Marilag Lubag's Blog

Copying Your Way Through Mastery | January 1, 2017


While learning from a teacher is a good way to learn a craft, there is another way of learning. It’s called imitation. Imitation allows you to learn the basics of a craft. It also helps you to develop your sense of style. In addition, it gives you a direction on how to practice your craft. Although people often look down upon people imitating others, it’s actually the best way to learn anything.

I’ll use singing as an example. If you want to learn how to sing, you have to list your top 5 favorite singers and practice by imitating them. You do this by picking one of their songs matching them note by note until you’re close to perfection. This can take weeks—even months. And be careful—don’t overdo it. While it’s impossible to copy the singers exactly, you’ll develop your own skills by copying them. If you keep on doing this, you’ll become a good singer after a few years.


You’ll learn the basics of singing. The basics of singing are simple. Knowing how to breathe, hitting the right notes, having the right rhythm, and knowing how to modulate your voice. The rest you can learn through practice. Who could show you better how to sing than the greatest singers that have ever lived? If you imitate them, it’s like taking a voice lesson from them. That’s how some teachers teach singing to begin with—imitating them. I should know. I took voice lessons for years and have had the privilege of having a handful of teachers.

You’ll develop your own sense of style. Picking singers to imitate helps you refine your taste. You’ll realize that you don’t like a certain singer’s “screaming” while you’ll admire another’s way of hitting high notes. You might prefer Bruno Mars’ type of music over that of the Celtic Woman. You won’t know what you want until you’ve listened to a lot of singing and pick the ones you like the best. And because they are who you think are the best, it would do you good to imitate them. That way, their influence could be incorporated on you as you develop your sense of style.

You’ll have a direction to practice your craft. Practice can only help if you have a direction you want to go to. For example, if you want to be a singer and only practice singing without knowing the basic guideline of how to sing, you won’t become a good singer. Now, if you say to yourself that you want to sing like Whitney Houston (may she rest in peace), you’ll take out Whitney’s recordings and start imitating them. Now, you’re never going to sound exactly like Whitney Houston but you’ll improve more as a singer imitating Whitney Houston than if you do it without having a particular person to imitate.

If you want to be a writer, list five people you admire as a writer. Then, buy their book (articles, short stories, etc.) and start copying what they wrote by hand. Yes, the entire thing. Now, it’s going to take months (if not at least one year) but from this exercise, you’ll learn how they put words together. If you realize that you admire how they tell the stories more than how they put their words together, make an outline of the novel action by action. When you write your piece (this should be only for practice), replace the part of the sentence they used with your chosen words.

For example: “I have never given much thought of how I was going to die.”

That’s: Pronoun + auxiliary verb + never + verb + adjective + noun + of + how + pronoun + was + going to + verb

The point of the exercise is not to completely copy the masters. The point of this exercise is to better understand how the masters do things so that we can incorporate them in our work. We can learn more from them if we imitate them than if we do things our own way. To me, imitating someone is the best way to learn anything. Imitate as many people as you admire. Your sense of style would be the sum of all the people that have influenced you.


What do you think of imitating the masters?


Sources: Image via

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