I came across Zen Guitar at a yard sale and figured I’d spend the dollar to pick it up, and I’m glad that I did. The book provides simple and practical teachings on how to apply Zen principles to your guitar playing and how those principles also apply to other areas of your life.
The premise of the book is that in order to become a Zen Guitarist, you must incorporate the concept of mindfulness into your playing, as well as into all aspects of your life. Being mindful essentially means that you pay attention to the details of whatever you are doing, no matter how small the task. In order to be the best at whatever it is that you choose to do, you must maintain focus and be dedicated. “How we do something matters more than the end result.” (p123)
Sudo points out that “learning to play guitar is inseparable from learning to harmonize body, mind, and spirit.” (p. 15) Truly, this is the goal of playing music, to use sound and rhythm to express that which is inexpressible and to create a connection between yourself and the world around you through your music. “The Way of Zen Guitar is to express the spirit through music.” (p.35)
One of the ideas in the book that resonated most true for me is that technical expertise does not make someone a great musician. Throughout my life, I’ve seen and heard musicians who were frighteningly meticulous in their playing, performing with a level of speed and accuracy that was intimidating. But when I step back and compare these musicians to others who are less skilled but play with the goal of expressing emotion, I have to admit that the emotional players make a greater impression on me.
I have played music pretty much my entire life, and creating music helped me through difficult periods in my life and also provided me with a way to celebrate the wonderful times. After reading this book, I feel a renewed connection to the guitar and am eager to apply some of the principles to my playing. I will certainly remember a quote that appears near the end of the book: “When things fall apart, make art.” (p. 179)