From the out of the mouths of babes department….
Last night my six-year-old son started crooning along with Ella Fitzgerald doing Cole Porter. When I looked at him in wonder, he said “I like to copy the song!” Then he said – “If you copy the whole song, then you’ve learned the song.”
That about sums it up.
It’s my experience, in both of my former lives as a musician and as a programmer, that I’ve learned first by copying what others have done, modifying it bit by bit, until understanding has deepened to a point of originality (or sometimes, my inability to achieve a good copy becomes its own originality). The myth of the creative genius creating brilliant works of art from completely blank slates is just that… a myth.
In jazz, if enough people like to work off your creation as a starting point, it becomes that most revered of compositions – the jazz standard. If the current enforcers were around, we probably wouldn’t even have such a thing.