25 Tips for Musicians by Thelonious Monk

25 Tips for Musicians

In 1960 jazz pianist Thelonious Monk wrote down a list of tips for his new saxophonist Steve Lacy. A reproduction of Lacy’s transcription of this advice is included below.

  1. Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.
  2. Pat your foot & sing the melody in your head, when you play.
  3. Stop playing all that bullshit, those weird notes, play the melody!
  4. Make the drummer sound good.
  5. Discrimination is important.
  6. You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?
  7. All reet!
  8. Always know… (monk )
  9. It must be always night, otherwise they wouldn’t need the lights.
  10. Let’s lift the band stand!!
  11. I want to avoid the hecklers.
  12. Don’t play the piano part, I’m playing that.
  13. Don’t listen to me. I’m supposed to be accompanying you!
  14. The inside of the tune (the bridge) is the part that makes the outside sound good.
  15. Don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important than what you do.
  16. Always leave them wanting more.
  17. A note can be small as a pin or as big as the world, it depends on your imagination.
  18. Stay in shape! Sometimes a musician waits for a gig, & when it comes, he’s out of shape & can’t make it.
  19. When you’re swinging, swing some more!
  20. (What should we wear tonight?) Sharp as possible!
  21. Don’t sound anybody for a gig, just be on the scene.
  22. These pieces were written so as to have something to play, & to get cats interested enough to come to rehearsal.
  23. You’ve got it! If you don’t want to play, tell a joke or dance, but in any case, you got it! (to a drummer who didn’t want to solo).
  24. Whatever you think can’t be done, somebody will come along & do it. A genius is the one most like himself.
  25. They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along & spoil it.


Thelonious Monk, 1917-1982

“25 Tips for Musicians”
© 1960 Thelonious Monk

Photo by Arnaud Boubet

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