Thelonious Monk’s Tips For Musicians

Thelonious Monk’s advice at the end of The Day I Met Thelonious and Nica in Heaven, comes from a list of Monk’s 25 tips for musicians as transcribed by the saxophonist Steve Lacy. Over the years, this list has achieved almost legendary status. I found his advice to “Make the drummer sound good,” to be particularly important—indeed, it has changed the way I both play and listen to music. Focusing on the interplay between percussion and a musical piece’s other elements (melody, harmony, lyric, phrasing) is a key that unlocks a performance’s deeper structure and movement.

There is a very nice article about the list and its origins on the web site, Open Culture. I have copied the image of the list and its transcription from the web site because links so often break on the Internet, but I urge you to visit Open Culture’s excellent article for much more information about the list and its history.

Monk’s List as written down by Steve Lacy

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

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

Stop playing all that bullshit, those weird notes, 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

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 am playing that. Don’t listen to me, I am 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 everytime); let some things go by. Some music just imagined.

What you don’t play can be more important than what you do play.

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 are swinging, swing some more!

(What should we wear tonight?) Sharp as possible!

Always leave them wanting more.

Don’t sound anybody for a gig, just be on the scene.

Those 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.