Copywork has long been an essential practice for writers. Notable practitioners include Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, Benjamin Franklin, Hunter S. Thompson, Mary Karr…
But copywork isn’t limited to writers. Composers too, have appreciated the benefits of copywork. In his memoir Words Without Music, Philip Glass shares how copying Gustav Mahler’s scores was vital to his development as a composer:
My second study of the orchestra came through a time-honored practice of the past but not much used today-copying out original scores. In my case I took the Mahler Ninth as my subject and I literally copied it out note for note on full-size orchestra paper. Mahler is famous for being a master of the details of orchestration, and though I didn’t complete the whole work, I learned a lot from the exercise. This is exactly how painters in the past and present study painting – even today, some can be seen in museums making copies of traditional paintings. It works the same way in music. This business of copying from the past is a most powerful tool for training and developing a solid orchestration technique.
Copywork, regardless of the discipline, helps you understand how a “thing” is constructed. A piece of art, music, a car engine, can all be better understood by taking each piece apart and reassembling it in the same manner of its original creator.