Today, I’m going to talk about playing piano. But I’m also actually talking about writing million-dollar sales copy…
I’m going to try to keep this quick because I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off, launching three campaigns in the next 10 days, and I have way more deadlines this week than any sane human. Add to that the fact I have the daily deadline of publishing what turns out to be a daily epic essay on marketing for YOU, and I’m, in a word, busy…
“Stop dawdling Roy, you say.”
To which I respond, “You’re right, Rainmaker!”
Let’s dive in…
I’ve recently recommitted myself to learning to play piano… With the simplest of strategies, but one I’ve never tried before… And I think there are huge lessons in it for you…
First, a touch of background…
I grew up playing violin. From 2nd through 7th grade, I played violin at school. I had to do it — my parents signed me up without much choice on my part — and I never loved it. I quit when I hit middle school and it was clear most of the orchestra was taking a step up in talent that I wasn’t interested in making. Good or bad, that’s what happened.
But I WAS interested in music. A lot of it! (Just not much that featured violins!)
In middle school, I decided I wanted to play rock music. So I begged my parents to buy me a bass guitar.
A bit of a problem at the time though. I was disengaged from school, my grades were less-than-stellar, and my behavior was near my lifetime worst. It was not a good time to ask for things. Especially expensive things.
Well, it took a couple years, but I ended up cleaning up my act a bit. At which point my parents DID buy me that bass. But the fire in me that would have driven me to practice every day had subsided a bit.
So I never ended up getting very good at bass.
I took a hiatus from musical instruments while I learned to produce electronic music, which I think I’ve gotten pretty good at over the last 15 years. But I’ve always had a bit of a drive to learn to play instruments.
My wife surprised me with a very nice Yamaha acoustic guitar she picked up super cheap off Craigslist, from someone who was much more interested in whatever cash they could get that day than keeping a really nice guitar.
And yet, it’s sat in its case collecting dust, only occasionally getting pulled out long enough for me to be reminded I don’t know a thing about playing guitar.
We also have a piano, which my wife plays reasonably well, and we are currently trying to get our kids inspired to learn (noting my own experience with being forced into playing the violin).
Throughout my entire life, I’ve flirted with music, and especially learning to play an instrument…
But I keep coming back to a few main feelings or emotions…
— First, I have a deep regret for not getting good at music already, not maintaining my violin skills, not learning other instruments when I was younger, not being more into music…
— Second, I have a sense of longing for the ability to play, even at a passably mediocre level, when I see and hear great music. I LOVE music and it’s always been an important part of my emotional and intellectual life, and I want to be able to make it live, as well as program music on my computer…
— And third, I feel a great disconnect between where I want to be, and where I am now, that gives rise to feelings of shame and inadequacy and powerlessness every time I try to dig in and learn…
All of this contributes to both a growing desire to learn, and a sense of loss when I actually try.
Then, I had an epiphany when I remembered learning music is like learning copywriting or anything else…
We all start at zero. With everything. Even walking. Eating. Pooping. Everything.
We all suck when we try to do something new. And the way we get good at any of it is that we suck, and we fail, and we fall, and we get hurt… And then we get back up, and try again… And maybe do a tiny bit better, but fail again… And try again… And fail again… And try again, maybe with a bit better results… And then fail a few more times… And we keep going until the successes are more common than the failures, and we just keep getting better.
1% per week. If you can improve at ANYTHING by just 1% per week, your progress in a year is good. Your progress in two years is amazing. And by year five, ten, twenty… You’ve risen to be one of the world’s best. Because it’s few and far between that anybody will devote themselves to improving by at least 1% per week at any skill for ten or twenty straight years.
If I could get 1% better per week at piano, it wouldn’t be long before I could play okay. And not long after that before I could play well. And within a couple years, I can probably be jamming out.
My favorite quote from Bruce Lee is, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
This brings new light and meaning to that quote…
The only question was, what can I dedicate my 1% learning to, if I want to learn piano fast?
I don’t remember exactly how I landed on this book on Amazon, but I discovered a book named Scales, Chords, Arpeggios and Cadences: Complete Book. Now, contrary to not knowing how to play an instrument well, I do know a lot about music theory. So this seemingly dry name appealed to me.
And I knew I’d hit the mark when I ran into all these quotes in the first pages of the book…
“Do you ask me how good a player you may become? Then tell me how much you practice the scales.” — Carl Czerny
“I don’t like to practice, never have. But when I do get started at the piano, for the first 10 minutes I play scales, slowly. I’ve done this all my life. Listen to the sounds you make. The sound of each tone will generate a response in you. It will give you energy.” — Van Cliburn
“I consider the practice of scales important not only for the fingers, but also for the discipline of the ear with regard to the feeling of tonality (key), understanding of intervals, and the comprehension of the total compass of the piano.” — Josef Hofmann
“Give special study to passing the thumb under the hand and passing the hand over the thumb. This makes the practice of scales and arpeggios indispensable.” — Jan Paderewski
“Scales should never be dry. If you are not interested in them, work with them until you do become interested in them.” — Artur Rubinstein
“I believe this matter of insisting upon a thorough technical knowledge, particularly scale playing, is a very vital one. The mere ability to play a few pieces does not constitute musical proficiency.” — Sergei Rachmaninoff
“You must diligently practice all scales.” — Robert Schumann
Some of those folks, I have no clue who they are. Others, like Rachmaninoff, I know to be musical gods. Rachmaninoff’s piano compositions are some of the most challenging I could ever hope to master. His quote above is very much akin to Bruce Lee’s 10,000 kicks quote.
And so my new practice is to try to spend at least 10 minutes every day practicing scales…
It’s very simple. I practice with my left hand. I practice with my right hand. I’m just starting to practice with each together.
I’m learning the very basic scales, playing two octaves up then two octaves down.
I’m playing with timing, and trying to not make my rookie mistakes show — like pausing briefly while “passing the thumb under the hand and passing the hand over the thumb” as the Paderewski quote mentions.
I’m not good. But I am at least 1% better than I was last week. And next week, if I keep up this 10 minute per day practice, I should be at least 1% better than I am now.
I’ll just sit here, playing basic scales. But I know it will compound my skills.
These greats — and many others — recommend this as a lifetime practice for a reason.
You’re teaching your fingers and your mind how to do it. You’re making it an automatic skill.
When you know the placement of all the notes in a key, and your fingers can play them automatically, it’s not a big leap to learn any song in that key.
To wrap this up, let’s bring this back around to copywriting…
To some degree, I started these Breakthrough Marketing Secrets emails as my way of playing scales. To write, regularly, on and about marketing and business growth.
Doing this as a regular practice is a smart way to continue to hone my writing skills.
It makes me think and write clearly, and convey my message in a compelling way that keeps you interested in me, and occasionally compels a desired action.
Any kind of writing is a good regular practice, if you want to be a paid writer. It will help you like practicing scales helped Rachmaninoff be a great pianist and composer.
But if you want to learn the very basics of copywriting, practice bullets.
Ferret out and present a benefit, a pain, a process, a mechanism, or a curiosity. Present it in a way that compels the reader to be interested — to want to know more.
Writing bullets (and headlines, and subheadlines, which function in much the same way) is the copywriter’s equivalent of practicing the scales.
If you get really, really, really good at these fundamentals, everything else will follow.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Copywriter, Rainmaker, and Hack Pianist, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets
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