Sunday, February 5, 2012

Zen Guitar - Phil Sudo

Zen GuitarIf asked to recommend one book to musicians, I would offer, without thinking, Zen Guitar by Phil Sudo. It is by far the most inspirational, motivational, practical and concise philosophy of music-making I have ever seen.

Phil Sudo was a writer and guitarist of mixed American and Japanese heritage. He sought to find a way to "blend the wisdom of west and east into a universal philosophy of life." To do that, he decided to write a book that merged his love of rock guitar with his devotion to the philosophy of Zen. The result was a masterpiece.

This is a book that should be read by all musicians at whatever level of skill or professional experience you may have. Zen Guitar is an instruction book on how to play music with honesty, integrity, passion and humility. It is also about how all the attributes of an admirable person can be cultivated by applying Zen principles to whatever you are doing, including guitar playing.

In this brilliant collection of short essays, Phil covers many qualities and attributes that a follower of Zen would strive for, and tells exactly how they would apply to playing music. Key quote: "Zen Guitar is nothing more than playing the song we're all born with inside - the one that makes us human." He also offers many superb examples of well known musicians who have these qualities, and quotes from them to show their perspective. For example, this great quote from Jimi Hendrix: "My own thing is in my head. I hear sounds and if I don't get them together nobody else will."

Creating this book was a very ambitious concept, but Phil was more than up to the task. Having been a journalist, author, student of Eastern philosophy and a rock guitar player in New York in the 80's, his life experience prepared him perfectly to gather his ideas and present them in a clear, concise way that was very accessible to the non-Asian musician or reader who may know little about Buddhism, Zen or anything like that.
This is a wonderful book I have returned to over and over, for inspiration and motivation.

Essential reading by Phil Sudo:
Zen Guitar
Zen Computer
Zen 24/7

For more Phil and Zen Guitar, visit the Zen Guitar Dojo

I did another blog post: Ichigo Ichieinspired by Zen Guitar. The phrase literally means "one one time, one meeting," which is usually interpreted to mean: treat each encounter as a unique and special moment, as if it was a once in a lifetime experience. The concept has deep relevance to musicians and their encounters with the audience. I hope you'll enjoy reading my thoughts and experiences on the subject. 


  1. Sounds like a good read for a rookie who feels like he's running in place while looking at a far off horizon.

    Next trip to the book store...

    Steve K.

  2. Hey Ben- another great post. I've always thought that music performance has a very Zen quality if you're doing it right. It's all about BE HERE NOW. See you next Thursday...