Freeway Music — Columbia, SC’s Premier Music School

Taking a Closer Look at “Monk’s Advice”

There is a very popular document online of several pieces of advice to jazz musicians from Thelonious Monk, the jazz pianist and composer, and archived by Steve Lacy, a saxophonist who played with Monk in 1960. It is a collection of recommendations and guidance. These words of wisdom are what every player needs to hear frequently. Let’s take a closer look.

Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.

It’s almost a foregone conclusion that drummers are the timekeepers in any group. It’s a fallacy. Perhaps it’s the lack of sustain from drums that insinuates that time and its subdivisions are the sole responsibility of the drummer, but timekeeping is the responsibility of every musician in every situation. It is the negotiation between the individuals that make up a group that makes the music groove and breathe. Dig that.

Pat your foot and sing the melody in your head when you play.

Melody and your connection to its rhythm are the personality of a piece of music. Otherwise, it’s just a collection of chords and note values. Respect the personality of a piece of music to connect with it in a meaningful way. Both your performance and your sense of satisfaction will be enhanced.

Stop playing all those weird notes, play the melody!

The temptation to tinker, manipulate, and demonstrate often replace the simplicity of a thoughtfully constructed melody. Let it be your guide, giving any re-harmonizing or other method of interpretation its context.

Make the drummer sound good.

Think about it.

Discrimination is important.

The thought involved in discriminating between note choices and feels is the difference between truly interpreting a tune and just wasting your and your listener’s time. Wasting time is waste of time.

You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?

In order to perform the music you’re playing in a worthwhile way, it is crucial that you connect with it first. Know the composer, his/her motivation behind writing it, and any other detail that is pertinent in its creation. However much you “get into it” is how much you will get out of it!


If you made it this far into this unsolicited, but golden, advice, you are on your way to a better connection to the music you play and perform. All right!

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