***This article was originally written for the D'Addario Orchestral Behind The Bridge Blog.
When I’m out and about with my cello, there are a few key items that I almost always carry with me either in my case or bag. This is the checklist that I follow to make sure that I’m prepared for whichever musical activity I’m participating in.
- Cello and Bow – These two items are the most important of my essentials and are the first things that I check for before I leave home. I’ve never forgotten my cello before, but I have left my bow behind when I forgot to double check my practice stand. As a professional, that’s the type of mistake that I can’t afford to make anymore, but it does make me laugh now to remember how horrified I was to open my case right before a school concert to realize my bow was missing. Luckily, I was able to find a violinist who had a bow to spare.
- Tuner / Metronome – I like to use the tuner and metronome that are combined into one device. It’s more convenient and gives me one less thing to worry about packing. I use the tuner for my solo gigs and for tuning up my cello students. The metronome is a great practice tool for myself as well as my students during their lessons.
- Rosin – I use rosin on my bow every time I practice or perform. I find that a properly rosined bow makes things so much easier on my bowing arm because I don’t have to bear down as hard to get the sound quality that I want.
- Rockstop – Cellists and upright bass players need to use a rockstop to anchor their instruments so that they’re not sliding all over the floor while playing. I’ve used both disk rockstops and those with adjustable straps. I prefer the latter type because disk rockstops tend to lose their grip over time while the strap rockstop lasts forever since all you need is a chair leg to secure it.
- Pencils – From my early years of playing in orchestra, it was ingrained in my head that it’s considered unprofessional to write on your music in pen. That’s why I carry plenty of pencils for myself and others.
- Cloth – I use a clean, soft cloth to wipe the rosin and fingerprints from my instrument and bow when I’m finished playing. Removing rosin buildup and oils transferred from my fingers helps to preserve the varnish.
- Spare strings – Hopefully, you will never find yourself in a situation where one of your stings pops or fails at an inopportune moment, but it has happened to me one too many times for me not to be prepared now. What I sometimes do is install a new set of strings and then keep the old strings as my backups.
- Mute – I always keep my plastic mute handy in the event that my music or performance venue calls for it. I was really surprised when I was asked to tone it down at a wedding where I was hired to play on solo cello. The wedding planner had me positioned on a 2nd floor landing overlooking the cocktail hour below, and apparently, I was drowning out the party.
- Technical Etudes & Exercises – Since I don’t have a lot of down time to practice these days, I always keep my Popper Etudes and Feuillard exercise book with me so that when I do get a break, I can work on some technical exercises to keep my fingers sharp.
- Post-it Notes – I keep sticky notes around just in case I have to mark a passage that I want to look at later or if I have a very last minute set change that I need to remind myself of.
- Paper Clamps – During the spring and summer months, I get quite a few requests to play for outdoor weddings. When playing outside, I add some weight to my sheet music by placing the individual pages in the plastic sheet protectors, but sometimes that’s not enough if there’s a lot of wind. That’s when I pull out my paper clamps to hold my music down.
- Gig Book – This is just my black 3-ring binder that I use to organize my music for my gigs. After my clients decide on a playlist, I put everything in playing order in my binder so that I can move easily from song to song.
- Motivational Stickers – I keep stickers in my bag for my youngest cello and piano students. This is their reward for successfully completing their assignments and practice charts. It makes them feel great and keeps them motivated to continue practicing.