What happens is that the tune happens to you — you don’t happen to it. You can’t help it, because it’s not you, it’s the tune. Night after night, morning after morning, day after day, the tunes live inside your head. They sing themselves to you, they have their own life independent of yours, and when your life and their lives intersect, the minor, everyday magic that all musicians live for…happens.
You might first hear a tune out at a session, or on an eagerly-awaited new album, or at a performance. It weaves itself into your head, into your gut, into the spaces between the cells of your body. You may not even know it’s there, not for days, weeks.
And one day, while wholly occupied with something else, or just waking up in the morning, or last thing before dropping off to sleep, the tune sings itself to you — sometimes so softly you hardly know it’s there, sometimes in such an insistent, demanding way that there’s no mistaking that it wants your attention.
Sometimes it’s just a fragment, a phrase, or just one half of the tune. (At that point, it’s sometimes worth going out to find the tune rather than letting it find you, before the unresolved tune drives you to distraction.) Other times, the entire tune is whole and entirely itself, like Athena stepping fully formed from Zeus’s forehead.
Which is not to say it’s not best to double check that you’ve got the thing right; there’s any amount of tunes where it’s fairly obvious someone’s done what a friend calls a ‘cut and shunt’ — the A part of one tune grafted onto the B part of another — and it’s stuck to become an entirely different tune. (Last night, we played a tune and someone led the B part into a different phrase from another similar tune at the end of it…which was obvious when we turned it round to the A again, as everyone briefly wanted to go into the other tune; but never mind, we all did it together and every time we came to the phrase, so it probably didn’t matter much.)
They’re pretty much simple little things, these tunes. They’re a bit like nursery rhymes, repeating themselves and dangerously skirting a kind of musical doggerel, yet the best tunes form a complicated, fascinating tapestry from simple, plain threads.