I recently had a lesson with one of my favorite guitarists, Scott Henderson.
He takes the time to answer his fan’s questions on his discussion board.
One of the questions really got my wheels turning.
Because it’s the jealously guarded secret of the most successful jazz improvisers in the world.
(Stick with me for a sec and you’ll see how this applies to copywriting.)
QUESTION: “I would like to ask about your approach to improvising over Giant Steps and Countdown, or any similar progressions.
Specifically, how much of your ideas are worked out phrases, or variations thereof?
I have had trouble improvising with those pieces without using previously worked out patterns and such.
My feeling is that if I had 50-100 worked out phrases that were interchangeable over the various permutations of the Coltrane matrix, then I could almost fake that I was improvising over it.
I personally don’t want to utilize that approach, but maybe that is just what most great improvisers are really doing over those types of progressions.”
SCOTT’S ANSWER: “That’s exactly what great improvisers are doing.
True improvisation, defined as playing things we’ve never played before 100% of the time, especially at fast tempos, is pretty much a myth.
All improvisers have their personal vocabulary of small licks which they re-arrange to create different ideas and phrases, just like we use words to create our ideas when we talk.
Listen to Coltrane’s solo on Giant Steps and you’ll hear many small “words” repeated many times, but even though the same words are used on the alternate take, it’s a totally different solo.
Improvisation is just another language and the same concepts apply.”
After I read that, I dug out some materials I got a few years ago from a guy who used to be an instructor at Musician’s Institute in Hollywood, CA.
Here’s what it said:
“Musical improvisation. Let’s define what it’s not. It is not the God-given ability
to invent melodies from out of the sky. It does not come from a bolt of lightning,
enabling one to be a monster soloist.
It is not a divine gift, which only a few of us have because we are special.
What then, is improvisation? It is a spontaneous reorganization of ideas previous
Did you catch that?
“A spontaneous reorganization of ideas previous learned.”
So doesn’t it make sense that the more “ideas previously learned” you have stored up in your melon, the more likely they are to spontaneously reorganize and come out at just the right time?
So how do you get these ideas into your noggin?
Well, if you’re a musician, you transcribe and learn licks or motifs from your favorite players.
In other words, you SWIPE them.
How do you do it if you’re a copywriter?
You swipe the masters!
When I first started writing copy I did what Gary Halbert said. I wrote out sales letters by hand written by the masters.
Gary said it would imprint the cadence, phrasing, word choices and rhythm of successful copy into the recesses of my demented mind.
It wasn’t fun to do.
In fact, it felt a lot like work… but it sure was worth it.
If I were you, I would stick to sales copy written by the masters, both dead and alive.
Multi-million dollar controls.
You can’t go wrong with those.
In fact, I’d be reluctant to study copy from somebody who hasn’t at one time
written a direct mail control.
Also, don’t be too impressed with the copy that sold $1 million in 24 seconds during the guru’s latest launch.
The copy was NOT the reason for the launch’s success.
A simple “click here to buy” link probably would have accomplished the same thing.
Stick with studying the masters and you can’t go wrong.
And don’t worry about becoming a clone of your favorite master. It ain’t gonna happen… even if you want it to.
Pieces of them will come out in your writing but it will be fused with your own personality, style and phrasing.
So even though you’re learning and advancing your skills by being a copycat… originality will be the end result.
Gotta run. It’s time to get back to transcribing some Scott Henderson licks.
P.S. I personally hand select a kick ass swipe piece… a proven control… and share it with my knights in the Marketing Camelot.
I also do a video review of each of the swipe pieces.
And my knights get a new swipe piece each and every month to study and swipe.
And that’s just ONE of the many benefits my knights get each month.