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Jimi Hendrix and principles: how to create beauty in music and life

Isn’t it difficult to believe that a day once existed when Jimi Hendrix didn’t even know what a guitar was? Jimi started playing guitar at the age of 15, when a friend of his dad gave the teenager his first acoustic guitar. Imagine – Jimi Hendrix, 15 years old and doesn’t know where to start. In just a few years, the name Jimi Hendrix would not be heard without the electric guitar coming to mind.

Is talent the only difference between a good guitar player and a great one? What does it mean to be a “good” guitar player? Let me ask the question this way – who is freer to create music from the guitar: a 15-year-old Jimi Hendrix or a 23-year-old Jimi Hendrix?

The differences between the two are numerous: experience, education, confidence, etc. But basically it comes down to this: Before you sit down to play the piano, guitar, harp or drums, there is a certain standard – principles or fundamentals – of music that exist outside of the instrument itself. The instrument is merely a mechanism by which to apply the musical principles. For example, a child could sit down and bang 88 keys on a piano, but a concert pianist understands how a certain theory applied to the keys will create … music. And again, we ask the question, “Which pianist is freer: the child or the professional?”

If you say the child, the argument presumably would be that he is not bound to an old standard of rules. In fact, the result of his abandoning those rules might be what we call … art. But the problem is that the child is not free from musical principle, he’s bound to musical ignorance. He is not free to create scales, chords or timing. No, he has no concept of these things and thus what may appear to be freedom is actually slavery to ignorance.

Harsh words? Maybe. But here’s the point: Life’s no different. The guys that started America (you know them as the “Founding Fathers”) believed that humans live a life based on principles that exist outside of life itself.

Where did they get that?

An old guy named Aristotle. Seriously. Aristotle said you can either live like a pig taking pleasure in indulging your animal-like appetite, or you can live like the angels, and show some restraint and take pleasure in what he called “the higher things.” Now you may not believe in angels, but I’m not thinking the pig house is where I want to submit myself.

But why did the Founders care about what Aristotle said? Why him?

Founder James Madison said, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

Here’s his point: The more we aim toward reason over appetite (or angels over the pigs) the more free we really are. Why? Because the only way you can actually enjoy saying no to your “animal spirits” is by acquiring (brace yourself, really old-fashioned word coming up) virtue – or as Aristotle said, the moral and intellectual virtues. Once you get these principles down, the less you need to be managed by your mother.

These virtues are the music theory to life. You can live your life sitting at a piano and being a slave to your ignorance. Or you can pick up your guitar (or a copy of Aristotle’s Ethics) and be Jimi Hendrix. Learn the principles that exist just outside of your desire, and apply them to your life. When you do, you’ve started a path of self-governance and freedom that others can only dream of.

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