Musical Inspiration

So i am just wondering, where do you get your inspiration from? Do you tinker around on the piano, play a chord progression and fit a melody into it, or is it always in your head? I'm just curious how different people come up with their pieces

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  • Thanks for replying Anne, well i get my inspiration from many places such as nature or a life experience. Sometimes though, i would just hear the music in my head playing, like a few nights ago i woke up and i just started hearing a trio and i just decided to write it down.
  • I have several places I go to for musical inspiration. I love to walk and also visit the gym regularly. I find that time, when I am alone with just my thoughts is very fruitful and many of my ideas for composition come then (or ideas for what to do with current compositions). I also look to extra-musical inspirations. I write a lot of program music, so my music often has its inspiration in literature. Finally, I often play around with my keyboard to find a starting melody.
  • Playing and absorbing as many musical influences as possible.

    I would also suggest that certain instruments are predisposed towards a particular style or influence, so the more instruments you play, the easier inspiration becomes.

    Just strum a classical guitar and you can hear Spain...
  • Usually I get most inspired after just reading a beautiful book like Jane Eyre *sigh...or watching a movie like Pride & Prejudice that has the most amazing score....also *sigh*

    But generally I usually come up with a song when I accidentally place my hands somewhere on the piano and it sounds good....or just when I am mucking around and I find that little piece of gold that I can dig to a whole vein of wonderful golden goodness...haha
  • It might sound weird, but I have given up on waiting for inspiration. Do fresh and wonderful ideas come to mind when I don't expect it? Sure. But I've found that I can't really make that happen.

    So, my tricks for getting pieces started include the following:

    - Imagination and imagery: Have an image in my mind, and compose to match it. I find that if I create some image or story in my mind (maybe...a struggling infantry unit in WWII), then melodies begin to suggest themselves. If I'm composing for a project that already has a theme or story, this part is much easier, of course.

    - Becoming the listener: This is another mental trick where I stand back, and put myself in the seat of the listener. I try to imagine the unwritten music being performed, and see how it comes out. This takes me out of the creative seat, and makes me passive to the whims of my subconscious imagination, I suppose. I hope this makes some sort of sense...

    - Sweat: Once I have a basic idea or a melodic sort of motive, then I throw time and muscle at it. I carry the music in my mind and keep "playing" it over and over, looking for any weak point. Then I tweak and continue. I do this for days in a row. I think this is the harsh reality of creativity - it requires labor, like anything else. Sure, inspiration is nice because it requires less labor. But most often, sweaty labor is required to get a good product. Tweak and mod, tweak and mod. Pull out hair. And so on.
  • Life experiences, anything ranging from the death of a friend to a wedding, and everything in between. Some of the greatest rhythms I've heard were a pair of tennis shoes in a dryer at a laundramat. My current cd "LifeStorm" was inspired by a piece a friend wrote. She's an actress and the piece was about wishing/dreaming of being able to do what you love full time. Also I have taken whatever day I started a project and researched what happened on that date in history, and the historical event becomes inspiration for what was initially just a phrase or a sound.
  • I used to just play the piano and things come to me. But these days for me its a little different since i have gone to music school and start composing for short films etc. I listen and study allot of different styles of music and different music cultures. To get a better understanding about how to use sound for the best impact.
    but when it comes to putting the pen to the paper.
    my writting process is something like this
    I usually get told by someone some glide lines for what they want or i come across something that sounds nice. Then I go for a walk and have a think about it, at this point i usually start putting the piece together in my head get a shape and a plan of attack happening. Then i sit down see what happens. write out the basic frame of it. Leave it for a bit to think it over, before coming back and so forth till its finshed
  • There are probably three main sources of ideas for me. I'll list them in order of their frequency:

    1. Tinkering around on a keyboard. And when I'm doing that, I'm usually trying to come up with things that are out of my "ruts"--that is, things that are not just habitual patterns to play, habitual chords, habitual ways to think about music theoretically, etc. I fall into ruts enough as the process continues (and to some extent, that's desirable as it's what creates stylistic connections to other music I've done), but that's usually the initial approach. Once I come up with something that I find interesting and emotionally resonant, there are a number of techniques I'll use to play around with the material to start developing it into something larger. Those techniques are kinda like "Creative Whack Pack" strategies, or what Brian Eno called "Oblique Strategies", that I use to experiment on the initial material I came up with.

    2. Things just pop into my head. That happens a lot while I'm sleeping, but it can happen during the day, too. So then as soon as I can, I'll run to a keyboard and transcribe whatever it was. I tend to get the most complete ideas this way when I'm sleeping, although sometimes, once I'm fully awake, I no longer think whatever I came up with was so great, and sometimes I realize it's either the same as or too close to some other music I'm familiar with, so I abandon it.

    3. Ideas sparked by others' music. That can happen while listening to others' music, but just as often it will happen when I'm working on others' music--either analyzing or trying to play it, and when trying to play it, the origination is often me making a mistake. I'll prefer the sound of the mistake, and then start working with whatever it was that I played instead. It's never that I'm trying to emulate the other music on any large scale, by the way. It's usually that I'll hear some detail--like maybe just a chord, or a rhythm, or whatever, that I love and then try to figure out why I love it and start experimenting with my theoretical analysis there.

    Ah--after reading some other comments, I should add that I _never_ just "wait for inspiration to strike" to begin working. I schedule time to compose, and follow the schedule. Both (2) and (3) are pretty much uncontrollable things that just happen periodically, and when they do, I jot down whatever I need to in order to remember what I came up with/what I liked, so that when the scheduled time to compose rolls around, that's what I start working on. But if I don't have anything "in the queue" from (2) or (3), I just start tinkering anyway. I think it's important to do this. I also do visual art and write both fiction and non-fiction, and I do the same thing there, too.

    The thing you need to avoid is evaluating your initial work from a consumer (or "critic") standpoint. You're going to do _some_ evaluation, of course, as in just "hmm, I like this chord next better than that one", but the point of it is just to work, just to produce stuff, just to get into the habit of getting ideas flowing. Once you get the work done and you put on your "critic's hat" later, you might decide that you need to discard 90% of what you came up with (although I'd suggest only temporarily setting it aside), but that's fine. At least 10% of your work is a keeper in that case, and I think regularly going through the process is more valuable. Just remember to put the critic away when the composer is at play.
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