Technique during times of low inspiration

I’m not in a super creative space right now. When I sit down in front of my computer and synths, the music isn’t exactly flowing out of me. When I pick up a guitar, the question that comes to mind is “why?”

So, how can I keep my creative process moving forward when I’m just not feeling it? Work on my TECHNIQUE! There are all sorts of skills that I can improve that don’t require me to be “feeling it.” By working on techniques that I know need improvement, I will be better equipped when inspiration strikes in the future.

One of the musical areas I have always felt weak with is drum programming. When I first became obsessed with electronic music, I fell in love with drums that sounded like they were being tossed down a flight of stairs, exploding all over the place:

Flash forward a few decades: I’m very comfortable with synths and ambience (and coding that ambience from scratch), but those drums still mystify me. A few weeks ago, during a dry creative spot, I decided to tackle these drum techniques, by sending myself to “Amen School.” I downloaded the Amen break, added it to a Live audio track, and started working on learning the cut and paste techniques that had been developed with this break in drum ‘n’ bass music in the 1990s. I’m making some good progress, and getting to listen to some amazing early jungle music in the process.

I’ve also found that inspiration can often strike in areas other than the things I want to be working on. I’d love to have the inspiration flowing for electronic music right now, but it just isn’t. Yet I’m having a flood of ideas for audio algorithms. Since, like, that’s my job, I’ve been spending more time in front of a compiler. I may not be churning out the good tunes, but sometimes spending a few hours reading through early 1970s patents can be satisfying.

Comments (6)

  • I think that your experiences ring true for many of us. Forcing creativity rarely (if ever!) works for me; it is so much easier to give in to the momentary lack of inspiration. Turning those moments into a positive is a bit more challenging. I usually end up developing technique (figuring out how to use plugins!), practicing my playing or even creating and sampling new synth patches. I guess many of us are also painters, photographers, filmmakers etc. so we have to double/triple up on our creative resources!

  • Joseph Corbett

    I try to learn more music theory… Basically, I play Chord Math. Scale math math math… ect

    Sometimes, just watching anime…. helps.

    What plug-in of yours do you recommend for acoustic nylon classical guitar? I already own delay & vintage reverb. Thank you.

  • Sean V

    I like all ideas in the previous posts, though I overdid music theory to the point of it being a way to put off making actual music. I’ve been doubling down on ear training and transcription in 2021. I experience it as both technical and inspiring.
    Possibly less obvious suggestions: get good sleep, ditch people that upset you, learn to say ‘no’, give happiness and health priority over productivity and be in it for the long run. Probably too self-helpy for the edgy crowd, but it can be really frustrating to think there’s something up with your creativity when there’s actually something completely different in your life you’re not tackling.

  • Amen. Great ideas on wading occasional creative quagmire. For me, playing an instrument in a new way helps to stimulate ideas – new tunings, ridiculous distortion settings, try extra hard to write something horrible (or worse than usual), etc.
    Heres the first take I ever heard regarding the Amen Break. A 2004 video installation created by Nate Harrison during the infancy of Youtube details its genesis and muses about free exchange of ideas and copyrights.
    Looks like Nates work little known original work has since been appropriated by Landon Proctor and is nearing 7m views. Sort of mirrors the original 6 second drum break and how it spawned drum and bass.

    Deep thought inspired by this discussion: take some simple, trashed idea you’ve had sitting in your bag of tricks and dress it up in different ways.

  • Warren Postma

    I am lucky because when my bass isn’t speaking to me, my piano and my guitar are. Or that new synth VST I just got. Or my charango or my mountain dulcimer or my mandolin. If it has strings or keys, and I can fiddle with it, it just takes an hour of spare time fiddling and something’s come out. The second key is a low effort recording workflow to just get demo level ideas recorded. For that I maintain something like the boss br600 is ideal.

    When no creative juices flow at all well…. Then maybe it’s time to play scales for a while.

  • Renan

    I believe it was Henry Miller who said: “When you can’t create, you can work.”
    Great post!


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