Developing Your Aurelect Vs. Your Intelligence

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As a teenager, I remember Paul McCartney talking about writing Yesterday”, the most recorded song of all time. Initially, he wasn’t sure if he had brought it up himself or if he had unwittingly stolen it from another writer because the melody had come to him so easily.

McCartney’s story resonated with my own experience of melodic writing.

Today I describe this to my students as “remembering a melody that was never written”. It comes from a deep place within and comes with deja vu; it is both new and familiar. This is my best answer to the inevitable question: How do you know the right notes to choose when writing a song?

It’s a fair question for sure, but comes from a place of wanting to understand intellectually what an instinctive process is.

Aurelect versus Intellect

Intellectually, we can learn hundreds of cool melodic devices. I teach many of them in my Melody Masterclasses, like Line+3 Where shape shift, because it is crucial to expand our mental understanding of the melody. However, to take melodic writing to the next level of composition, we need to turn off our intellect and trust what I call “the Aurelect”.

In moments of aurelect, we do not think intellectually about the melody, but we hear it. We follow where the ear leads us and trust our instincts.

How do we develop our Aurélect?

Let’s take Paul McCartney as an example. The Beatles wrote some of the greatest melodies in recorded music. However, do you know that they started as a cover band? In their early years, they played eight hours a night at clubs in Hamburg, Germany. To cover so many hours of stage, they had to memorize a lot of songs. So while playing the latest pop songs, they also learned Broadway tunes, Irish pub songs, and every style of music they could get their hands on. I’m sure that’s a big reason why their music is so universally accepted around the world. Committing all of these songs to memory gave Paul and the Beatles a deep instinctual well to draw upon later when writing their own songs.
Improvisation is a necessary second step to develop your aurelect. People often go to concerts and marvel at how well-known guitarists or instrumentalists spontaneously improvise long solos. Jam bands can spend hours playing chords and melodies. How do they hear all these notes and melodies? They have developed their aurelect to the point of being able to let go and trust him. They don’t think about what techniques they should use next. They are in the moment. The writing of great melodies comes from this same instinctive place.

In my advanced melody masterclasses, I give my students the task of spitting out melodies for fifteen minutes each day. You can do the same. Record a simple four-bar chord progression and loop it. As it plays in the background, mindless spitball melodies. Don’t worry about the words you sing. Don’t worry about the notes you’re supposed to sing. Just spit out the melodies and sing along!

By doing this regularly, you will begin to develop your aurelect, so you can trust your ear. Moreover, you will find that catchy melodies come out of nowhere. Record what you’re doing and you can use the best bits to develop entire songs. Today, many contemporary artists, from pop’s The Weeknd to country music’s Sam Hunt, use this technique in their creative process.

When you create melodies using aurelect, the idea is to take all the songs you’ve memorized in your life, the intellectual tips and tricks you’ve learned from studying music, and let them flow. stir in your subconscious. It will manifest naturally as you spit and create. On a good day, the melodies will be new, original and fresh.

Remember that the melodies should be pleasant and always natural. For the listener, the phrasing should sound like it was created effortlessly. The more you develop your aurélect, the better you will become and the more your melodies will move the public.

Until next time—write on it!


Clay Mills is a six-time #1 hitmaker and multiple Grammy-nominated songwriter/producer. His songs have been recorded by major country, pop, rock, dance, bluegrass and gospel artists. His voice and songs have found their way into national advertising campaigns and movie soundtracks. He co-founded SongTown.com, the world’s leading songwriter education site, and is the co-author of Mastering Melody Writing & The Songwriter’s Guide to Mastering Co-writing. Clay is as passionate about teaching songwriting as he is about his own songwriting.

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