The Music Lab: Turning Everyday Conversations Into Great Songs with the Talk-sing Method

Early in my songwriting career, I was driving to a co-writing session with Hall of Fame songwriter Rory Bourke. Traffic was extremely slow that day. I rushed into the writing room and frantically said, “I’m so sorry that I’m late.” Immediately, Rory sang what I had just said: “I’m so sorry … that I’m … late.” Having just met Bourke, I wasn’t sure if he was serious, joking or messing with me. I chuckled, but when he continued to repeat little things I said throughout the co-writing session and at lunch that day, I got a little annoyed. 

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However, over the next few weeks, I found myself doing the same thing in everyday life. I’d hear an actor say something in a movie and immediately, without thinking, sing back the phrase. A friend would say something in conversation and I’d repeat it back with a melody. It was as if I had caught a melody disease. 

Over time, I started to notice it became easier and easier to conjure new melodies while songwriting. Singing what I or someone else said was teaching me how to turn words into melodies in a seamless way — an instinctual way. I was shortening the distance between lyrical thought and the melody of a song, striking closer to the emotion of the words. This talk-sing method had become a part of me.

Developing your aurelect 

In my forthcoming book, Mastering Melody Writing, I discuss a popular question I get from students: “How do you know which notes to choose when writing a melody?” It’s a fair question for sure, but comes from a place of desiring to intellectually understand an instinctual process. 

In reality, when writing a song, I hear the notes far more quickly than I can think them. My voice is following my ear — to be specific, the instincts of my ear. 

Intellectually, we can learn techniques for writing melody. While it’s crucial to expand our mental understanding of melody, in order to take melody writing to the next level of composition, we must turn off our intellect and trust our aurelect

In aurelect moments, we are not intellectually thinking about melody; we are hearing it and immediately singing it. The talk-sing method teaches us to compose without the intellect. We are following where the ear takes us.

Does by-passing the brain when composing melody work?

I’ll answer that with a story. Thankfully, some of my biggest hits have come from talking about life and relationships in a writing session. For instance, one day I climbed on a tour bus in Kentucky to write for the first time with recording artist Darius Rucker. He asked how I was doing that day. I told him that I had recently broken up with a girlfriend and was second guessing that decision. He said, “Man, we’ve all done that. I still think about a girl from second grade sometimes.” I looked at him and said, “Really?” He shot back, “Don’t think I don’t!”

I had my guitar in my hands and immediately sang the words …

Don’t think I don’t think about it
Don’t think I don’t have regrets

As soon as those words and melody fell out, we knew we had the seed of something great. After 45 minutes, we had a chorus and were halfway to writing our first No. 1 song together. 

Don’t think I don’t think about it
Don’t think I don’t have regrets
Don’t think it don’t get to me
Between the work and the hurt and the whiskey
Don’t think I don’t wonder ‘bout
Coulda been, shoulda been all worked out
I know what I felt and I know what I said
Don’t think I don’t think about it

(Of course, I realize now as I’m writing these words that I owe my buddy Rory Bourke a big thank you — and maybe a nice bottle of wine — for teaching me this valuable technique!) 

I encourage you to practice the talk-sing method with phrases you hear on TV, on the radio or in everyday conversation. Do it until it becomes second nature to you. This will help train you to intuitively fit phrases into melody and rhythm. No thinking or filtering — just sing. For this melody muscle builder, remember there is no wrong way to sing a line. It’s all about shortening the lag time between thinking words and breathing musical emotion into them. So, sing away!

Clay Mills is a six-time No.1 hitmaker and multi-Grammy nominated songwriter/producer. His songs have been recorded by major artists in country, pop, rock, dance, bluegrass, and gospel. His voice and songs have found their way into national ad campaigns and movie soundtracks. He co-founded SongTown, the worlds leading songwriter education site, with fellow hit writer Marty Dodson. Clay is as passionate about teaching songwriting as he is about writing himself.

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