Usually a business term or perhaps for investing, but this word is at the core of what I do as a musician. First some background: I started playing piano when I was 6 (ish) because my parents were both musicians and my mom taught us piano. I wanted to stop playing piano and that was allowed only if I started a different instrument, which I did–the saxophone–the summer before I was in 4th grade. By 5th grade I was bored in band class so I started playing trombone. In 8th grade my cousin wanted to learn how to play guitar, so I took one (of my parents) to Oklahoma for a week and we sat in her room for hours and taught ourselves some basic chords. When I was a junior in high school, I went to a pawnshop and paid $200 for a bass and in college I started playing flute and clarinet. My most recent acquisition is the ukulele. Curiosity and a desire to play a lot of music has led me to learn so many instruments and continue working to improve on them all. Since that summer before 4th grade, I have played professionally on all but the ukulele (give me time!), with the Army band, blues and rock groups, church bands, and tons of one-off shows. I’ve also been able to teach these different instruments. Please don’t freak out if this seems crazy—all of this took place over 25 years, and during various seasons I focused on different instruments. It certainly didn’t happen overnight. In a later blog I’ll talk about how I try to balance the upkeep of different skills/genres/instruments, etc.
Here are some benefits I have experienced from diversifying my musical endeavors. Primarily, being multi-instrumental gives me opportunities to perform that otherwise I wouldn’t have. When the blues singer needed a bass player, it wouldn’t have gotten me the gig if I only played trombone. When the musical needed a woodwind player, I wouldn’t have got the job as a guitar player. Secondly, having a diversity of music skills makes me a better bandleader. I can communicate more effectively with other musicians because I know their instruments. I know how to talk to the guitar player, because I play guitar, just as I know how to work with a concert band because I’m not just a guitarist. Lastly, being a multi-instrumentalist makes me a better musician. Every instrument I play teaches me about every other instrument I play. Being a guitar player helped me learn where the notes are on the bass strings. Being a bass player reminds me of the necessity of rhythm in every aspect of making music. Being a flute player keeps me aware of playing light (LIGHT!) on the saxophone, and being a saxophonist taught me the majority of the fingerings on flute and clarinet. Those and a million other tiny details inform who I am as a musician every day.
SO, here’s my encouragement: Keep learning! Keep playing! Keep diversifying, especially to the instruments of the rhythm section. I guarantee you will become a better musician, and you never know when those skills are going to come in handy!