It was recently shown that blind source separation (BSS), as originally developed in the signal processing community, can be used in operational modal analysis to separate the responses of a structure into its individual modal contributions. This, in turn, allows the application of simple single-of-degree-freedom techniques to identify the modal parameters of interest. Several publications have recently attempted to give a posteriori physical interpretations to BSS – as initially developed in telecommunication signal processing – when applied to the field of structural dynamics. This paper proposes to follow the route the other way round. It shows that several separation criteria purposely dedicated to operational modal analysis can be deduced from general physical considerations. Three such examples are introduced, based on very different properties that uniquely characterise a structural mode. The first criterion, coined the “principle of shortest envelope”, conjectures that the envelope of a modal response has, among all possible envelopes, the shortest length. That such a principle leads to the governing differential equation of a single-degree-of-freedom oscillator is proved from calculus of variation. The second criterion, coined the “principle of minimum spectral variance”, conjectures that the frequency spectrum of a structural mode is maximally concentrated around its central frequency. Finally, the third criterion, coined the “principle of least spectral complexity”, states that a structural mode has the lowest possible entropy in the frequency domain. All three criteria can be expressed in terms of a mixing matrix whose columns contain the unknown mode shapes. The recovery of the latter is then trivially achieved by minimising the criteria. Extensive simulations show that the proposed criteria lead to figures of merit very similar to those of the state-of-the-art, while at the same time providing physical insight that other algorithms issued form the signal processing community may dramatically lack.