According to Webster’s Dictionary, an authority is “a person with much knowledge or experience in some field, whose opinion is hence reliable: an expert.” Unfortunately, many so-called authorities are “self-appointed.” They want to be authorities, but they lack the training, experience and/or ability to merit the position of an authority. However, they like to play the role of professor or guru. They like to be treated by others as if they had earned the respect they demand. Truly accomplished people command respect by their actions. Weak people demand respect in words.

The danger of “self-appointed” authorities is that they often give out advice that is harmful to young students. It is for this reason that I am suggesting the following ways to recognize these “phony” mind bending characters. This is a sort of check list to help the young person avoid wasting time, energy and money on unproven methods.

  1. Self-appointed authorities tend to be extremely critical of big name performers and teachers. To hear one of them tell it, “My system is the only one that works.” When you analyze this point of view you realize that this can’t be true. There are many great players who have used many methods and systems in order to develop themselves.

Self-appointed authorities spend most of their time talking “against” someone or something. They spend very little time being “for” something. Moral: It is easier to tear something down than it is to build something up.

  1. Self-appointed authorities often make outrageous claims and assertions in order to attract the uninformed or naïve student. Typical comments used as “hooks” to catch you are:

“Don’t practice—technique is nothing.”

“Forget the rudiments—they won’t help you.”

“Don’t listen to certain drummers.”

“It is not necessary to read music.”

“Don’t go to music school.”

“Don’t bother learning other percussion instruments.”

If you notice, each one of these ideas is against something. Each line starts out with “Don’t” or equally negative lines like, “Forget this or forget that.” “Just listen to me” is the implied message.

  1. Self-appointed authorities are often mysterious. One of the current scams is to pretend to understand “Eastern” thinking. What actually happens is that the authority reads a book on meditation and becomes an instant expert. To fully appreciate the value of any Eastern discipline takes years of dedicated work, much like learning to play a musical instrument.

These same authorities are often unkempt. Their clothes, their hair and often their teeth are badly in need of a good scrubbing. Never take advice from someone who is so disorganized that he cannot find time to bathe.

  1. Observe the other students this authority tends to attract. Are they positive, intelligent, hard working and talented? Or are they weird, introverted, weak and disorganized?

Whatever the results of your observations of the other students, they should tell you a lot about the teacher, both positively and negatively.

  1. If this “authority” is into drugs the solution is easy. Get away from him as fast as you can and keep away!

Self-appointed authorities come in all shapes and sizes. I was working in a club a number of years ago. When I came off the bandstand this rather sloppy looking character said to me, “You play well…but I can really help you.” I could not tell if the guy was drunk, stoned or just plain weird. However, you don’t have to know why a guy is strange in order to protect yourself. I replied, “I think you should help yourself first.”

  1. Rarely, if ever, do self-appointed authorities play well. If they did play well they wouldn’t need the “act.” To put it another way, “Don’t take driving lessons from someone who can’t drive a car.”

One last thought: Really great teachers, whether it’s meditation or drumming, generally give “suggestions.” “Why don’t you try it this way?” Or, “Here is an easier way to think about it.”

Great teachers rarely give advice. When a guy starts out by saying, “If I were you,” you know that you are in trouble. This guy wants to tell you what to do with your life. I have never liked advice, but I have always welcomed an “informed” suggestion. The key world is “informed.”

Remember, truly qualified people don’t mind questions. If they have earned a degree or just amassed great experience they will be only too happy to fill you in on their background. Don’t be afraid to ask for credentials. It is your life and your money!