Guiding Principles – Part III
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 #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. Guiding Principle #2 outlined the importance of connecting daily to our “true self”, selfishly spending regular creative time that encourages inspiration to pervade our musical expressiveness on a regular basis.

With the big picture laid out, we can now re-think how and why we practice and perform our crafts. Why not start with the million dollar question? What is the purpose of technique?

Guiding Principle #3: Technique is only a tool that transmits inspiration.

Why is technique important? Technique is ONLY important to communicate and transmit what is in that “quiet dark corner, deep deep inside you” (remember this from Guiding Principle #2?). In other words, we learn technique so we can clearly communicate what it is our “true self” directs us to say.

While I think many of us learn technique for the right reasons, I, for one, often struggle with how to apply it and can easily forget why it is important. That said, our guiding principles, if internalized, should keep us focused!

Have you mastered guiding principle #1? If you haven’t then your “ego” is still in charge. Your “ego” encourages you to practice technique for the wrong reasons, thereby distracting you from successfully applying it to a meaningful musical situation. What are the wrong reasons you say? Here are only a few that I have fallen victim to over the years.

Wrong reasons to learn and master technique:

A mechanism of self evaluation.
If you evaluate yourself on technical prowess only you will burn out.

To flaunt it.
Flaunt means to “provoke envy”. This desire is entirely “ego” based.

So you can play a specific kind of repertoire.
There is nothing wrong with working on specific technical challenges certain pieces present, but also work more generally to build technique for any and all situations you could find yourself in at any given moment.

Instead, do your technique work everyday, no matter what repertoire you are playing. Don’t evaluate yourself only on how your technique is developing. Instead, evaluate your ability that day to shape a musical phrase using that technique. Or, more concretely, what were you able to communicate as you played a certain passage? Inspiration often comes as a spontaneous musical thought as you are playing. Did inspiration allow that to happen in your practice session or concert? If so, then you succeeded! Application is the key. The good news is, your “true self” is really good at that! If you build technique for the right reasons your “true self” will communicate unique musical thoughts, and your technique will transmit those to you and your audience. Isn’t this the whole point of being an artist?

This can be a really “hot topic”. What are your thoughts on these ideas? 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 28, 2010 by Thomas Burritt.


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

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