For Your Musical Book Shelf: 7 Books For Learning and Self Discovery

Read Time 5 Minutes

With the holidays coming up, I wanted to make a few more suggestions for some books that are definitely worth your time to read (and may even indirectly help with your playing)!  Previously, I talked about 13 “jazz” books that every guitarist should own, but since many guitarists focus extraordinary effort in developing the technical elements of playing and performing, I want to focus this post on a smaller number of books that address the deeper issues involved in music making in general, learning and self discovery.


Zen Guitar – Philip Toshido Sudo

Web page (The Dojo)

According to the bio on his web page, a re-reading of Miyamoto Musashi’s classic, The Book of 5 Rings, got Sudo re-interested in Zen and applying it to multiple aspects of everyday life. As someone who was reading Musashi, The Hagakure and numerous other books in this genre, I can tell you that this book resonated with me on multiple levels. Sudo’s book isn’t a guitar book in the traditional sense (there are no licks or chord shapes anywhere in the text) – but its focus instead is on the guitar as a medium for finding and developing the your individual voice. If you’re a person who needs specific instruction, (i.e. “Play this lick 50 times with a metronome at 60bpm.”), this isn’t the book for you. If, however, you need a guide to getting real perspective about your playing – this is a must-read book.


Practicing A Musician’s Return to Music – Glenn Kurtz

Web page (Glenn Kurtz)

A graduate of the illustrious New England Conservatory, Glenn was in the process of developing his career as a classical guitarist when he came to the conclusion that he wasn’t going to be able to have a successful career in music. As the title implies, this book is not about failure as much as it is about discovery. In this case, Glenn learns that practicing itself shifted in meaning for him. Instead of merely being a means for developing repertoire, for Glenn practicing becomes a means to self-discovery and development. Every musician faces burnout at some point, and read through the lens of overcoming burnout and finding the deeper lesson, this is another book that deserves your attention.


Duende: A Journey Into The Heart Of Flamenco – Jason Webster

Web page (Jason Webster)

Coming out of a bad relationship, Jason makes the rash decision to leave his former existence and go to Spain to learn flamenco guitar. Given that he doesn’t play guitar (and knows nothing about Spanish Gypsy culture) he goes through a pretty intense journey. There has been some controversy about the truthfulness of the story, but whether it’s true or not is irrelevant. It’s a great story about pursuing one’s passion and the unexpected places that pursuit can take you.


Effortless Mastery Liberating The Master Musician Within – Kenny Werner

Website (Kenny Werner)

This book is going to be the one recommended to you by almost any professional musician as a way to break out of ruts, practice on a deeper level and move towards more authentic self-expression through relaxed focus. Kenny does a great job detailing his own trials and errors to show how he got to where he is now, but the most impressive elements of the book for me were the moments where he addressed the internal criticism that all musicians subject themselves to and shows how to put that in perspective to avoid stifling creativity. If you are the type of player to psych yourself out (and who isn’t) – this is a must read book for you as well.

(If you’re interested in a non-music specific book about this idea, you may also want to check out Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience).


The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search For Growth Through Music – Victor Wooten

Web page (Victor Wooten)

This book has gotten a lot of attention in musical circles and offers some interesting (and amusing) anecdotes and observations about music and developing as a person. While it mines a lot of the territory coved in Effortless Mastery and Zen Guitar, it does it in a unique way that allows Victor’s personality to shine through the whole book. It’s a quick read and brings up a lot of points of true musicality and expression that often gets lost in more traditional instructional methods.


Improvisation: It’s Nature And Practice In Music – Derek Bailey

Webpage (Derek Bailey – Wikipedia)

Although Derek’s passing in 2005 was unfortunate, he did gift us with volumes of highly individualized music and this important book.  While not a how-to book in the traditional sense, it does offer insight into how improvising practitioners in multiple idioms (like Jazz, Baroque, Flamenco and Hindustani amongst others) approach improvisation.  In that light, it may open more improvisational doors than standardized “lick” oriented-books.  While Bailey’s music may not be accessible to mainstream audiences, as a person who devoted his life to improvised music making (and developing a completely unique vocabulary on guitar), he was the perfect person to ask the right people the right questions about this topic.  The chapter on Classroom Improvisation alone could completely turn your head around to different pedagogical approaches and challenges in teaching improvisation.  Bailey believed that improvisation is the catalyst behind the creation of all music, and this book offers a powerful argument for that contention.


The Art of Learning – Josh Waitzkin

Website (Josh Waitzkin)

A non-music related book, this may be the most interesting entry on this list. The real-life inspiration behind, Searching for Bobby Fisher, Josh became a champion in both chess and the Tai Chi discipline of “push hands”. While this book is primarily an autobiography, it offers some fascinating points about learning and acquiring skills in general. There’s a passage in the book where Josh talks about how many chess players learn a series of tricks and shortcuts without digging into the core ideas behind them. The result is a series of superficial flashy moves with limited applicability in real world settings. (Of course guitarists never have the problem of having a bunch of flashy licks that don’t work on a tune you’re jamming on right?). Josh talks about methods he has learned to absorb things on a deeper level and all of that information can be directly tied into furthering yourself on guitar (or whatever other endeavor you wish).


If you’re not familiar with these books, I hope you can check them out!  Even if there’s no bookstore in your area, your local library will likely have many of them (or should be able to get them through inter-library loan).


In the next post of this series, I’ll give you some music business books that should be on your reading list (if not in your stocking)!


Similar Posts:

Scott Collins

Scott Collins is the author of the pedagogical/reference series, <i>The GuitArchitect’s Guide To:</i> and several e-book titles that include: <i>An Indie Musician Wake Up Call</i> and <i>Selling It Versus Selling Out</i>. His playing is inspired by a wide range of western and non-western music, and, as a performer, he specializes in real-time composition.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x