The Urban Dharma Newsletter... May 25, 2004


In 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



The guitar is a small orchestra. It is polyphonic. Every string is a different color, a different voice. / Andre Segovia

Lean your body forward slightly to support the guitar against your chest, for the poetry of the music should resound in your heart. / Andre Segovia

1. "Zen guitar" will mean different things to different people ...by Clarelynn Rose/Heartwood Music


One 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.

In my experience, the practice of Zen guitar means many things.

Technique and Composition

Learning 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 inspire you.

In 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 individual!

The Breath

Before 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.


Mindfulness 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.

Personally, 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 experience.


Playing 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.

An 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.

Heartwood Music

Heartwood Music is the label owned and operated by Clarelynn Rose, established in 1999 in Ukiah, California.

Heartwood 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.

Recipient 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.

Heartwood 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.

While 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.

As 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.

2. Forever Zen ...Craig Smoot


I 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.

Below 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.

Zen Guitar - The Twelve Points of Focus

1. Spirit

A. Don’t ask, practice.

Practice properly... and the rest falls into place.

B. Seven times down, eight times up.

NO defeatist thoughts; visualize "burning away" any negative thoughts as if they were words on a piece of paper.

C. The only opponent is within.

Obstacles are not what matter, but rather, how we respond to them does.

2. Rhythm

A. Above all, always feel the "one"!

You cannot feel rhythm with your mind; you must feel it with your body.

3. Technique

A. Play without having to think about technique.

Your main focus should be on playing with the proper spirit.

B. First, you must have something to say.

Sometimes a player with crude technique has more to say than one with impeccable technique. Whose song is more uplifting?

4. Feel

A. Zen is known through the ears and heart, not the rational mind.

The correct "Way" is found in the spirit of the expression and its depth, not its complexity.

B. Do not allow knowledge to interfere with the naturalness that music demands.

Just play. If it feels right, it is right.

5. Perfection

A. Don’t be too self-conscious when playing.

When the mind becomes too preoccupied with what the hands are doing, it shuts out the music inside.

B. Overcome self-consciousness through practice.

With practice, our muscles develop their own intelligence to the point where thought and action occur simultaneously (i.e., second nature).

C. Perfect practice makes perfect!

6. Mistakes

A. Learn from mistakes as soon as they happen.

Incorporate them into the artistic process, and use them as a spring-board into new areas of discovery.

B. Remember: Accidents can hold the key to innovation.

7. Stages and Plateaus

A. Your path is like scaling a wall with no visible top in sight.

Think like a rock climber; sometimes you may have to move laterally or even down a step before moving upwards.

B. Remember: Two steps forward, one step back is still progress.

It’s all a part of your advancement towards becomming a better musician. The spirit remains the same; only the strategy differs.

C. Stay focused on the here and now.

The 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.

D. It has to happen naturally.

A flower blooms when its ready. Let it be!

8. Discipline

A. The key to self-mastery lies in discipline.

Do 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!

B. Do what has to be done...

Don’t 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!

C. When it has to be done...

The 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.

D. As well as it can be done...

If 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.

E. And do it that way every time!

The 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!

9. Limits

A. Recognize and accept your personal limits.

Test them, push them, and finally, know and accept them so that you can begin to work around them.

B. Do not dwell on the unattainable.

Some 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!

C. Know what works best for you.

But above all else, you must be natural, yet always of the mind to try and learn new things.

10. Follow-through

A. Goals met are not ends, but merely points along the path.

In a hundred-mile march, ‘ninety’ is about the half-way point. Without the proper follow-through, all that preceded can be lost.

B. Do not focus on the goal.

Focus 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.

11. Taste

A. Don’t compromise your own taste for the sake of appealing to a wider audience.

Not 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.

12. Collaboration

A. Always endeavor to find harmony.

Subjugate your own ego for the greater good, and allow others to lean on you as you yourself lean on them.

B. Company

Surround 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.

C. Vision

A 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.

D. Chemistry

A 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.

Zen Guitar - The Twelve Common Missteps

1. Self-Doubt

A. Play what you are meant to play.

Not necessarily what you want to play. All you can ever do is be yourself and play your song.

B. Regain your sense of starting over through your "Beginner’s Mind".

Trust 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.

C. The Way of Zen Guitar is within you!

You must discover the key to unlock it.

2. Instant Gratification

A. Training twice as hard does NOT mean you’ll get there in half the time.

That’s 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 year’s time.

3. Ego

A. Maintain a healthy ego balance.

You 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.

B. Don't let your ego over-inflate.

Talking 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.

C. Don't let fame and/or riches become ends unto themselves.

Integrity 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 away.

4. Halfheartedness

A. To move down the path, you must commit your heart to training.

The 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.

B. Check your spirit.

To 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.

5. Overearnestness

A. Pursue the Way sincerely, but don't try too hard.

Overearnestness 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.

B. Pace yourself.

Like 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.

C. Study hard, but stay relaxed.

Self-control is the key.

D. The measure of mastery is NOT through what you show...

But 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.

6. Speed

A. Music is NOT a race for points to see who can get the most notes in.

Speed 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.

B. Tempo...

Like 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.

C. Timing...

Having 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 music.

D. Pacing...

How 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.

E. Quickness...

Quickness 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.

7. Competition

A. Know the difference between healthy and unhealthy competition.

Healthy 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?

B. Measure yourself against your own standards and capabilities, not of others.

There 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.

8. Obsession

A. Do NOT think, breathe and live guitar 24 hrs. a day, 7 days a week!

Think, 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.

9. Mishandled Criticism

A. Learn how to take criticism in the same way you should give it.

If 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.

B. No matter what you do or how respected you are, you can't please everyone!

"I don't know the secret of success, but I do know that the secret of failure is trying to please everybody!" —Bill Cosby

C. Learn to recognize the different kinds of critics:

People whose criticism stems from a difference in taste...

Just because someone else's taste is different doesn't mean it's better.

Those who criticise in hindsight without knowing the whole story...

It's easy to play "Monday-morning Quarterback" and quite a different matter to be on the field facing the blitz.

Those whose criticism stems from ego...

Either to show how clever they are, or due to their own insecurity. Through cutting others they seek to make themselves look better.

D. Don't beat up on yourself.

Even 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.

10. Failure To Adjust

A. Make the most out of a bad situation.

Some 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 feet.

B. When things fall apart; make art!

If 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, or half-full?

11. Loss Of Focus

A. You can't chase two rabbits at once.

Try 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.

B. Lack of concentration...

The 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.

C. Lack of commitment...

Follow 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.

12. Overthinking

A. The answer lies in action; not words.

Don't over-analyze things to death. Sometimes the best strategy is, "Ready, FIRE, aim." Go ahead and do it first — make adjustments later.

3. The Zen Guitar Dojo


The 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.

Based 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.

4. Zen and the Art of Guitar: A Path to Guitar Mastery (Book and CD) ...by Jeff Peretz


Editorial 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.

Amazon.com - 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.

Amazon.com - 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 they do.


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