By Thomas Burritt

Guiding Principles – Part I

Having a passion for pedagogy has taught me a lot over the years. One important idea that I’ve developed along the way has to do with perspective. I’ve found that a student can learn more quickly by focusing on general perspectives or guiding principles. These general ideas work to enable the student to apply and connect specific techniques to the aesthetics of musicality (phrasing/interpretation). Each post in this series will focus on a different “guiding principle”, a general concept or idea that can point students in the right direction. Which direction you ask? Well that is simple: the development of superb musicianship.

Guiding Principle #1: There is a war going on inside you.

As an teacher, I want each student to become the musician they are destined to become, one that reflects who they are at their core, their “true self”. This statement suggests that each student should develop an identity as a performer, a personality that is equal to his or her “true self”. It also suggests, that if miss-guided, a student could develop into a performance identity that differs from their “true self”, a personality that contrasts from who they are supposed to or should be.

At the crux of this dichotomy is a battle between two opposing internal forces: the “true self” and the “ego”. The “true self” is a pure reflection of the authentic identity of our soul, while the “ego” is a false representation of our authentic soul identity. The artist who “is” their “true self” is an inspired artist. She is ready and open to create for the right reasons. This perspective leads to “inspiration” which causes fulfillment. The “ego” driven artist is enslaved to unattainable desires to succeed by unnatural means. He may succeed to great lengths but the kind of success he experiences ultimately can’t lead to fulfillment, only disappointment and burnout.

These two opposing, “at war” forces create two very different artists:

One understands that their art is much bigger than they are while the other feels they are important to their art. (Un-entitlement, entitlement)

A “true self” artist puts in their time everyday and prepares for the long term without expecting ANY reward while the “ego” artist looks for and expects instant reward and gratification. (Ego stroke unnecessary, ego stroke absolutely necessary)

One artist enjoys their labor while the other only enjoys the fruits of their labor.
(Daily fulfillment, non-daily fulfillment)

A “true self” artist doesn’t compare her work against others while the “ego” artist only compares his work against others. (Internal validation, external validation)

The problem is, of course, that both these artists exist in each of us. When we play great and feel “inspired” we connect to our “true self”. When we feel frustration, failure, insecurity, and fear our “ego” has gotten the better of us. This constant internal battle is our greatest enemy causing immeasurable consequences on our development as artists and people. So what then are we to do?

We begin by acknowledging the battle. By identifying the struggle we can learn how to fight the “ego”. The “ego” is deceitful and unrelenting. It can convince each of us (student and professional alike) that our art needs us. That is insane! It teaches us that if we work hard enough we will get everything we want. We all know that just isn’t true. It’s comparative nature teaches us to judge others, placing some or all beneath us, or opens up a critical spirit to those who inevitably surpass our achievements.

Instead, experiencing the “true self” each day, keeps us fulfilled. The “true-self” is in it for the long haul. It just wants to improve because by it’s nature it HAS to. It respects our art to such a degree that it only wants to contribute something unique to improve it. The “true-self” never stops learning and reveres the ideas of those who came before. It’s lack of comparative nature supports and invigorates our daily practice. This daily internal validation sustains and inspires the artist, and ultimately allows success in through the front door.

Superb musicianship, then, happens as a result of our “true self” revealed. We put our work in each day expecting something special from it. If it doesn’t come, we can sleep easy knowing we put our time in. When it does come, however, we are poised, ready to engage our talent and technique in a meaningful and deeply moving way that only the “true self” can unveil. True inspiration! Ever have a really special performance? Or, lost track of time in the practice room? These are signs of connecting to your “true self”. Pretty exciting right? It’s when everything is working as it should with no “ego” driven self doubt, insecurity, or frustration.

Slowly over the years I have learned to recognize the severe damage that “ego” causes to ourselves or others. Even as I write this my “ego” is beating me down, offering me constant distraction to finishing this post. It is saying practically out loud: “others will mock you for revealing these thoughts”. But I’m fighting the battle, determined to say what my “true self” says. Even though my “ego” often gets the best of me, today, right now, and every time someone reads this in the future, it’s lost the battle.

This is the foundation to becoming the best artist you can be. In following posts we will attempt to work on connecting these ideas to our every day lives as musicians and teachers. In the mean time, take some time to acknowledge the battle going on inside.

What are your reactions to these ideas? Do you teach something similar and use different terminology? Leave your comments.

I must acknowledge Stephen Pressfield’s “The War of Art” in the refining of these ideas. This book is truly epic and you can purchase it here.

Originally posted on DrumChattr on October 28, 2010 by Thomas Burritt.


The photo in this post is used under the Creative Commons License: Attribution – NonCommercial – No Derivs 2.0 by Ardonik on

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