Advice from Thelonious Monk

As usual, advice from a real musicianer – to use Sidney Bechet’s phrase – about how to play music ends up sounding a lot like advice about how to live well.

Here is Thelonious Monk’s commandments for good living and good playing. His name – as he liked to point out – upside-down and backwards is KNOW! Hence his motto: Always know.

T.MONK’S ADVICE (1960)

JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT A DRUMMER, DOESN’T MEAN YOU DON’T HAVE TO KEEP TIME.

PAT YOUR FOOT & SING THE MELODY IN YOUR HEAD, WHEN YOU PLAY.

STOP PLAYING ALL THOSE WEIRD NOTES (THAT BULLSHIT), PLAY THE MELODY!

MAKE THE DRUMMER SOUND GOOD.

DISCRIMINATION IS IMPORTANT.

YOU’VE GOT TO DIG IT TO DIG IT, YOU DIG?

ALL REET!

ALWAYS KNOW… (MONK)

IT MUST BE ALWAYS NIGHT, OTHERWISE THEY WOULDN’T NEED THE LIGHTS.

LET’S LIFT THE BAND STAND!!

I WANT TO AVOID THE HECKLERS.

DON’T PLAY THE PIANO PART, I’M PLAYING THAT. DON’T LISTEN TO ME. I’M SUPPOSED TO BE ACCOMPANYING YOU!

THE INSIDE OF THE TUNE (THE BRIDGE) IS THE PART THAT MAKES THE OUTSIDE SOUND GOOD.

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 THAT WHAT YOU DO.

ALWAYS LEAVE THEM WANTING MORE.

A NOTE CAN BE SMALL AS A PIN OR AS BIG AS THE WORLD, IT DEPENDS ON YOUR IMAGINATION.

STAY IN SHAPE! SOMETIMES A MUSICIAN WAITS FOR A GIG, & WHEN IT COMES, HE’S OUT OF SHAPE & CAN’T MAKE IT.

WHEN YOU’RE SWINGING, SWING SOME MORE!

(WHAT SHOULD WE WEAR TONIGHT? SHARP AS POSSIBLE!)

DON’T SOUND ANYBODY FOR A GIG, JUST BE ON THE SCENE. THESE PIECES WERE WRITTEN SO AS TO HAVE SOMETHING TO PLAY, & TO GET CATS INTERESTED ENOUGH TO COME TO REHEARSAL.

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).

WHATEVER YOU THINK CAN’T BE DONE, SOMEBODY WILL COME ALONG & DO IT. A GENIUS IS THE ONE MOST LIKE HIMSELF.

THEY TRIED TO GET ME TO HATE WHITE PEOPLE, BUT SOMEONE WOULD ALWAYS COME ALONG & SPOIL IT.

You can see his original handwriting here. Thanks to our friend Chris for the pointer!

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One Response to Advice from Thelonious Monk

  1. newnessmusic says:

    Loved reading this piece of advice! Thanks for sharing

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