“Quality is not an act, it is a habit” - Aristotle
Musicians are often referred to as “weekend warriors.” During the days when others are at home watching football and fighting over the popcorn, musicians are racing around town from performance to performance, squeezing the day, and living for the night. We make our living in churches, cocktail parties, weddings, corporate gatherings, nightclubs, theaters, arenas, and stadiums. Many of the musicians you see headlining on a Saturday night at the Wiltern will wake up the next morning at 6am for a church gig or to a restaurant to set up for brunch. Our bills are paid by taking every opportunity, staying humble, and building strong relationships.
In a busy lifestyle such as this, it is imperative that musicians take care of their instruments and have everything they need at all times. This means that the quality of their service is directly related to the quality of their habits. Your instrument(s), aside from being cool and beautiful, are tools much like computers in an office or paper and pencil in the classroom. Without them and everything that we need to operate them, we cannot do our job...and those that depend on us would quickly lose trust. The reality for working musicians is harsh, but for those who take care of their instruments and know how to be on time and prepared, it is a truly rewarding and empowering occupation.
Being a musician is not for everyone, but studying music and learning to instill these habits at an early age will benefit you in all that you do for the rest of your life. Start with these five helpful habits that will give you peace of mind when it comes time to perform. They will make your teacher and parents forever proud. Most importantly, they will create in you a sense of inner confidence that you are prepared and ready for anything.
1. Keep Accessories (picks, cables, tuner, drum sticks, etc..) and Lesson Materials Together in One Place
These are the items that students most often lose. Believe it or not, many adults misplace these items as well. I myself misplace them all the time. The trick is to create an impenetrable system. There should be one place where you always put these items, and after every time you play your instrument, these items should be put back together in that place. Before leaving the house, make a checklist to ensure these items are with you wherever you go. I always lose guitar picks, but I keep them in my case, car, and wallet. Rest assured, I will never be without one.
2. Store The Instrument In Its Case
What if you had the opportunity to jump on stage with your favorite performer and the only condition was that you had to use your own instrument? What if the moment came and your instrument was not working properly? Sounds pretty scary, doesn’t it? Let me paint another picture. You’ve been playing your instrument and decided to leave it on the floor of your bedroom. In the middle of the night, you get up to go to the bathroom and hear the painful sound of cracking beneath your feet...ouch. There goes your instrument (this actually happened to me when I was kid). Take care of your instrument, and it will take care of you. Always put it back in the case!
3. Give It a Six-Month Check-Up
Guitarists should change their strings at least every six months. This is at the very least! If you play the drums, your heads will need to be changed. If you play acoustic piano, it will need to be tuned. All of your instruments will need to be dusted and checked from top to bottom to make sure they’re in proper working condition. So many of my students see the jacks on their guitars fall into the body of the guitar because they did not take care of the problem when it first reared its ugly head. I recommend just picking a day once every six months to take care of basic maintenance on your instrument. A great instrument can last a lifetime if it is well taken care of.
4. Keep Your Instrument In Tune
Keeping your instrument in tune is not just about sounding good, though that is without question very important. An instrument that is regularly tuned gets used to being in tune and tends to stay in tune longer, and the tension on the instrument stays regulated or balanced. This helps ensure that the instrument and all of its parts last longer. Guitarists should tune their instrument every time they take it out!
5. Wipe The Instrument Down With a Cloth
Once a month or so, you should take a cloth with some wood cleaner and wipe down your instrument. Wipe it from top to bottom and watch how much dirt is accumulated. Our fingers are the dirtiest parts of our body, and that dirt builds up quickly with every play. Take just 5 minutes to wipe that dirt away. The tone will brighten up, your strings will last longer, and your instrument will be beautiful all over again.
These easy habits are just the beginning, but they are a great way to start imitating the pros. Making these a part of your routine will take your playing to another level. They will also make you look at other areas of interest through a different lens—one of organization, professionalism, and care. Give them a try, and be sure to let us know how it goes!