musical instrumentsDiversify:
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!