no vision yields mediocre results at best, and
usually wastes everyone’s time. When visionary ideas
conflict, know when it arises from true artistic differences
and when it stems from bruised egos — work to find a
consensus. Always put the greater good of the band first,
and do nothing to dilute the strength of the final vision.
band isn’t merely a group of individuals, but rather,
a whole that exceeds the sum of it’s parts. The right
chemistry cannot be bought, forced or manufactured —
it just happens. It’s not a science, and no one really
knows why it happens, but when it does, you feel the presence
of something divine, and everyone who’s there knows
it. This kind of chemistry defines a great band.
Guitar - The Twelve Common Missteps
Play what you are meant to play.
necessarily what you want to play. All you can ever do is
be yourself and play your song.
Regain your sense of starting over through your "Beginner’s
in the truth of naive musicianship; there you will find what
you are meant to play. Get back to your basic root foundations
when the music was innocent, unself-conscious and was played
with egoless expression. Lose your bearings and let your openness
lead you to new ones.
The Way of Zen Guitar is within you!
must discover the key to unlock it.
Training twice as hard does NOT mean you’ll get there
in half the time.
like thinking, "If I stay awake twice as long, I can
live a year’s time in six months." Progress on
the path will not come at any rate other than what is natural.
You can’t live a year’s time in anything but a
Maintain a healthy ego balance.
must have enough ego to have a strong sense of self, but too
much ego will lead you off the path. Have faith in your abilities,
yet have enough sense to take praise and flattery with a grain
of salt just as you would with the criticism you receive.
Don't let your ego over-inflate.
trash about others or talking highly of oneself usually stems
from an ego that feels so small it must inflate itself through
public attention. Displaying "False Modesty" is
insincerity that usually stems from an overly large ego. Just
knowing who you are and what you can do should be all the
ego you'll ever need.
Don't let fame and/or riches become ends unto themselves.
of your music should come first! The Way of Zen Guitar is
through "Spiritual Riches", not material riches.
In the end, power and money are like footprints on the beach
as compared to the Way — here one moment and then washed
To move down the path, you must commit your heart to training.
only way to do this is to truly love it. All the effort you
put into it should only increase your joy. If not, then something
is seriously wrong.
Check your spirit.
do so you must find those words of conviction that you live
and die by that are tattooed deep down in your heart and soul
that exclaim: "This is who I am, and this is what I believe!"
No matter how simple or philosophical they may be, if you're
willing to write them on a blackboard 10,000 times... then
you know you mean it with your whole heart. What you say can
put you right back on the path.
Pursue the Way sincerely, but don't try too hard.
is the opposite of halfheartedness. Don't push yourself onto
an audience without allowing the listener any space to come
to them. Even if you make a good first impression, chances
are the audience will lose respect for you very quickly.
those who are so eager to lose weight that they rush into
a new workout routine and injure themselves, players must
also learn to pace themselves. An overearnest spirit is like
pouring beer into a glass too fast, foaming over without control.
You must learn how to fill the glass exactly to the brim.
Study hard, but stay relaxed.
is the key.
The measure of mastery is NOT through what you show...
rather, what you hold back. Beware of the common misconception
that an excessively loud volume level equates to passion and
intensity. If you must play at loud volumes, learn how to
properly harness that power and control it like a veteran
jockey controls a race horse. Although we feel the power,
a measure of restraint shows through.
Music is NOT a race for points to see who can get the most
is a byproduct of technique — not an end to be pursued
in itself. It is far more important for a musician to understand
tempo, timing, pacing and quickness.
a car, if you play a song too fast you're giving it too much
gas, and if you play it too slow the tune wobbles like the
wheels coming off an axle. A song played at just the right
speed feels like a well-built car taking a corner with the
driver in full control.
a sense of the moment — a feel for exactly when to strike.
A punchline delivered a moment too soon or a moment too late
can kill a joke's impact. The same goes for notes played in
one plays within the tempo is pacing. Against a slow tempo,
a certain guitar run may sound fast, whereas against a fast
tempo, the same run sounds slow. Think like a baseball pitcher
— after a series of slow pitches, a fast- ball looks
that much faster. Know when to speed up and when to slow down.
is the speed of thought-to-action, not necessarily speedy
technique. There is NO haste in quickness, only pure control.
It's like saying in hind- sight after a verbal misunderstanding,
"What I should have said was..." When we're quick,
thought and action happen simultaneously.
Know the difference between healthy and unhealthy competition.
competition can help us learn more about ourselves —
how far we can go, how we respond to pressure and where we
need to improve. Unhealthy competitive attitudes used as a
means to prove yourself to others or for self-motivation creates
disharmony, and shows your insecurity. Should you feel a need
to prove yourself in this way, check your ego. What are you
trying to prove and why?
Measure yourself against your own standards and capabilities,
not of others.
will always be people with more talent, and there will always
be people with less. Learn to accept your place with humility
and grace, not smugness or jealousy. Witnessing talent greater
than yours should inspire you to find your own path in life,
not discourage you because you may not be able to follow that
person's path. If you must inject competitive spirit in your
training, channel it towards the opponent within.
Do NOT think, breathe and live guitar 24 hrs. a day, 7 days
breathe, live and then play guitar. If all you know is the
guitar to the exclusion of everything else around you, your
playing will be empty. Relate your guitar playing to the world
at large and vice versa. The golfer who only sees the tree
as an obstacle, the sand only as a trap, and the water only
as a hazard may indeed be a skilled technician, but will never
reach the level of artistry. What you bring to your playing
is the sum of what you are.
Learn how to take criticism in the same way you should give
you must criticize at all, do so in the spirit of building
up, NOT tearing down. When taking criticism, learn and benefit
from that which is given in the spirit of building up, and
ignore the criticism that attempts to tear you down; do not
allow anything to pierce your armor. Remember, critics can
be quick to find fault with anything, but empty when it comes
to providing an alternative.
No matter what you do or how respected you are, you can't
don't know the secret of success, but I do know that the secret
of failure is trying to please everybody!" —Bill
Learn to recognize the different kinds of critics:
whose criticism stems from a difference in taste...
because someone else's taste is different doesn't mean it's
who criticise in hindsight without knowing the whole story...
easy to play "Monday-morning Quarterback" and quite
a different matter to be on the field facing the blitz.
whose criticism stems from ego...
to show how clever they are, or due to their own insecurity.
Through cutting others they seek to make themselves look better.
Don't beat up on yourself.
if you think you know your flaws, there is no need to advertise
them. Most people wouldn't have noticed anyway. Use your training
to become your own best critic. Then, no one can tell you
what you don't already know.
Failure To Adjust
Make the most out of a bad situation.
things are just out of our control — breaking a string,
blowing a fuse, etc. How you react to the unexpected reveals
your true spirit. Learn to fall like a cat — on your
When things fall apart; make art!
the power goes out on you during a gig in the middle of a
song, lead the audience in a giant sing-along until power
is restored. Sometimes we're lucky and sometimes we're not.
Then again, luck can be a matter of attitude. It's all in
how you look at the situation — is the glass half-empty,
Loss Of Focus
You can't chase two rabbits at once.
to avoid distraction and stay on course. Whenever we lose
our point of focus, we can usually blame either a lack of
concentration or a lack of commitment.
Lack of concentration...
Way of Zen Guitar is to fight the short attention span. An
exercise that zen masters use to develop concentration is
to sit quietly and count SLOWLY from one to ten. Should anything
interrupt their count — a stray thought, hearing a noise,
or even the sound of their own breathing — they must
start over from one.
Lack of commitment...
through on what you commit to do. If you commit to mastering
a lick, then do NOT move on to something harder until you
have done so. Tend to polishing your own path rather than
looking for a better one to follow. When we look around to
see what other people have and where they are going, we lose
focus on what's important: What we have, and where we are
going! Yes, there is more than one path to the top of the
mountain, but the only one that will get you there is YOUR
OWN. The farther you go on your own path, the more you will
understand every other path, for at the end... they all converge.
The answer lies in action; not words.
over-analyze things to death. Sometimes the best strategy
is, "Ready, FIRE, aim." Go ahead and do it first
— make adjustments later.
The Zen Guitar Dojo
Zen Guitar Dojo is the living vision of musician, author,
composer and teacher Philip Toshio Sudo. The Zen Guitar Dojo
is a place to be.
on the spirit and principles of the Japanese dojo, it is a
participatory community that seeks to elevate the human spirit
through music. The Zen Guitar Dojo is a gathering place for
artists who want to explore the possibilities of cyberspace
under the umbrella of the Zen Guitar philosophy.
Zen and the Art of Guitar: A Path to Guitar Mastery (Book
and CD) ...by Jeff Peretz
Reviews/Book Description ...Join performer and teacher
Jeff Peretz on a musical journey that will open your mind
and improve your guitar playing in ways you've never dreamed
of. Using the practice of skill cultivation, one of the principles
at the heart of Zen philosophy, you'll discover ways to develop
your powers of concentration, "let go" as a player,
and become a complete guitarist. Along the way, you'll learn
about the history of Zen; the application of Zen to rhythm,
melody, and harmony; and new ways of thinking about familiar
musical elements. You'll find Zen and the Art of Guitar a
musical learning experience unlike any you've ever encountered.
- Reviewer: from San Diego, CA USA ...The examples in
this book work. By breaking down the sudy of the guitar into
3 main elements (rhythm, melody and harmony), Jeff Peretz
has laid out one of the clearest methods of understanding
how to improve your guitar playing. Each example has a well
defined goal and a step by step process to get you there.
The companion CD is great because it allows you hear what
each example is supposed to sound like. Being someone who
has practiced meditation for 15 years, I found the meditations
in the book relavent and on the money. As I read through the
history of Zen and played through the examples I couldnt help
but wonder what took so long for a book like this to be written.
- Reviewer: from Boston MA, USA ...Not only is this book
a great read but it also has some of the most inventive musical
exercises I have come across. Unlike the book Zen Guitar (which
I also recommend) this book is a real "how to" study
in letting go and letting it all hang out. Non guitar players
will love the way the Zen process is presented. Guitar players
will find the exercises challenging yet accesible. It's about
time that someone wrote a book about Zen and guitar playing
for the musicstand and not just the coffee table. The breathing
exercises and meditations are clearly explained, the history
of Zen is brief but informative but the musical ideas are
what makes this a must own guitar players and a cool book
for anyone who interested in getting more out of whatever
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