January is a good time to reflect on the previous year, to take stock of life and plan for the coming year.
I can’t believe the change in my life over the last year. I left the Scottish Government, finished building a house, got into Stevenson College and became a full time musician and student again! That’s a big change I can tell you!
Easier life? Err no....
Life as a full time musician is as busy as I’ve ever been. There is no end to the learning. And the more you learn, the more you realise you don’t know. Music is like that... Its a lifetime’s journey that you never finish. And we musicians are hard on ourselves - never quite happy - always trying to improve.
So what will 2012 bring?
Its time to think about what I want to achieve musically during the coming year. I have this fantastic opportuntiy and I want to get as much as humanly possible out of it.
I have thought quite hard about why I am doing this course and how to make the most of it. My key aim to to become a better player and to get through the Degree Foundation course - then set my sights on the next level.
So what have I done and how will I build on it.?
Thinking back to the start of the course I realise what a lot of ground I have already covered. I am doing a LOT of theory up to Grade 7 at the moment. This has been great in providing a deeper understanding. So one of my goals will be to pass Trinity Guildhall Grade 7 and Pop theory Grade 7 during 2012.
My aural and singing skills are improving. Oh yes - I can sing dominant sevenths, major sevenths and a lot more. In 2012 I want to build on this and consolidate sight singing, singing chords and scales.
I’ve discovered I love singing! We do a little in college. After the summer I plan to join a choir and do some individual singing lessons. I would like to try fiddle singing in 2012.
My fiddling is coming on too. I am pushing myself to play up the fingerboard, concentrating on the tone and trying to get the timing better. As a traditional musician I have relied on the aural tradition. Its difficult to go back to the page and play as precisely as you should. I have been my practising rythmn dictation to try to improve my rythmn site reading using www.teoria.com - which I highly recommend. I am not actually sure that I have noticed my improvement so much as other people. I think I will try keeping a practice log in 2012 to keep tabs on what I'm practising and also to keep recordings. I think it would be satisfying and more tangible to compare my playing from the start of the year to the end and hopefully note the improvement.
I also plan to take some classical lessons during 2012 to brush up on some of the technical gaps I feel that I have. Classical playing involves all sorts of techniques which aren;t used much in trad music. Classical players might wish they can play by ear as traditional musicians do but overall they have better technique. You can always tell a classical player. So with some lessons I could have the best of both worlds!
My playing challenges are to continue to develop intonation, and dynamics as well as improving technique. I am playing a lot of really difficult tunes in second and third position just now to develop fluency up the “dusty end of the fiddle” - which most trad players avoid like the plague.
I am expanding my music reading and learning about different musical styles and history so I plan to keep that going in 2012. If I make it to the Diploma course this will help.
I am listening to a LOT of music which has been a joy. We have been learning about the blues and jazz in 2011 and we have just moved onto country. In improvisation we have had a quick shot at funk. Listening is a big part of soaking in these different styles and its great to have a focus which makes me listen to musicians that I would not have otherwise come across. It is beginning to all make sense as the theory we do backs up the improvisation and research. It also spins off into ideas for composition.
I’d like to play some of these styles - particularly those that lend themselves well to the fiddle e.g bluegrass. I will search out a bluegrass session in 2012 and give it a go. I am even contemplating buying a tenor banjo which can use the same tuning as the fiddle.
Performing has been intense over the last couple of performance blocks and the standard is ramping up all the time. I am really looking forward to the opportunities to perfrom in 2012 and I am going to try to find more!. I have been so busy with keeping up with the demands of the course that the performing I used to do with Ceilidh Caleerie and at sessions has fallen by the wayside a bit. i play when I can. In 2012 I going to look for a way to reinvigorate this and get out to play again - outwith the course.
One of the things I have given priority to is my role as a Director for the Scots Music Group. This is a great organisation that has introduced so many people to traditional music, including me ten years or so ago. I have just been re-elected and so will keep this going. Its worthwhile and good for keeping my networking going.
I also go to workshops and build networks in relation to different styles and areas of the country, I have already been to Durham folkworks and the fiddle festival year. In 2012, I will take the opportunity to go to as many events as possible. I have already been down to the wonderful Sage - only just over an hour by train - to take part in fiddle singing with Bella Hardy and Border fiddling with Lori Watson. I also met the Breabach piper Malcolm McCrimmon there last month.
I have met lots of new and wonderful people in 2011- musicians, teachers. Who will come into my life in 2012 and what impact will they have on me? Social networking has a place too for keeping up with poeple.
I don’t know much about digital recording but I am determined to learn in 2012 to get my music up on the web.
Composition has been a revelation. I have composed onto the fiddle up until now but I can’t believe the power of Sibelius and Logic. 2012 will be the year that I master these and become a better and more inventive composer.
Did I manage my time well? Yes. I fit a LOT into my days and my life. I work as hard as I can and always like to push the boundaries as much as possible. I will enjoy looking back at the end of 2012 to see how I’ve measured up to these . Lets hope I achieve most of them. Its a tall order - as always.
So much to do - so little time!
Improvisation yesterday. I love it.
Playing country music in G pentatonic with a flat 5 too. Chords? Simple I, IV, V ( although in country the order of the chords is simetimes more mixed - rather than following the blues progression). Double stopping is a big feature in country fiddling.
Then played funk! THAT was good fun. The stress is on beat 1 and is 1/16th beats - fast and using modal approach eg D mixolydian and Dorian (with a flattened third and seventh , in other words).
I have been listening to a lot of country to soak in the style, Brad Paisley, Dolly Parton, The Dixie chicks, Hayseed Dixie, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Naturally I particularly like anything with fiddles in and country music has a lot of fiddle accompaniment and fiddle singing. Bluegrass in particular lends itself well to the fiddle.
Bluegrass instrurments often include, guitar, fiddle, banjo - all my favourites. I am thinking about buying a tenor banjo - such great instruments - and they can be tuned to fiddle an octave down. I don't think they would be difficult to learn to play for a fiddler. I am thinking of writing a country song for composition. But I like some the songs with minor chords. Witchata linesman, Landslide, Like a Rolling Stone - which I play it on guitar. I might write a song.using similar chords.
Here is a great Bela Fleck and the Flecktones with a great track Big Country with a range of instruments that are unusual for country - strays into other territory. Sounds like us on a Wednesday morning!
Went through to Celtic connections on Saturday. We saw the 10th anniversary concert of Le Vent du Nord. Great band. Its the first time I have seen them. They had invited a few guests including Breabach, Vasen and Dervish. The fiddler, Olivier Demers in Le Vent du Nord is quite amazing.
Fiddle singing is difficult to do. But Olivier Demers, the fiddler was not only fiddling and singing, but also doing the whole rythmn section - with has feet!
So he was tapping, fiddling and singing - all at the same time. What good coordination has he???? Unbelievable. It looked VERY hard work.
This performance was a once in lifetime complete with birthday cake and birthday song sung by the audience.
I wasn't the only one to think this was great.
The Scotsman said "Things were threatening to become quite tearful, in a totally joyful way, by the end of this unforgettable show. A marvellous mutual love-in was hosted by Québécois quartet Le Vent du Nord – in whose decade-long coming of age Celtic Connections has played a significant springboard role – with three other top acts from Sweden, Ireland and Scotland, and a near-sellout Saturday night crowd.
Nothing was ever going to go far wrong, what with both the birthday and the mouth-watering line-up – completed by not one, but two string quartets, comprising the likes of Greg Lawson, Christine Hanson and Fiona Cuthill – but all concerned rose resoundingly to the occasion by evident dint of diligent preparation and rehearsal, which shone through in silky-smooth, sumptuously swinging ensemble interplay, delivering two hours of virtually non-stop musical highlights.In amongst a veritable feast of instrumental colours and textures, the rich and rare alignment of Väsen’s Olov Johansson, on nyckelharpa (Swedish keyed fiddle) and Mikael Marin on five-string viola, with Le Vent du Nord’s Nicolas Boulerice on hurdy-gurdy (ancient French keyed fiddle) was particularly revelatory – but no less so, once again, were the Canadians’ immaculately radiant, red-blooded four-part vocals, a sound as lusciously suave as it is resonantly earthy.
The set-list roamed seamlessly between material from each band’s repertoire, spanning and transcending traditions – not least in Boulerice’s breathtaking hurdy-gurdy solo, itself a mesh of the medieval with the futuristic – while vibrantly affirming each one’s uniqueness. An early contender for this year’s top Celtic Connections gig."
Nicolas Boulerice, one of the group played the hurry-gurdy. This seems to be making a come back as I have heard of a few folk players but its the first time I've seen t being played on stage.
Its an amazing sound.
I have been working hard on the material for our performances on this week. Lots more choir, folk and strings group.
Eddie McGuire (Whistlebinkie) came along and talked to us about John Cage, experimental artist, composer and also a poet. We are performed Scottish Circus on Wednesday - a 30 min piece composed by John Cage.
This piece was written in conjunction with the Whislebinkie's who were playing at the one of John Cage's art exhibitions at the Edinburgh Festival in 1984. John Cage felt that some experimental music with a Scottish twist would compliment his work. The score give instructions to the players - there is no notation and no staves.
Players are to play Scottish tunes that they know, starting at different times, moving between the audience, and stopping when they wish for rests. The music heard by the audience changes constantly - and will never be the same twice. Each performance depends on the players and instruments performing, as well as what they want to play - and when -on the day! It was a great experience. Our performance saw us mingling between the auditorium and the foyer in the Music Box.
The performance of 4 minutes 33 seconds was even more interesting. Three movements of silence - with the musicians posed and ready to play but not actually doing so. We performed it on the foyer which was very busy. It was hard to hold the position for so long - without making a sound. But the effect on the audience was stunning. The whole place fell silent spontaneously.
It seemed to have powerful effect on people. What were they feeling? Expectation? Annoyance? Potential? It certainly had an impact.
Eddie McGuire said that although some were sceptical - in all the playing Whistlebinkie's had done it was performing John Cage's pieces that had got them the most reaction including an appearance on TV news. Interesting. It has given me an idea for composition.
In the evening I was playing with the Folk Band. We played The Granton Fish Bowl, by Simon Thoumire and Hamnataing by Chris Stout, recorded by Fiddler's Bid. This is quite nice slow set with a relaxed feel. Next was three jigs, all great tunes, The Northern Highland dance, Mattie and Karine's (recorded by Lau) and the Roxburgh jig, written by Laurie Crump. It was really fast but good fun.
My daughter, Sam, came along to the performance to take some photos - including the one above. She is a guitarist and really enjoyed the bands.
The classical concert was on the 19th January - choir was the best we have ever done I think. The rehearsal of the strings group went quite well. The perfromance was good too.
Here is the link to a Youtube video of our performance of Ezekiel Saw the Wheel
I am playing two reels which go up into third position - Sandyburns reel and the Hurricane. Sandyburns in particular is good fun. Its a Shetland reel although it isn't vey typical (in my view). More scales and also working on a slow lament - which is all up the finger board too!.
Working on my bowing and trying to relax my left hand more. Plenty to keep me busy.
I booked a day of workshops months ago. So its off to The Sage in Gateshead.
For the first workshop I played fiddle with Lori Watson.
She specialises in Border tunes and I learned a James Hogg tune called the Tussielaw Lines and another attributed to him - or possibly collected by him, Johnny Faa. Great tunes which have been recorded by Rule of Three.
James Hogg was a shepherd in Borders area. He taught himself to read music and play and became a writer, poet and musician. He is sometimes compared with Burns. Its interesting that in the borders there are a lot of fiddle tunes which have several lines of rhythmic fiddle accompaniment. This was because the fiddle was often the only instrument around. James Hogg's violin is in Edinburgh at the University's museum.
I then went to Bella Hardy's workshop on fiddle singing. She uses three techniques to sing with the fiddle. One is to play the tune, another is to chug/double stop, and the third is harmony. We had a go at this - its quite difficult. It takes a while to work out in your head.
The last workshop was with Calum MacCrimmon - the Breabach piper and whistler. His workshop was on Scottish session tunes which was great too. Breabach are playing everywhere at the moment since Meg Henderson joined them. Fantastic band.
All of the workshops were enjoyable. The standard was very high with most participants playing with bands, or on the folk degree course in Newcastle which was good.
Newcaste is easy to reach by train and its worth keeping an eye on. I booked another workshop in February for my daughter and I - ukelele! Looking forward to that.
Ever felt stressed or overwhelmed? Too much to do too little time? How should you plan your time and development?
I have had a career involving the scariest time management. I have been in tears because I knew that I simply could not be in two places at once i.e at an important meeting while I should be collecting my children from nursery on the other side of town. Sometimes its unavoidable but I can tell you - its not a good place to be.
Being a full time musician brings additional challenges. So how do you plan and manage time? There are some key principles that you need to work at.
To manage your time better you need to understand your habits by monitoring how you use time. That will let you know when you are being productive and when you are wasting time. I used a Google calendar to do this - colour coding things like practice time, being my children's taxi, household things, travel, college, going out, work and other commitments. Its helpful to check what spare time might be available.
Prioritise. Work out what has to be done first. And I extend this to my whole life - not just my music or work. Most of us have commitments - for example family commitments or whatever. Where do these sit in your list of priotities. It will be different for different people and sometimes sacrifices have to be made. Set objectives (preferably SMART - i.e. specific, measurable, achievable or attainable - but stretching, relevant and timed.) Keep these under review.
Many appraisal systems are founded on these principles. Objectives are set, at least annually, using these criteria. But I have never yet seen objectives the same at the end of the year as at the beginning. New unforeseen things crash in and others go on the back burner. Its a dynamic picture
The new year is a good time to reflect (more on this in a future
Who is the task for? In my last job I would always do things for Ministers before doing things for my boss and doing things for HR would be last on my list (sorry) - it just wasn't important in the whole cut and thrust of policy work. So work out which of your tasks are important taking this into account.
What is it for? In college, it might be more important to
make sure you plan work to get through your assessment before something else that could be put off a couple off weeks without dire consequences?
As a working musician it will be important to do the work that brings enables you to pay the rent and earn your living.
Know your deadlines and plan. Order the tasks. Different people plan in different ways so find a way that works for you. Personally I can't abide lists on bits of paper. I use an electronic "to do list" - a simple and effective (and free!)technique. Set electronic reminders if necessary. There are absolutely loads of planning tools available on the web. As I said above plan in practice time, family time, the time at College and so on.
Don't just leave the tasks until the day before they are due.
You must look at them and plan what it takes to achieve them. Sometimes this can result in a whole series of subtasks that need to be planned in before you can complete the principle task. For example, to get that DFM, there are a lot of subtasks - blogs, technical playing, performances, composition - all to be to different timescales.
There is nothing more annoying than discovering at the last minute that you can't finish because of some piece of information or other work that needs done first - and you don't have enough time to do it. Its really project management and depending on the complexity, there is project management software (e.g. some of which are free) which you can use. But be warned. There are people spend much too long planning and kid themselves they are working hard and progressing when in actual fact they never start the task or leave it too late!.
Cut your cloth. Consider what the essentials of the task are. If you have an exam coming up - what do you already know - and where are you weak points. What are you likely to be asked? Concentrate on the weak points that you are likely to be asked first. Its like doing a risk assessment.
My point here is to spend only the time you need to. There is a trade off. You will get most of the basics in about the first 20-50% of the time most people spend on an issue. The other 50% is often spent fiddling and fretting for not much more gain. That's fine if you have the time and you are a perfectionist. But if not - cut your cloth and move on.
Remember the longer term tasks.
The danger of being focussed on first tasks first is the tendency to put longer term tasks on the back burner - until its too late or you can't do a decent job. Longer term tasks - eg that Grade 8 or whatever - can be so daunting that you keep putting off getting down to work convincing yourself you still have plenty time. Hmm.
The easiest way to deal with this is to be honest with yourself about which tasks seem too big to contemplate starting and then break them down into a first small step. Then a second and so on. So - imagine eating an elephant. It just too big to know where to start. However, you can eat it if you break it down into bit size chunks - elephant hamburgers!. Apply that principle to your large task. And be pleased with taking your small steps towards the goal.
For music practice, keeping a practice schedule could be helpful. I try to set myself practice targets.
There are also helpful websites on how to practice productively.
Don't take on other peoples burdens.
Don't get tied up doing things that should really be someone else's job. You would be surprised how difficult it is to avoid other peoples work. We naturally all want to help. There's a slim line between this and being seen as difficult and obstructive or not a team worker - so think about this too.
Educate yourself about time management techniques and tools that are right for you.
Its an interesting fact that out of any workforce there are about five percent that are mentally unstable (but probably undiagnosed) to the point that they should consider treatment. Now look around your colleagues. If there are twenty of you that means in all likelihood one of you is in trouble. Stress is a killer.
Each person is different and coping strategies/time management strategies for each individual need to be tailored. For example I find orchestral playing hard with all the classical techniques - having come upthrough an aural traditional route. My coping strategy is to plan in some time to listen to recordings and follow the music. I slow them, if necessary, to understand how the parts fit together. I think this is a much quicker process - for me - than simply trying to sight read the music without knowing the piece. Audacity is a wonderful thing for me. My sight reading gradually improves too.
My daughter is dyslexic. She has to plan time management techniques around learning to touch type because it takes too long to write. There are free training programmes on the web for this sort of thing. In my last job, I had to read a ton of papers all the time so I learned to speed read. Now all I need to do is transfer this to reading music!
I mentioned project management earlier. There are all sorts of complicated Project management techniques to help depending on the complexity of the task. I am actually a trained PRINCE 2 project manager. Its too complicated for everyday life as a musician but some of the ideas are helpful. For example I find the idea of tolerances, and resource planning helpful, as well as some of the principles which you should follow if you really know your goal is unachievable.
In playing music, the tolerances will be pretty small - one wrong note is too many. But there is more leeway in some of the written assessments. A pass is a pass, as they say.
Resources usually means people, money, equipment e.g. IT etc. So if you are about to record, you might need session musicians, money to pay them, the recording studio, rehearsal time etc and access to the equipment to record. Plan these in if they give you the advantage in time you are seeking.
I bought Sibelius because its just such a hassle not having it. I am not sure its saving me time at the moment but hopefully it will pay off as I learn and it gives me higher quality output than not having it.
If all else fails - and you know you don't have the resources (time, people, money) , you can seek to negotiate to either get more of these or to change the output of the "project". Could you get deadlines extended? Or could you agree to reduce the spec of the project. So if that performance can't be put off and you know its unachievable - perhaps you shorten the set, play easier pieces or whatever.
The last thing is to relax. People often feel they are the only ones not coping as well as they might be. But I can tell you that you are not alone. If you are finding life difficult - the likelihood is that others are too. It can often help to talk about it - two heads can be better than one. Put it into perspective. Whatever the problem - its only small part of your life.
If you get seriously stressed - and I have seen this time and again in work - colleagues crash out - it can have devastating consequences. It happens in the music like any other work. You need to take action. At the end of the day your health and happiness comes first. Sometimes all that is required is a way to take the pressure off for a few weeks.
But if you time manage well you are unlikely to get to this in the first place, you will feel more in control and able to achieve your full potential. We know that makes sense don't we?
First week back after the break. I have been doing a lot of playing. Strings group isplaying Vaughn Williams' Fantasia on Greensleeves. Everyone knows the tune. Its quite difficult to play on the violin as it has four flats - F minor. It also has tremelo and pizzicato.
We also played Corelli's Concerto XII Adagio, Sarabanda and Giga- which are lovely. We will be playing Telemann's Chaconne on Friday - again in F minor with some tricky bits on the violin. Its a pretty piece though.
I am enjoying playing classical music far more than I though I would. Folk band is quite intense with five tunes and specific bowing all needing to be learned in very short order. We have had two rehearsals so far and they have involved sight reading at speed. The tunes are good fun and all involve different prescribed bowing. But its a good learning exercise and works better! Its a challenge.
Its good to be forced to try to do something differently.
Choir has also been more challenging and the pace is faster this block. We are singing Ezekiel and The Nightingale..
I have a new bow buddy! What is a bow buddy? Its a contraption that you can fit to your bow which immediately makes you hold the bow in the right way. After years of fiddling, sometimes my fingers tend to sit on top of the bow. This bow buddy forces me to wrap my fingers around it. Its really for kids but its quite effective and comfortable. Anyone teaching should think about it for their pupils. You can buy them at Amazon or from Things 4 Strings. After only one week I am back in the groove and my bow hold is back to what it should be. That gives a bit more control.
We all have to eat. That means we have to earn money one way or another and pay taxes.
There are lots of different ways of working as a professional musician. For example teaching, performing, working within arts organisations, working as a session musician, writing, recording, sales through websites etc.
Often musicians may have more than one income stream to make ends meet.
Its important to have more than one string to your bow - so to speak! Depending on the mix you need to think about your tax position.
Being a musician can affect your day job!
Some of these may mean working as an employee - either as a musician, or in some other job while you moonlight as a musician in the evening - as the chap in the picture clearly does!.
Some may involve being self employed. There are pros and cons to both.
Being an employee carries various rights and responsibilities - both for employers and employees. Its fairly straight forward as an employee. Your employer will ensure that your tax and national insurance is deducted from your salary at source - i.e before you receive it. Employees get a pay slip which will set out all the payments your receive (which could be your basic salary, bonuses, commission etc), and all the deductions (e.g national insurance, tax, pension contributions).
Check your tax code
Your payslip will also give your tax code. This is a number which is basically is code for the amount that you can earn before tax. Its different for different individuals depending on your tax allowances.
What are tax allowances? There are various threshholds for example, based on whether you are single, have children and are entitled to tax credits, have a company car etc. You should check this each year for your own position and ensure all the tax allowances you are entitled to are taken into account in your tax code.
Each year you will receive something called a P60. Don't glaze over - stick with it. This totals all your monthly payments and deductions and gives annual totals. Keep this.
You will need it for any tax assessment.
This system of deduction at source for employees is called PAYE. It simplifies tax collection for HM Treasuary and also for individuals. In addition it makes it more difficult for people to evade tax.
Usually that's the end of the story for employees. But even so, if you encounter expenses which are tax deductable, these can be claimed either directly by writing to the Inland Revenue (if below £2500) or through completing a Self Assessment tax return. Things like professional memberships, spending on some work clothing (where this is required for your work) etc can be claimed. This would usually mean a change to your tax code for the following year.
If you are self employed - or if a portion of your income comes from self employment you must keep records and complete a Self assessment tax return.
This will apply to you if you are a freelance musician.
How do you determine whether you are self employed?
There are various tests. If you make the decisions, own the assets, find your customers and are responsible (i.e legally liable if something goes wrong) then its likely that you are self employed.
There are various different ways of trading which you need to make a decision about. For example, you can trade as a sole trader, partnership, or limited company (which is legally separate from the shareholders and limits any losses to the company). There are different reporting requirements and tax regimes.
Most musicians won't be in the category of a limited company (which is quite complicated). But there are also advantages - the key one being that any liability is limited to the assets of the company and not personal assets - so depending on the risks - you might want to think about it.
For example, if you set up a business providing stage sets, scaffolding, and equipment at large events involving high profile musicians and members of the public, go for a limited company. But if you teach a few music lessons at home - then I'd set up a sole trader - with appropriate insurance etc. There is lots advice about the advantages and disadvantages of each on the web. Try the Scottish Government's Business Gateway site which gives a lot of helpful information about starting up a business in Scotland.
If you become self employed you must tell the Inland Revenue and keep records of income and expenditure. You must keep details of sales, purchase, expenses, wages, bank statements.
Sales means any goods and services that you sell. Purchases means things that you might buy in the course of the business. Expenses are things that you might need to carry on your business e.g. fuel, computers, website costs, advertising.
Its worth thinking about simple accounts software . It makes keeping accounts a bit easier and can also help you keep track of where the money goes.
If you work from home there is a decision about whether you claim for a portion of your bills. For example you can claim a percentage of electricity, gas, telephone, internet costs etc.
When you set up our business, I advise you to claim, claim, claim. If you start out underclaiming its more difficult to change your pattern of claiming later without a lot of hassle explaining! And remember that to claim for your expenses act it only doing what you are entitled to!
If you own your home you should take advice. Claiming a portion of expenses can affect the tax status of your home. You may become liable for some capital gains tax when you sell your home - not a good trade off.
Whatever your position, employed or otherwise, if you earn income (other than through your employer and the PAYE system) you must fill out a self assessment tax return. If you do this online - as I do - the deadline for submitting it and paying any tax is 31 January each year.
Depending how much you earn, where you are in life and how complicated your affairs, you might consider employing an accountant. Don't glaze over here. You are all going to be millionaires right?
Accountants can save you more than the cost of their fees in the long run. But its not necessary and too expensive if you are just starting out.
What else do you need to know about money? Take advice when you need it but DO NOT sign up until you read the small print. And I mean independent advice. If you are not paying fees to a financial advisor the advice is not necessarily truly independent - because they are being paid out of the commission from the company providing the product. Be warned - do your own research - read as many impartial website, financial press and consumer advice. Know what the charges of any financial product are and the impact it will have in any investment or savings. Remember about compounding - charges eat into this at an absolutely alarming rate. Be sure any financial product fits your needs.
There is a very good Government backed website called the Money Advice ServiceIt is impartial and is a good place to start. In particular, it has a good budgeting tool. Handy for business and personal finance.
Sometimes borrowing can be a good thing - most businesses run with some sort of loan, overdraft facility. But again check charges and conditions.
Mortgages can make buying a home cheaper than renting - but be sure you can afford an increase in interest. And be clear about how you pay it off. Remember the endowment policy scandal? A whole generation (including me) were sold policies as a sure way of paying of your mortgage early - only to find out that they don't repay your mortgage at all - leaving people with a massive shortfall. If you do end up buying a house, or premises or any other large asset - always try to think at a tangent.
By that I mean you need to work at finding something good value. You will rarely be able to afford your ideal - wherever you are in life. There are lots of opportunities - don't be rushed. Whenever I buy something large, I try to take it out of the market. Advertise for what you want yourself. You might be surprised at what might come your way. Don't be shy.
Review all your financial affairs at least yearly. I reckon you can often save up to about £1000 a year by doing this. Move electricity, gas, insurance, telephones. mortgages and saving accounts if necessary to get the best rates. Don't be afraid to ask for discounts - its an unBritish thing to do - but it can pay dividends.
Educate yourself about finance so you can make informed decisions - read sites like the BBC, HM Revenue and Customs, Paul Lewis (the BBC Moneybox correspondent). Reading the Motley Fool books were the single galvanising factor for me. I ready them after the age of forty - you should read them sooner! It doesn't have to be boring and the earlier you start the better!. I like the Alvin Hall books below - plain english.
The money you save before you reach the age of 30/40 will grow far more that the same amount saved later - because of the miracle of compounding. You might also want to consider investments. You can get tax relief for buying assets into your SIP (which is like an ISA wrapper around your personal pension).
The Musicians Union also has some helpful advice for musicians on finance and pensions insurance. Its worth knowing that membership can provide public liability insurance. Important if you teach.
Dealing with tax and finance is not much fun for most of us (unless you are an accountant yourself) but you can't avoid it. Don't let it build up or you will be letting yourself in for a lot of trouble and expense later.
Live long and prosper!