An old hymn might seem the last thing to help you become a better copywriter.
But you’d be surprised…
Do you remember singing Morning Has Broken at school?
It was the first tune I ever learned to play on the bass guitar. And to this day I can still remember how to play it.
There in the under-funded music room of a rundown comprehensive in Cleethorpes, I was introduced to a bass guitar for the first time.
As the guitar was the one they used to teach people to play, the music teacher had marked various notes on the fretboard…
A little sticker marked the string and corresponding fret where you should place your finger to play a C, an F, an E, a G and so on.
Basic stuff, right?
But I couldn’t read music and I’d never picked up a bass guitar in my life. So, I was thankful for those simple stickers.
Shown the order of the notes I should play, and with a rough idea of the hymn’s melody, I set about learning how to play Morning Has Broken.
Over and over I would play the familiar phrase…dah dah dah daaah-daaah.
Though any practiced musician might laugh at the simplicity, it was tough. Again and again, I would hit the notes in order, trying to recreate the melody.
I can’t say how long it took me – it might be I’ve forgotten out of embarrassment – but finally, the breakthrough came.
Practicing at home I hit upon the melody. And again. And again.
I’d nailed it.
I’d learned how to play Morning Has Broken on the bass guitar.
At this rate, I’d be a rock star in a matter of weeks. My band – which consisted of me and my friend who was learning to play guitar and had ambitions of being the next Bon Jovi – would be famous.
Of course, it didn’t work out quite like that.
Instead, my music teacher set the next task: learn Rock Around the Clock by Bill Hailey and the Comets.
The struggle began once again.
Learn to rote and you’ll learn to write
Despite my slow start, I did eventually enjoy some success with my bass playing.
I’ve taken the stickers off my guitar and can recall spontaneously the position of the notes.
But the fact remains…
It takes me just as long to learn a melody these days as it did when I was struggling to overcome the dah dah dah daaah-daaah of Morning Has Broken.
Surely, after all these years I should be able to grasp a melody much easier?
The reason I can’t is an important one.
In fact, it is fundamental to becoming a better copywriter.
You see it all has to do with how you learn to play a piece of music on the guitar.
And in turn, it has everything to do with how you learn to become a better copywriter.
From when I first picked up that note-marked bass to the present day, every time I look to learn a new melody – I do so in the same way.
I play the melody over and over and over again.
It is only by constant repetition I am able to learn the melody at all.
Learning to be a better copywriter is the same…
Repetition is key.
You might have heard of the technical term used to describe this kind of learning…it’s called ‘rote’.
I talk about it in my book, The Art of the Click. I believe it’s one of the best ways to give yourself a good grounding in copywriting.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s not rocket science.
All rote learning really means is learning something by repetition. Actually, did I already say that? Well, that’s the point.
To get something into your head, you’ve got to repeat it over and over until it becomes a natural reflex.
Without rote learning, you wouldn’t have Bon Jovi. Maybe that’s not a bad thing…I mean, my tastes have changed quite dramatically as I’ve got older.
Jazz it up
Have you heard of Dave Brubeck?
He was a great jazz pianist.
He wrote the song Take Five, which even if you don’t realise it…you will have heard.
But without rote learning, there’d be no Take Five.
I assure you – though he’s considered a master of his art – even Dave Brubeck would have sat at the piano and tapped out the melody to Take Five over and over again.
He’d hit dud notes.
He’d get the rhythm wrong.
He’d get angry and be ready to call it quits.
And as you strive to be a better copywriter, you’ll go through just the same problems.
And yes, sometimes you’ll feel like calling it quits.
But you shouldn’t.
Seriously. If you’re ever a bit stuck or feeling down about your writing…
Try copying out some of the work you admire and you’ll be surprised how it seeps in and inspires you.
Without realising it, you’ll start to get a feel for the language being used, the rhythm of the sentences, the weight of the paragraphs.
It will help.
Just don’t start copying out Bon Jovi lyrics.