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Michelle Jones

Tools of the Trade for the Working Musician

April 21, 2013 at 6:48 PM

It amazes me how much “stuff” is needed just to be a working musician! I play the violin (among other instruments), and one would think once you have a good instrument with a good case and bow, then that’s really all you need. Oh, my young apprentice; you have so much to learn!
Here is a compiled list of MUST HAVE, SHOULD HAVE, AND NICE-TO-HAVE items, specifically for the violinist (but you can substitute or add/delete items for your instrument):


- Violin that is appropriate for the violinist to perform as a soloist as well as ensemble or symphonic player
- Two bows in your case; I usually have two different weights of bows for the different works/genres, but the main reason is in case one breaks. This has happened to me TWICE on different gigs
- One extra complete set of identical strings as what is on your instrument in your case; you never know when a string will break
- Rosin in your case
- Performance mute in your case or on your instrument
- Protective case for your instrument with pockets or compartments to keep the essentials
- Cleaning cloth in your case
- Quality pencil with eraser and sharpener in your case; I recommend the Dixon Ticonderoga Black No. 2; marks clear and erases very easily; great for rental parts; also may be used as lubricant for sticky pegs since graphite is a lubricant
- Chalk in your case; used for slipping pegs
- Nail clippers with file in your case; used for nails and for trimming strings as needed
- Tuner or tuning fork in your case; I prefer the fork since no batteries are required and it is very portable
- Metronome (may stay at your home or put in your case); use it every day, even if just for scales and arpeggios; try to memorize the speeds for the varying tempo markings
- Black Manhasset style music stand with light (powered and/or battery operated); many times contractors expect you to bring your own stand and light to a gig and want you to have quality materials that match the other players
- Cell phone with TEXTING ability; when I book musicians, I usually send texts to see who’s available; if they are in a gig, they can check the messages during breaks and reply without having to actually call me. Plus, it’s a written record of whom I have confirmed and when. At a gig, it’s a good way to communicate with the other musicians when on break and needing to reconvene if they are spread elsewhere. I can also text with my agents to let them know my estimated arrival time, especially when there’s traffic.
- Working, reliable automobile and keep it maintained properly
- Computer with Internet access and a printer with black ink; most of my correspondence for gigs is through e-mail. Many times, the music is sent to me via e-mail or in a link for download and I have to print it myself for practice and even for the gig.
- Wind clips or clothespins with your music stand (for outdoor gigs or those indoor shows with lots of movement or fans
- Watch with the correct time; many venues require you to keep your cell phone off stage, and you will need to know the time for breaks, playing, etc.
- Specific directions to a gig; navigations systems are very useful, but it is better to have printed directions with a contact phone number before you leave your house
- Business cards with your name, photo (if possible), e-mail, website and phone number (be careful about handing these out to anyone, especially when someone else is hiring you – I have a full blog post on etiquette and ethics relating to handing out cards My Card at ); sometimes, other players want your contact information and it’s much easier to give them a card. When it’s YOUR gig, you must have cards so people can hire you again.
- Proper assortment of clothing for the various gigs (tux and formal wear for concerts and formal events; cocktail black for certain functions; stage black for stage shows; rock black for rock shows; jeans and black shirt for more relaxed shows; etc.) Remember to ASK the contractor/personnel manager what to wear for that particular event. For symphonies, it is usually in your performance contract about length of sleeves, style of clothing, etc. Full blog post describing needs of various clothes: Black Clothes at
- Instrument/equipment insurance
- Glasses in their case, if you wear contact lenses; sometimes, a contact will be lost or unusable, and you need to be able to see clearly. I even bring a spare pair of lenses in my personal care kit.
- Current identification card (driver’s license or ID card)


- A second full set of strings; I have broken a new string while trying to put it on, and needed a second new one
- Separate instruments for their need; I have a good quality, inexpensive violin that I use for outdoor events that is louder than my indoor, expensive instrument. I have various electric violins that I use for different gigs, too.
- Handkerchief in your case; I use it for sweat and comfort when holding instrument next to my neck
- Small flathead screwdriver in your case; this can be used for many things, including adjusting chin rests, shoulder rests, and even fixing your case
- A replacement bridge for your instruments; when in a pinch, I keep one with adjustable feet in my case
- Practice mute
- Quality, padded shoulder strap for your instrument case; I always have to keep my hands free to carry other things and open doors when transporting to and from my car, and it is very helpful to have a good strap that doesn’t cut into your shoulder
- Manuscript paper with you at a gig/rehearsal; I have had to quickly write out a part at a gig, especially when I had to transpose it to another key
- A full set of plain black clothes, including black underwear, hose and shoes, at all times in your vehicle; I have had “wardrobe malfunctions” and was very happy to have a spare readily available
- Plain black binder/folder to keep loose music secured
- Black Gaffer’s tape; this is extremely versatile and has been used by me to tape down cables/cords, tape music onto a wall, even repair black shoes and tape around a musician’s white socks when they forgot their black socks
- Phone charger in your car
- Protein bar or other non-perishable snack with you; you never know if the food will be provided or even if it is something you can eat (food allergies, dietary restrictions, etc.)
- Bottled water with a closing lid or cap; to prevent spillage around instruments and equipment
- Ability to check the day’s traffic BEFORE you leave your house for the gig; think of alternate routes, too
- Your own commercial general liability insurance; this will protect you if you accidentally harm someone else. Also, many venues require you to carry your own, especially if you are contracting directly with them and not through a licensed agent/contractor.
- Website that describes you with your abilities as a musician; promotional materials, photos, videos, demos, resume and bio
- Phone numbers and e-mail of others on the gig; if you cannot reach the contact person, you will want to communicate with someone on the gig, especially if you’re running late or need something
- Current passport; I’ve been asked to do a gig out of country with only a few days’ notice.
- Union card; many venues in several states/countries require all performers to be union members. Yes, I have been card-checked on multiple occasions before being allowed to perform.


- An extra custom-made bridge to fit your instrument
- Acoustic pickup for your instrument with your own ¼” cable (the 1/8” are NOT standard and usually can cause problems with setup); many contractors want or require you to have your own for a gig where you are to be amplified. Open microphones are tricky for wind and outside noises
- DI box with settings for your instrument; this ensures the best possible sound from your instrument
- iPad with your sheet music library pre-loaded; I have lead sheets for a huge variety of songs as my backup for my hardcover books for ensembles. I have had the strangest requests and was able to fulfill them without taking stacks of additional sheet music with me to a gig
- For ladies – a pair of black flats and heels; flats for hiking to and from the performance site, heels for performance
- Portable personal care kit – hairbrush, toothbrush with toothpaste, makeup, bandages, razor, feminine products, contact lens solutions, hairspray, clear nail polish (for runs in nylons or instant glue repairs), etc.
- Sunglasses in a neutral tone/color; red rimmed sunglasses stand out
- Large umbrella – for shade and in case of rain
- Portable mp3 device where you can pre-load your playlist and listen to it on the way to a gig or while waiting for sound check
- Electronic toll pass; this saves time when driving and many offer a discount on the tolls themselves
- Your own in-ear monitors with the wireless system; stage monitors are necessary, but when you can, it is more aesthetically pleasing to have less equipment on the stage. With your own monitor system, you can adjust your own mix without it bleeding into other monitor mixes.
- Breath mints in your case

Again, you can adjust this checklist for your specific needs. I carried a notepad with me for a few weeks to create this list based on my needs on just those varied gigs. That’s when I inventoried everything in my gig bag and instrument case, and I realized just how much “stuff” is needed to do my job! I am sure others will disagree about the placement of items in the three lists, and that’s fine. It is simply my checklist that I use for my own peace of mind.

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From Rosemary Weiland
Posted on April 23, 2013 at 5:01 AM
How about shoulder rests? Do you use one? Do you keep extras with you? I loved your list!!
From Jesús Fernández
Posted on April 23, 2013 at 7:32 AM
Ouch, I just need a 70% of all that :-(
From Tom Holzman
Posted on April 23, 2013 at 7:50 PM
Michelle - I am glad I am not good enough to need all of that for my musical life. However, this is an impressively thought through list. I am sure most of us recognized something missing in our list of things to have on hand.
From jean dubuisson
Posted on April 24, 2013 at 5:59 PM
This is really impressive and great that you want to share your "trade secrets".

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