The following guest post is from a good friend and fellow Heretic Matej Novak, a copywriter with a deep passion for language and branding.
In high school, I played bass in a band. We had this one song with a long, meandering, improvised section towards the end. The plan was, essentially, to not have a plan for ending it. If it was going well, if the crowd was into it, we would keep playing until it felt right to end it. It worked OK, but we hadn’t played together long enough to know each other’s signals, patterns or tendencies, so I ended up worrying I’d miss a cue or something. And since the song didn’t have a proper ending, we didn’t know what we improvising around.
Our drummer’s brother used to say he thought every musician should learn to play some Cure songs. I thought, yeah, great, I love the Cure, but I didn’t really understand what he meant. It was only years later I figured it out. If you listen to a song like “Fascination Street” or “Lullaby,” you can hear how perfectly constructed it is. Each instrument has a purpose and is given time to play a theme or melody before the next one comes in. It builds and it fades, it ebbs and flows, and each piece contributes to the greater whole.
What we didn’t know back then is that you have to have a solid version of something — ending and all — and learn to play it well before you can start messing around it.
If you’re going into a meeting, a pitch, a presentation, don’t think you can wing it. Sure, something might come up that forces you to adapt on the spot, but if you don’t have a tight, well constructed and well rehearsed version in the first place, it’s just going to be a mess.
In other — partly made up — words, you have to learn to provise before you can improvise.