When I was a teenager, I remember Paul McCartney talking about writing “Yesterday, “The most recorded song ever. He wasn’t sure at first if he had conjured it himself or if he had inadvertently passed it on from another writer because the melody got to him so easily.”
McCartney’s story resonates with my own experience writing the melody.
Today, I describe it to my students as “they remember a tune that hasn’t been written before.” It comes from somewhere deep inside and is accompanied by a déjà vu; It is new and familiar at the same time. This is the best answer to the inescapable question: How do you know the correct musical note to choose when writing a song?
It’s a fair question surely but one that comes from a place of wanting a mental understanding of what an instinctive process is.
Aurelect vs. Mind
Intellectually, we can learn hundreds of wonderful melody devices. I teach many of these in Melody Master classes, such as line + 3 or shape shiftAnd Because it is necessary to expand our mental understanding of melody. However, to take the melody to the next level of composition, we must turn off our minds and trust what I call “Aurelect”.
In great moments, we don’t intellectually think of the melody, but rather hear it. We follow where the ear takes us and trust our instincts.
How do we develop our Aurelect product?
Let’s take a cue from Paul McCartney. The Beatles wrote some of the greatest tunes in recorded music. However, did you know that they started as a cover band? During their early years, they played eight hours a night in clubs in Hamburg, Germany. To cover those many hours of theater time, they had to memorize a lot of tunes. So, while playing the latest pop hits, they also learned Broadway tunes, Irish pub songs, and any music style they could get their hands on. I’m sure that’s a big reason why their music is universally accepted all over the world. Dedicating all of these songs to memory gave Paul and the Beatles a deep instinctive well to draw from later when writing their own songs.
Improvisation is a necessary second step to developing your aurelect. People often go to concerts and marvel at how famous guitarists or instrumentalists improvise spontaneously in long solos. Jam bands can go on for hours playing chords and melodies. How do they hear all those notes and melodies? They have developed their own aurelect so much that they can give it up and trust it. They don’t think about the techniques they should use next. They are in the moment. Writing great melodies comes from the same instinctive place.
In my Advanced Melody Masterclasses, I give my students the task of delivering fifteen-minute spit tunes each day. You can do the same. Record the progression of a simple chord on four bars and loop it. While playing in the background, spitball chimes in without thinking. Don’t worry about the words you sing. Don’t worry about the notes you’re supposed to sing. Just spit the tunes and sing!
Doing this on a regular basis will start developing your ear, so you can trust your ear. Also, you will find that hook melodies come out of nowhere. Record what you’re doing, and you can use the best parts to develop complete songs. Today, many contemporary artists, from Pop’s The Weeknd to country music’s Sam Hunt, use this technique in their creative process.
When creating melodies with aurelect, the idea is to take all the songs you’ve memorized in your life, the intellectual tips and tricks you learned while studying music, and let them move in your subconscious mind. This will naturally appear the moment you spit up and spit. On a good day, the tunes will be fresh, original and up-to-date.
Remember, melodies should be good and always sound natural. To the listener, the phrasing should sound as if it was effortlessly created. The more you develop your music collection, the better you will improve – and the more melodies that move the audience.
Until next time – write on!
Clay Mills is a six-time No. 1 songwriter and multiple Grammy Award-nominated songwriter/producer. His songs have been recorded by top country, pop, rock, dance, bluegrass, and gospel artists. His voice and songs have found their way into national ad campaigns and movie soundtracks. co-founded SongTown.com, the world’s leading educational site for songwriters, and co-author of Mastering Melody Writing & The Songwriter’s Guide to Mastering Co-Writing. Clay is as passionate about teaching songwriting as he is passionate about his own writing.