What Every Musician Should Know

Are you considering a career in music? Get a leg up on the competition with these key areas that I look for when hiring musicians.

  1. Sight-reading

    Can you play music well when reading it for the first time? Putting in practice time in the early stages helps to build mastery of complex and varied pitches, intervals, rhythms, and other musical elements. The order of these elements varies from piece to piece. Your ability to recognize familiar patterns and sequences will develop through practicing sections of music that you cannot play at a comfortable and steady pace.

  2. Sight-transposition

    For any musician accompanying a vocalist, this is a must. Male and female singers have a different high and low note in their range. Any accompanying instrument should cater the key of the piece to the singer. A good singer should be aware of his or her range and know in what register his or her sound resonates best in. This includes playing up and down from a minor 2nd to an augmented 4th as well as playing in different octaves. This is especially useful when a written part is not in an ideal range for your instrument.

  3. Communication

    Musicians depend on other musicians and people for work. An important skill is getting across your thoughts and questions in a coherent and meaningful manner. This involves organization and clarity of word and written material. Those that take on a leadership role demonstrate a greater level of musicianship. Ask questions when music is unclear or when you are not in sync with other group members. Tell your group about suggestions to improve the music as a whole.

  4. Personality

    Let’s face it. If you are not easy to work with, you will not get adequate work no matter how talented you are. Working well with people puts you in good rapport and improves your reputation among musicians and those hiring. The musicians who receive constant work are those who have contacts who have had pleasant experiences with them in the past. Know the people and the venue you are at and act accordingly.

  5. Classical Favorites

    As a musician, others assume that you are knowledgeable about classical music. There are a lot of classical pieces that are entrenched in our society. They are found in cartoons, opera, Christmas, and weddings to name a few. Classical music may not be the popular music of the 21st century, but it is so immersive in the world’s playlist that every musician should recognize and identify those pieces with a cultural impact. Kick Ass Classical has compiled the Top 100 Classical pieces. View the full list that accompanies the video HERE.

  6. Happy Birthday

    Everyone has a birthday. What better way to show off your musical talent than to play Happy Birthday, the most performed song (from my experience). Most people will expect that you can play it and it would look bad if you could not. Keys conducive to singing along are F major and G major.

  7. Improvisation

    Some people live and die by the written music. Truth is, the music does not sound good on paper. It sounds good when it is performed. Use sheet music as a blueprint for learning. Nothing is set in stone. A great way to improvise is to take a major scale (ex. C major) and learn its relative minor (A natural minor), parallel minor (C natural minor), parallel harmonic minor (C harmonic minor), parallel melodic minor (C melodic minor) and parallel harmonic major (C harmonic major). Being able to play any of these scales at any time and switch seamlessly to another is a beneficial skill to creating countermelodies and harmonies that fit with a given melodic idea.

  8. Decision-making

    True for music, but ultimately true for life itself. When performing you are often called upon to act and react to people and sounds around you. What if you are playing and an audience member faints? What if a string player is seriously out of tune during a performance? What if the music should be soft and someone is playing loud? You need to determine how you will play your music and relay that to your group so everyone can be on the same page. The overall sound will be unified and the professionalism of action and reaction will promote a living, organic musical growth.

  9. Musical Outlets

    Landing a full-time music job is not easy. Even if you do, you will be asked to wear many hats. What can you do with music besides performing? Page 9 and 10 of The Recession Proof Musician list potential avenues for musicians. I would recommend dedicating your musical output to three of the 37 occupations listed.

  10. Listening

    What is the difference between West Coast and East Coast rap? You’ll never know if you haven’t heard music from both genres. It is not so much memorizing pieces in so much as it is being exposed to all musical genres. You will inevitably stumble upon a style of music that you can connect with. Try looking up songs classified as chiptunes, sacred jazz, ambient, and K-Pop for starters.

  11. Hobbies

    While music may be a passion of yours, that does not mean you will be immersed in music 24/7. It is very healthy and grounding for a musician to have other creative interests. These hobbies will distinguish you from other musicians in the field as well as improve your creative abilities and overall mental health. Some hobbies include running, sewing, playing video games, watching TV shows, playing sports, and drawing. This is not an area to neglect; a musician who gets too wrapped up in the music will lose focus on who and what music is for: people and to evoke a reaction or thought from such people.

  12. Experience

    Reading this list is fine and good, but applying this list is where your maturity as a musician lies. Regular music gigs provide a comfortable setting to play a set of music multiple times. The goal is to feel comfortable with the music you are playing to bring out your personality and inject creative choices to your performance. Not all gigs need to be paying gigs in your developing years. Good venues to gain experience are in a local band, local library, or local church. These places and groups are the most receptive to incoming enrollment. In my experience, playing as a church musician every Sunday promotes experience and comfort in a finite set of music with similar characteristics. I am able, therefore, to make more creative choices regarding harmony, orchestration, texture, and dynamics to name a few.

Last updated: November 11, 2012

Watch the most famous classical songs