Things I've Learnt

I've been playing music since I was 11, and professionally since I graduated from university. That was quite a long time ago. Over the years, there are a huge amount of things I've learnt about performing music. And I think many of them also apply to lots of other areas of life, which makes sense, as music is not isolated, it's intertwined with life and the universe. 

Not wishing to point fingers at all, or to be overly negative, but I am so often astonished by professional performers I meet who don't adhere to some of these absolute basics. That's not to say that they aren't contributing artistically in some other areas, they surely are, but their contribution is definitely limited as a result. 

Anyway, here's my list of what I consider the absolute basics. These are the things I try to consider every time I play, in the hope of making myself as useful as possible in any given musical situation. Of course, it's not definitive, and neither am I here wishing to preach. I'd love to hear other people's lists and thoughts. I've always felt a little disappointed at how few musicians actually talk about music together, as though it's not cool or something.


Obvious, right? It's just astonishing how many performers don't listen, both to themselves and to their fellow musicians. I feel it's essential to try to listen to everything which is happening, at every moment. I think it's safe to say that if you aren't listening, you are messing up in some way.

(Listening to lots of diverse live music and recordings also goes hand in hand with this.)


Sounds odd when we're talking about an art form which is essentially about sound, but eye contact, or even just watching fellow performers makes such a huge difference. If you aren't watching, you can't follow leads, and you are missing out on so much important information.


I believe that we should be serving the music, not the other way round. As a performer, I think it's vital to be constantly questioning the choices we make. This becomes particularly apparent in styles of music which contain improvised elements. There's some connection here to point number 1 above, and also to my next point.


Thinking critically about what it is you are doing at any given point, how you are contributing, and what is needed from you in order to create a successful performance, these are real basics. 


Everything in the universe has it's own phrasing, it's own nuance. In the same way, I believe every element of music should be phrased. Probably 30% of my playing involves two notes per bar, "oompah" if you like. Even this very simple element of bass line playing needs to be phrased throughout a piece. Where has this note come from? Where is it leading? Every "oom" and "pah" deserve different weight and nuance. 

Articulation is another element with so many nuances. Yet so many players articulate the start of each note in only one way. A wide range of articulation, well-chosen, makes the difference between good and great musicians. It's an area of my own playing I want to work on much more. Talking about the start of notes brings me to the end of notes. That deserves equal attention, yet so many players don't seem to consider it, or even seem to notice when they finish a note at a completely different time to everybody else. That's part of ensemble playing, that magic feeling, not only in music, when a group of humans is working, breathing, and expressing something together. That feeling is something to strive for, and to achieve it takes all of the above elements, plus the desire to surrender oneself completely to the ensemble. 

Sound! I'd better not get started on this, or this blog entry will never end. Sound is everything. Maybe I'd better write another entry on sound alone.

So what do you think? Am i talking rubbish, or completely stating the obvious? I'd love to hear any additions, and would love some discussion!