How To Get Out of Your Creative Box

Sep 04, 2021

I can always use some tips to get out of my creative box. So I’m going to bet you can use some tips on how to get out of your creative box too. I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll share some tips here, and you can give me some tips you have in the comments.

I’m glad you agreed to this deal. May it be ever fruitful in a long-lasting, mutual-benefit relationship.


Change Starter Instrument

Sometimes I sit at the piano and nothing comes. Then I sit at the guitar and I finally get some inspiration. Or at least come up with something I won’t throw out.

Sometimes the opposite happens.

Other times it can be helpful to start with something totally different.

If you play different instruments, try writing with all of them, not just the one you’re most comfortable with. Often, different instruments will inspire you differently. Acoustic guitar usually inspires me more rhythmically, while piano is a more consistent melody starter.

Maybe for you it’s piano and flute. Or violin and bass. Whatever instruments you play, try to change it up. Don’t just stay dedicated to whatever instrument you’re best at.

Don’t be afraid to pick up an instrument you can’t really play well either. Even if you aren’t a pianist in any sense, no harm can come from sitting at a piano and plugging away at notes. It still plays very differently than your violin, and you may write something a little outside your ordinary.


Use Different Instrument Sounds

You don’t even need to change physical instruments to get out of your creative box. Many instruments can be used to generate some different sounds.

This will be most true of the piano and the guitar, but you can certainly find ways to alter the sound of any instrument, whether digitally or physically.

Just switching from acoustic to electric or the other way around can make a huge difference. Then tack on guitar pedals and other effects, and the sounds are nearly endless. You’ll tend to play and write some very different styles when you have some heavy distortion vs when you have the guitar clean with some heavy delays.

I’m a piano purist. I will never understand those monsters who see a perfectly good, in tune piano and are like “yeah, I’ll just use the keyboard”. That being said, I have one of those great $350ish Yamaha keyboards that are super portable, with 88 weighted keys.

Not exactly meant to be a synth of any kind.

But, between the capabilities to plug into my computer via midi and use it like a synth, and even the 3 alternate sounds I can choose on the keyboard, it gives me nearly unlimited sound options.

Sometimes I need to get away from that “Singer-songwriter writing a song at the piano” thing. A way I can do that? Change it to that crappy honky tonk setting on my keyboard. Or maybe the strings. I love to plug it into my computer via a midi cable and try some different synths too.

And, when I have a deep, heavy synth sound from playing the keyboard vs the sound of a piano, I just tend to write a bit differently.


Start With A Drum Beat

This one is actually new to me. And it blew my mind how simple and obvious it is. And, as to not take the credit, I learned this from the immensely talented Felix Weber.

I tried it about as soon as I got home from meeting with him. Mind blown.

This is especially helpful to write in different styles than you normally would. Say you like a jazz vibe, but never really think in jazz. Bring up a jazz-style drum loop on your computer and problem solved.

Maybe you’re more of a singer-songwriter/rock person like me. But, also like me, have some interest to dabble in some electronic or EDM stuff. A drum beat will definitely help you along the path.

It amazed me how quickly I could shift into very different feels and genres that I had never written in -or even ever really played- by utilizing this trick.

Try out some different sites like here and here for some drum loops.


Start With A Soundscape

Something else to try is to start with a soundscape to get out of your creative box.

Maybe a track of some ocean waves, a rainforest, or a river at night (why does it sound different at night, though?). Maybe go a little more intense and go for a tornado or looped tornado alarm. The Chicago alarms are especially terrifying if you want to go that route.

There are tons of creepy ocean sounds too. Admittedly, I do like a good, creepy, mysterious sound.

Regardless, there are tons of soundscapes out there waiting to be used as a song-starter.


Create Your Own New Sound

I love creating a sound every once in a while. It’s a good way to spice things up. There are several ways to do this.

I’ve done something where I took a guitar part, and then made a copy of it, I then reversed each individual note of one copy and put it together with the other one. It gives a very different sounding fade in to the peak and then fade out effect. It doesn’t even sound like a guitar by the end of the process. It just sounds vaguely guitar-esque.

In theme with the “backwards sounds”, I’ve also taken the ringing of a grandfather clock, reversed it so the loud part was at the end, and then pitch shifted it down a lot so it sounded more like a clocktower.

In one of the songs I released last year, the entire low soundscape was a recording of a ceiling fan. I recorded the fan, slowed down the recording so the individual “swoosh”’s could be heard, and then pitch shifted it down a couple of octaves. Then I used a phaser to add to the swelling effect. Give it a listen here. That low sound is the fan.



Finally, you can always co-write to get out of your box. Different people will have different worldviews, experiences, emotional responses, and styles. A great way to get pulled from your box is with someone to help pull you out.

What are some tips and tricks you have for getting out of your creative box? Help me out and let me know in the comments below!

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