Guiding Principles – Part II By Thomas Burritt

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 artists in the right direction.

Guiding Principle #2: It’s Good for us to be Selfish.

Guiding Principle #1 focused on identifying and acknowledging the war going on inside of you between your “true self” and your “ego”. Spending time only with your “ego” results ultimately in misery while spending time with your “true self” produces personal fulfillment and artistic inspiration. So, you’ve read the first post in this series and you’ve acknowledged this struggle that every artist has and that’s the first step. Now, we need put in place some steps that will help us spend more time with our “true selves”.

This summer I spent some time with my family watching the very successful television series Friday Night Lights. In Episode #3, season 4, a character, portrayed in the show as an eclectic visual artist, was asked what the most important thing an artist has to do to become great. This is what he said: “You must be selfish. Your going to spend your life trying to express some quiet dark corner, deep deep inside you (your true self). You will put aside love, God, and life, in order to follow this craving. Screw everybody else and maybe you have a chance.”

Now, that is a bit hard core, and I get that. That said, I believe every artist has to come to grips with balancing their creative “true selves” with “love God, and life”. The problem is, as an artist, you already know full well that “your going to spend your life trying to express some quiet dark corner, deep deep inside you”. You know that this internal urge is relentless and simply can’t be denied. You also fear that denying it and trying to move forward without it will only lead to misery.

What then do we do? Should we “screw everybody else” as the above quote suggests? How do we handle the “love God, and life” part? Well, I am certainly not claiming that I know the answer to either question, but I do think we can focus on a few guiding principles that will help us manage both sides of the struggle. The key is spending time on a regular basis with our “true selves”.

Guiding Principle #2: It’s Good for us to be Selfish.

The very act of being selfish, if in the right context, actually helps us get in touch with our “true selves” Guiding Principle #1. Here are some tips I’ve found helpful.

1. Set time away EVERYDAY to be creative. A Pro is selfish about setting time aside.
2. Practice technique, but also practice being musically expressive. Technique is “ego” driven while the act of being musically expressive is “true self” driven.
3. Evaluate your practice time by asking the following question: “Was I expressively musical today?”

Also, during your daily creative time, deny your “ego” at all costs. Do not let “him” in. He wants to tear you down, tell you that you stink, and unfairly compare you to others, remember guiding principle #1? Your “ego” is a false representation of who you are so be selfish about denying “him”. In fact, he is jealous when you are selfish because “he” knows “he” is powerless when you connect to your “true self”.

Instead, selfishly spend time with your “true self”, allow inspiration in and that technique you have been working on will work, that bad habit you have been addressing will cease to exist. I know it doesn’t make sense but if it did, it wouldn’t be art. Somehow, accessing inspiration by spending time with our “true selves” has the power to apply ALL the technical issues that we have been painstakingly working on in the practice room. “It” bridges the gap between mechanical repetition in the practice room and the implementation of that work in performance. After all, Isn’t this process the main goal of learning to be a musician? Your “true self” is truly genius!

But what about “love, God, and life?” Well, I’ve found that experiencing inspiration EVERYDAY by connecting to my “true self” actually allows me to better experience “love, God, and life”. After connecting to my “true self” I feel invigorated to experience my whole life. I know it sounds crazy but it should come as no surprise, of course, because your “true self” is truly genius and capable of WAY more than your “ego”.

What are your general reactions to these ideas? How do you learn to apply technique to musical expression? Leave your comments below.

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 November 18, 2010 by Thomas Burritt.

Dave Gerhart

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