How to Work With Inspiration – Translate Your Ideas Into Music

By | January 27, 2015

Inspiration very often occurs when you’re not in your studio, being outdoors and doing something else. This doesn’t mean inspiration wouldn’t strike you in the studio as well. The most important thing is to be ready in both situations. In this article, I’ll show you various ways on how to work with inspiration when you find yourself struck by one, wherever you are.

Get Inspired

Inspiration can occur anywhere and at any time. Having an inspiration is such a natural, creative process which needs to be taken full advantage of and satisfied. Inspiration could strike when listening to music that you like, doing sports and exercising, traveling the world or simply taking a walk outside.

Inspiration will strike anywhere. Photo Credit: Robin Otto via Compfight cc

Inspiration is a sudden strike. Photo Credit: Robin Otto via Compfight cc

Emotional issues such as relationships are a great source of inspiration as well. The important thing is to listen to yourself and feel your inner emotions, and let them guide you musically.

No one can ever predict how and when and inspiration will strike. All you have to do is be prepared for it, because if you are, you’ll get something out of it and it won’t be for nothing.

Inspiration arrives in many forms. The usual are:

  • A strong will to create music, in any form
  • A melody or chord progression appearing in your head
  • Lyrics or parts of them appearing in your head
  • The need to create music representing a certain emotion

Out of the Studio, What To Do?

Everyone’s got a smart phone these days, which makes the whole process of capturing natural inspiration so much easier. In our cell phones, we’ve got the ability to record sound and write down our notes for later use. If you don’t have one, at least carry a small notepad with you.

Which bulb of inspiration will be lit up? Be prepared. Photo Credit: Bat Israel via Compfight cc

Which bulb of inspiration will be lit up? Be prepared. Photo Credit: Bat Israel via Compfight cc

Should a great melody start playing in your head, the best you can do is to try to sing it out loud and record it with your iPhone, smart phone or equivalent.

In my experience, melodies don’t stay in our heads for too long, so the vital thing to do here is act as quick as possible. Sing it and listen to it over again to memorize it.

Sometimes you might create a drum pattern by beatboxing it, so it’s important to capture this groove by recording as well. Don’t worry about how “primitive” it might sound – it’s all about saving the idea for later so you can replicate it in the studio with proper sounds.

In the end, great music and musical ideas come from us when in a very humane state, meaning not trying to force the music out of ourselves.

Use tools to capture inspiration. Photo Credit: lucywatson- via Compfight cc

Use tools to capture inspiration. Photo Credit: lucywatson- via Compfight cc

In order to write down lyrics quickly, use the notepad application in your phone or an actual notepad and pen, for more intuitive action. Just like with melodies, lyrics can be easily forgotten.

In my experience, just by thinking over daily matters, situations or relationships, a lot of information goes around in our heads which can be translated to song lyrics.

Capturing chord progressions can be trickier, especially if you don’t have much experience with chords and scale degrees. But if you do know your chords and what they sound like in your head, you can easily write them down.

For example, I find the key of C the easiest to visualize in my head (probably because of the white keys on the piano), which is why I always use those scales as starting points when thinking about chord progressions. When I have a progression written down, it can always be transposed to other keys.

To practice chords and scale degrees, learn all the chords that belong to a certain scale, like the C major scale.

In the Studio – Bring It On

If your studio is in your bedroom, home or in an actual studio building, and should an inspiration strike, stop all else you would be doing and get rid of any distraction. It’s go time.

Pick up your favorite instrument, real or software, or any of your favorite musical tools used to create music. This one’s extremely important: make sure you record everything. Then just go on an jam!

To reduce any roadblocks, create an “Inspiration” template in your DAW which has your favorite instruments and effect pre-loaded and ready to record, so you’re always ready to go.

Genuine inspiration needs to be captured - don't let it run away. Photo Credit: *jhay via Compfight cc

Genuine inspiration needs to be captured – don’t let it run away. Photo Credit: *jhay via Compfight cc

The goal here is to capture that musical feeling or idea that runs through you. When genuinely inspired, it can evolve into a state of flow, in which you pour out anything you feel the need to express, into physical form. If you’ve experienced flow before, you know it feels like flying.
Nothing lasts forever though, and inspired moments of flow usually arrive as momentary rushes, lasting from minutes to even hours. So you need to focus on the task at hand and stay efficient and quick. Think of this as a gift from the universe – do not waste it.

Great, you’ve done it!

Sometimes when you don’t have a chance to capture the fruits of your inspired moments, you’ll have to learn to save the inspiration for later use. This demands determination and strong faith.

Sometimes it's good to analyze matters with care. Photo Credit: maxhebditch via Compfight cc

Sometimes it’s good to analyze matters with care. Photo Credit: maxhebditch via Compfight cc

You know, from time to time it could be only healthy to analyze matters further and dig deeper into the core of your inspiration. It will grow within you – if you let it and don’t touch it right away.

Take this lesson as one of the important ones in your musical life. The greats know what to do when struck by an inspiration, and so can you. Don’t overlook it – grab it by both hands.

Real music is about honesty, and honesty is inspiration.

-JP

When did you last have an artistic inspiration? What was it about? What kind of emotions did you feel – powerful, sadness, energetic?

Don’t forget to drop your comments below and I’ll be more than happy to get back to you.

10 thoughts on “How to Work With Inspiration – Translate Your Ideas Into Music

  1. Peter

    Hi JP and thanks for a great article on inspiration, and using it. You give some great tips, and what I like is of course many of them can be applied to just about any creative situation, not just musical. Cheers!
    Peter

    Reply
    1. JP Post author

      Thank you Peter. Indeed, inspiration is always artistic, and arts are not limited to only music.

      Reply
  2. Luis

    This is such a great article on inspiration. Some of us just feel like inspiration is something that needs to come to us when many times it is us that need to go out and find it. Just a simple change in a routine can unleash a great amount of creativity.
    What is your preference for note-taking? Smartphone, audio recordings, or old-school pen and paper?

    Reply
    1. JP Post author

      Hi Luis, thanks for the comment! Exactly, inspiration rarely strikes just by sitting on a chair in a dull room, doing nothing.

      As for taking notes, I like to use the Office tools in my Windows Phone, because they are cleanly visible and can easily e-mail them to myself. However, I have used the recorder on my phone as well for catching those melodic and rhythmic ideas. It’s very handy.

      In the studio though, I have a large whiteboard where I can write my notes, and use it all the time.

      Reply
  3. tom

    I really enjoyed your post. Inspiration comes places we least expect it. Being out in nature, a song, a picture, a book or a person. However I think a lot of times inspiration comes from within. Being able to listen to your inner voice. You can’t go wrong there…Tom

    Reply
    1. JP Post author

      Hey Tom, I’m glad that you enjoyed it. Indeed, inspiration does its magic in mysterious ways, and a lot we can draw from within ourselves. Take a relaxing walk in the park and think about matters that your heart needs to express – a good source of inspiration.

      Reply
  4. Stu

    Keep these coming JP. I really enjoy your words.

    Another commenter mentioned schedule changes and switching things up. That is a great way to get inspiration, as well as having a plan of action. Sometimes as you said, it can happen spontaneously. Being a beatmaker, I am always hearing songs that I envision flipping and making into something great. It could be a loop or a chopped sample. Regardless, the feeling I get when finally laying it down in my DAW is like none other. It’s what keeps me moving forward.

    I remember having a strange dream one night. I heard the absolute sickest beat in history. It kept replaying over and over. I was sure this was the beat that would define my musical career. This was a few years ago. I remembered it at first, but could not really quantify it in the physical realm. It stayed in my head upon waking, but to this day I cannot remember what it sounds like.

    It just goes to show that writing things down and taking any kind of notes is really beneficial to our creative process. I rely heavily on pen and paper because without it, I wouldn’t get anything done!

    To close this out, I went to church on Christmas Eve and had my smart phone with me. The chanters during the service (Doxology) sounded absolutely incredible. There weren’t too many people around, so I took a chance and discreetly pulled out my phone and started recording them. I have been busy and have yet to hear what it sounds like, but I’m hoping that I can make a sick loop out of some of the sounds.

    So yeah, we live in a time when we can literally do anything, and have everything at our finger tips. That is what I’m starting to realize day by day. The sky is the limit..

    Keep up the great work!
    -Stu

    Reply
    1. JP Post author

      Hey Stu, thanks for the comment. As you mentioned your dreams, I have went to bed multiple times, and while not fully asleep (more in the deep thinking mode), I’ve only found myself getting up, turning on the computer and putting down the ideas I just had.

      During moments like that, it’s important to capture your idea, because it WILL be gone. And like your dream about the beat, sometimes we encounter things like that and sometimes we will lose it. But there is only something to learn about it for the future.

      Nice, creative sampling on the church choir. That’s another way of taking advantage of inspiration. Even though the source didn’t come from you physically, you understood that it is a great moment to capture and turn it into a musical idea later on.

      Reply

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