Copy the Masters

Copy the Masters

If you want to paint like Van Gogh, copy one of his paintings brushstroke for brushstroke. If you want to improvise like Charlie Parker, transcribe one of his solos note for note. Copying seems like the opposite of creativity, but this exercise will give you insight into the mind of a genius that you can use in your own work. Imitation is not unethical unless you try to pass your work off as someone else’s, that is, you commit plagiarism or forgery. Most likely, your own self will shine through whatever you do.

The Ramones wanted to write a song in tribute to the Beach Boys, and they came up with “Rockaway Beach”—pure Ramones and one of their greatest hits. Now I wasn’t there, but they certainly listened to a lot of Beach Boys tunes and covered many of them before crafting their own original. The Ramones themselves influenced many musicians, including the Clash. Listen to their first hit “White Riot” to hear the Ramones influence and the seeds of the unmistakable Clash sound.

No one is too good to be able to learn from a master. The better the teacher, the better the student.