While learning how to build chords or what a crescendo means can help you develop your craft, there are other things that separate a good musician from a professional musician. Technique and musical knowledge aside, becoming a great musician requires specific mindsets that carry over from gig to gig. To become a good musician, these are the four absolute truths you should abide by to become the musician that always gets called for gigs.
One of the many pitfalls of a fledgling musician is a lack of preparation. Whether it’s your band practice or rehearsal for a paid gig, showing up not knowing your parts or the song arrangements reflects badly on you and makes your fellow musicians question your commitment; it ultimately tells everyone else that you don’t care enough. When practicing for the rehearsal or an audition, you should not only study your parts, but also be familiar with what the other musicians should be doing. Being over-prepared is perhaps the greatest networking tool you can have in your arsenal. If others in the band can recognize your commitment, they’ll also be more likely to drop your name when someone else needs a musician for their band or project.
When practicing the songs for the gig, one of the first steps you can take before you even pick up your instrument is to listen to the song. Having the chord chart and lyrics printed out with a pen handy, you should listen to any recordings available of the songs and make notes about the arrangement, such as when you should start playing or any distinct moments in the song. While trying to play the song, you should really spend a lot of time focusing on the challenging parts that are giving you trouble. For example, if changing from one chord to the next constantly messes you up, you should spend time slowly changing between those two chords until you can stick the landing more times than not.
Take care of your instrument.
Your instrument is a tool, but it also can be an extension of you as you use it to express your thoughts or feelings. While it’s easy to overlook things like cleaning your instrument or replacing the strings on a regular basis, you need to make sure your instrument is constantly maintained; neglecting your instrument is harder to fix than maintaining its condition. While playing a show, the hot stage lights and the energy from performing causes us to sweat, drenching our instruments. All it takes is playing one show, throwing your guitar in its case without wiping it down, and leaving it there for a few days to corrode your fresh strings and cause your frets to turn green. Not to mention, sweat is incredibly salty and acidic so it can wreak havoc on your instrument’s electronics and metal parts if neglected.
One easy way to take care of your instrument is to keep a clean rag or towel in your case or bag so you can wipe it down before tucking it back in its case. If you’re a guitar player, changing your guitar strings regularly is imperative. While the strings are off, you should wipe down your guitar’s fretboard and frets to make sure they are cleaned, as this helps the strings last as long as possible and keep your guitar playing smoothly. If you notice an intermittent input jack or scratchy/unresponsive knobs, get them taken care of as soon as possible; nothing is more frustrating than a malfunctioning guitar during a performance. Lastly, our instruments can be thrown out of whack due to things like seasons changing or the amount of playtime it gets, so it never hurts to take your instrument to a good repairman to make sure it’s adjusted to its peak performance at least once a year.
To some, our instruments are prized possessions and can even become a part of us. We need to make sure that we treat our instruments with care and keep them in top playing condition so they last us as long as they possibly can.
Once you receive those calls to play a gig or to fill in for a friend of a friend’s band, it is crucial to see it through. One thing you may realize in your musical journey is how interwoven your local scene can be; everyone seems to know each other, and probably pretty soon you as well. Nothing can undo all of your networking and potential gig opportunities quicker than bailing at the last minute. Not fulfilling your promise can show others that you aren’t dependable and pretty soon this will surface when your name is brought up between two musician friends. Being consistent with your follow-through speaks volumes about your character and commitment. Show up to every rehearsal you said you would go to. Make sure to arrive on time and ready to rock.
Music is not a competition.
Music should not be a competition. Being competitive towards your friends or fellow musicians only creates animosity between each other, but more importantly with yourself. Guitarist Dave Mustaine famously created his band Megadeth as a way to surpass his former band Metallica, who had abruptly kicked him out of the band shortly before recording their first album. Despite Megadeth gaining success and selling millions of records, Mustaine has said that he has felt like he’s in second place compared to Metallica. In the end, the only thing that you should worry about is serving the song to make it the best it can be; being flashy to show off many times isn’t the answer to creating a strong song.
Being a musician takes more than simply practicing your instrument. While it does take many years of study and practice to become a technically proficient musician, having a professional and detail-oriented mindset can transform you into a truly great musician. Take what you do seriously, but never lose sight of what makes playing your instrument fun.