7 Things a Musician Should Never Do

I’ve heard that kids should never ride a dog backwards, downstairs. I’ve never tried this, so I have no first hand experience. But as one of my college professors was fond of saying “You don’t have to stick your head in a garbage can to know what garbage smells like; in similar fashion, I see how kids, dogs and stairs should relate properly.

Likewise, there are certain things musicians should not find themselves doing. Here are 7 of them; some tongue in cheek, some more serious.

Heating Picks on an Open Flame
From time to time it becomes necessary to adjust a pick. Although I use a metal thumb pick, typically, a thumb pick is made of plastic and so you can’t tweak it with a pair of pliers. Neither can you expect to be able to hold it over an open flame in order to soften it up. I tried this once down in my workshop, and found a normal thumb pick to be made of highly volatile material! It caught fire quickly and refused to be extinguished until I threw it in a nearby pail of water.
It’s much better to follow the instructions given in Earl Scruggs’ book where you put your pick in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then take it out and reshape it. After it’s reshaped, just put it in cool water for a few seconds to finish the process.

Sighting Down the Fretboard While Tensioning Strings
This is also something we all have to do – cranking up strings to get them up to proper tension. I’ve heard two bad stories about this.
One was a friend who was tightening a string on his Martin D-28 guitar. It popped loose and came very close to his eye; within an inch or two. Luckily, it only left a small cut.
Another story wasn’t so fortunate. A fellow was tensioning a mandolin string when it popped. Mandolins, in case you don’t know, are under a LOT of tension, so when they go, which isn’t often, they really go. He lost his eye, so I’m told. So sad!
Never tension a string while you have it in line with your face. Also, I always close my eyes when I feel the tension starting to get substantial, even though I wear glasses. If you don’t wear glasses, then be even more careful when tensioning strings!

Picking Up Your Case the Wrong Way
This one won’t result in burns or lost body parts, but will make you regret it nevertheless. I used to pick up my banjo case vertically sometimes, with the banjo inside, which puts undue pressure on the handle. I found this an easier way to get through doors. But one day the handle had had enough and broke, causing the case (banjo and all) to crash to the floor. No harm was done to the instrument, but I had to try to fix the case, which was never the same.

A few other rather obvious things not to do – more along the lines of kids, dogs and stairs than of strings popping:

Never eat a sandwich while wearing your instrument. Especially if it has a large soundhole.

Don’t keep your instrument near or above a fireplace.

Don’t put heavy gauge strings on a mandolin that needs light or mediums. And don’t store it under the bed (or wherever) fully tensioned for a log time.

Don’t forget to check a banjo with a skin drumhead when the weather changes, especially when the weather clears up; that’s when it starts to tighten up.

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About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Systems Engineer and part-time banjo and mandolin instructor. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play Scruggs and melodic and am working on becoming more advanced with single string. I'm also working on 4-finger banjo, which is way off the beaten path. I would like to see more jazz techniques integrated into bluegrass situations; counterpoint, especially. So long-term, that's what I'm doing. I'm also very keen on astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, christian homeschooling, martial arts, organic gardening and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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