A Musician's Toolkit

Published on 27 May 2024 at 19:15




We usually think of a toolkit as a physical object. However, musicians acquire their toolkit through all the hard work they put into their playing, which shines through their performances and through all the knowledge and experiences they gather while learning and playing music during their lifetime. 

Therefore, a musician's toolkit has several components besides the physical: instrumental, technical, musical, and artistic. It is certainly not limited to these four categories; it goes far beyond them. However, these main categories comprise the skills and attributes of musicians during performances.

First, let's take a look into some aspects of the toolkit that are tangible and visible. 

It goes without saying that one needs the right equipment or instrument to create such knowledge and background. Care should be taken in the case of children to ensure that the instrument size is appropriate for the child and that it is changed promptly as the child grows older. 

This is the case with cello players who might go through several cello sizes, like the half-size or the three-quarter size, before finally playing on a 4/4 full-size cello. 

Another critical topic for musicians is instrument care. If instruments break, they might need to be repaired or replaced, depending on the breakage.

Hygiene is essential, such as washing hands and storing the instrument properly before and after use.

After years of playing, musicians accumulate their sheet music library, which I would also like to place as part of their accumulation of knowledge and skills. These represent the repertoire they have played and the journey they have traveled in their quest to master their instrument. 

The quality of the instrument itself is essential; however, I would stress more about learning to produce the right sound on an instrument before worrying about purchasing an expensive one. It is critical to know how to manage certain technical aspects. Buying a pricy instrument might come later when a player makes progress, has earned sufficient experience playing a particular instrument, and intends to have a career in music. Only then will choosing the right instrument becomes essential. Therefore, the latter applies to players, students who play well and would like to continue and make a career out of music.

Musicians develop their skills through personal practice, performances, playing concerts, listening, and studying. These accumulate in their unique toolkits, demonstrating their strength and depth depending on the performer's efforts in these areas. Therefore, one's toolkit is as robust as the hard work one puts into it and having the right equipment at one's disposal. 

Another component of a musician's bag of tricks is the development of technical skills on an ongoing basis. In the past, I woke up at four or five in the morning, played my scales, and did technical work for two hours. And that was an excellent start for my day as a musician. 

Why is it essential for a musician to work on technical skills, whether it be through scales, etudes, or specialized pieces? I was discussing this aspect of music with my daughters the other day. A physical part of playing music that a musician needs to pay great attention to is building endurance. This is an important quality to accumulate in their toolkits. How else would a musician be able to last in a concert playing one long concerto with technical and musical passages alike?

Etudes specifically composed for most instruments are excellent resources for building the strength necessary to achieve the desired results for a musician's performance skills.

Then, the musical element needs to be developed and cared for, like the attention and care a beautiful garden requires the gardener to preserve that beauty. Coaches and teachers help budding musicians a great deal in this area. Things like when to slow down and move forward, working on the timbre, dynamic levels, and expression. Playing, performing, studying, reading, and listening to the performances of great artists, in addition to what the instructors teach during lessons, helps musicians accumulate knowledge during their lifetime—playing with different musicians in different settings, solo groups, chamber music, and orchestras—also, the experience they earn from playing music from various periods.

The artistic category in the toolkit combines all of the above. These elements become evident and reflected in the performer's artistry, thus aiding the performer in expressing and communicating their emotions to the audience and the composer's intentions. It is essential to perform a great deal, as experience also has its place on stage.

Therefore, the different experiences a musician earns by practicing independently and performing allow them to develop skills to give the best performance possible for their audience. And each time they practice and perform, these experiences accumulate in their musical toolkit. 

If you are a musician, what do you put into your musical toolkit? Could you share with us in the comments below? 

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