Dealing with creative blocks; when things aren't working

I think the period where you just listen is often underappreciated. Often, I’ll work for awhile, and then take a break to listen to the results, I’ll pop on here or other forums while I listen and ponder the direction I’ve been going with a patch/system/themes that I’m developing.

This is definitely a huge stumbling block that I think a lot of people struggle with. I can’t imagine having bought an entire case together or even half. The influx of new tools will definitely slow you down, but as you suggest further down in your post - just have focused study goals to develop a familiarity. That said, I think with any system, there’s going to be a lot of discovery for a long time. That’s part of what is so fun and exciting about music and complex music tech.

See, my trouble is almost the opposite. I will rarely sit down unless I know I have 2-3 hours to work and I wonder if I wouldn’t be more productive if I just took the hour here and there and used it to be productive. That’s a big barrier there for me that I struggle with. As I’ve been preparing for this tour, and in the summer as a teacher, life is good because I am able to sit down for hours on end refining and developing while my wife is at work. Now I’m more in rehearsal mode where I just plop down for 30 minutes, set my patch back up to whatever starting point I have in mind (worth practicing too), and run through it for the 20-30 minutes and then shut down for more World Cup.

Finally, I think the older I get, the more I accept the periods of being unproductive. I don’t want to be a machine that pumps music out without a genuine spark or emotional or experiential foundation. There’s too much music out there probably already. There has to be something deeper behind the music and that comes from living. If life is only music, I think something will be missing. So yeah - it’s a fine line between forcing yourself to create and letting it go and just going out and living, which will inspire the art.

Good topic though, I look forward to hearing more from the forum.


An hour, or even less. I loved this track put together by recording a series of ever-shorter phrases from friends who had just gotten off stage, or other moments we don’t normally associate with immense songwriting creativity. I do wonder what kind of prompt he gave folks because the bits and pieces fit together remarkably well.

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There’s a great lecture/essay on this (and related topics) by Agnes Martin, “On the Perfection Underlying Life”.

It’s helped me see “the work” as a consistent practice or discipline, with failure as a cruel but necessary part. I feel the abject cruelty in failure when my desireless efforts result in self-parody, and I miss the occasion of simply laughing at it as a way to embrace it, so to speak, as the “storm before the calm”.

The gist of Martin’s essay concords well with @sellanraa’s realization:

It’s very difficult to extract simple quotes or one-liners from the lecture, but I’ll quote here the central part regarding failure:


When things aren’t working, I tend to tear all of my patch cables out and start anew. I did this two hours before my first ever live modular performance, and I think I was better off for it.

  • Don’t worry about “artistic direction” or “poor results.” Rather than force the process of working within your defined “style” or artistic perameters, force yourself to work outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes enthusiasm is found in not knowing, and being unexpectedly pleased with something you’ve never done before.

  • Read manuals or watch tutorial videos if you need to, but in my experience, sometimes it’s best to just patch away and learn from the sounds you make and how you react to them. Make notes on what works and what doesn’t work so that you can explore the good parts further in future sessions. Start slow, learn your modules inside and out, and understand them before buying new modules or getting rid of the ones you struggle to use.

  • When working with your modular system, leave your phone in another room, turn off your computer (unless you’re using it with your setup, in which case, full-screen whatever program you are using and turn WiFi off to avoid temptation and distraction).


I often fire up my modular to answer a forum question, try some new idea, or to play with a particular module or technique in detail. Sometimes that leads to a recording, sometimes it’s just a few minutes of experimenting, sometimes it becomes a long session where I learn but don’t record anything. It’s all good.

And sometimes I’ll go the other way. I’ll start out intending to make music, and just wind up exploring without that creative fire ever lighting. That can be valuable too (but I see why it’d be frustrating if that’s what happened every single time).


When things REALLY aren’t working, I pick up another instrument…flute, guitar, saw. The differences in approach and how one goes about shaping the sound, or the melodies/riffs/harmonies/timbres that emerge, usually end up sparking some ideas for the modular.

Other than that, reading poetry or like, experimental physics texts :joy:. Re-arranging the case and starting from scratch, just focusing on listening and exploring. Get that sense of wonder back, that these things are even available to play around with…

Or, go outside and do some deep listening. The birds have got some crazy songs to sing out there. The way it all combines. Glorious.


this is a wonderful topic. i had a composition teacher in college who was satisfied with my work as long as i regularly put in effort. it was less about quality and far more about promoting use of muscles. the point of it became that while inspiration is amazing, it won’t always be present…but… if you have the language and muscles prepared when inspiration strikes… well i think that can be called creative fluency. so you have your language, ability to use it regularly (are doing so) and then inspiration occurs and you’ll be learning how to regularly complete ideas in reasonable amounts of time. that was a powerful lesson learned and decades spent building into actual functional practice. balance and muscles.

some incorporated or related ideas:

  • i have different voices i focus on. a few wildly different setups throughout the house:
    piano in living room
    rhodes/moogsource/drum machine/matrix mixer+fx/amp in back yoga/meditation/sun room
    studio (has everything i need)
    i write/explore/compose in each setting which can be routed via di (or the mic for downstairs on long cable run). i use laptop wirelessly control via network the upstairs studio desktop.

meditation is great. before after during. yes all and assuredly another whole set of threads/fora

making the time. creativity requires time. some other aspects of life will be compromised to some degree.

when i reach a wall i find i can limit approach, use directive device (read: implementation of rules or guidelines).

“practice instrument”

modular was a big composition stumbling block for me. i work best in modular concept by simply documenting experiments/patch explorations and then approaching years later as sample fodder for song construction but after i have lost most or all memory of patch. my best voices come from dedicated instruments and therein lays difficulty in modular context as an instrument suffers upon constant aspect change. fiddling= voice dilution. i found trouble with restraint regarding the availability of change to instrument. i’m not suggesting others have this problem but i had this problem and it has led me multiple times to get rid of the modular… that being said i love modular thought dearly and i do plan on a tiny modcan b series system for downstairs given the opportunity.

don’t overthink.

finishing as exercise is great even if “end result” isn’t pleasing.

objectivity. this can be hard to come by and is invaluable commodity. can be afforded by time between work on specific compositions. so it helps me to work on things concurrently. for instance: literally working on 5 albums right now not to mention various collaborations. very slowly but also quite clearly, with intent. it all helps to build so long as i don’t get overwhelmed (which i certainly do from time to time). if i find problems with progressing on one track, i move to another or take a break. i may not come back to that troubled track for weeks and that will help with decision making objectivity.

filling energy basket. some things will deplete my energy, so i have to find ways to get energy so that i have it for creation. finding personal sources/means to fill basket…can be as simple as sleep, eat, dream, love, talk, be silent, watch, experience, peruse, walk, run, breathe and LISTENx10

in the end for me it is dedication coupled with daily choice in action. every day is new opportunity. choices can and will be made. work towards what you want, be loving and forgiving of self…but pick the path when possible and allow refocusing towards said path when veering inevitably occurs. i’ve built my whole life (with beautiful help from my wife and parents) in order to be able to regularly create. i can’t state gratitude enough for this continued opportunity. there is nothing i would rather be doing than creating. no time better spent in life.


SCHOPENHAUER defined BOREDOM as the “sensation of the worthlessness of existence.”

But THOREAU claims: “This reality is always exhilarating and sublime.”

KIERKEGAARD warns of BOREDOM as a “demonic pantheism.”

“Those who bore themselves are the chosen ones,” he writes.

But NIETZSCHE counters: “Is not life a hundred times too short for us – to bore ourselves?”

Later, RUSSELL claims BOREDOM is “essentially a thwarted desire for events.”

Although BOREDOM figures prominently in HEIDEGGER’S philosophy, I refrain from quoting him here as he was a Nazi.

Maybe this should go in process. I find boredom a necessary precursor to creative activity. If I’m excited by something, I’m not going to run to the studio, I’m going to milk the something until it’s no longer exciting. Then, later, when I am no longer excited, when I get bored, I will go to the studio and make something up to destroy boredom. So boredom is required and loathed at once.

Anyone else have thoughts on boredom?

(source of quotes:


Just like pain, boredom is an aversive and unpleasant experience that we need to have in order to truly live well


and as always analysis is equal to paralysis…:slight_smile:


If I’m at home and bored, there’s usually a cure – do something, or stop doing the boring thing. But if it’s not that simple, there’s something else behind the “boredom” – depression, fatigue, etc.

If I’m at work and bored… that’s how I spend so much time on music forums and listening to new music and researching gear :slight_smile:

Otherwise boredom usually feels like the result of being stuck waiting for something beyond my control, and I just have to suck it up or find some way to entertain myself.


Well… I was posting this over in Boredom but that disappeared on me as I was writing it… forgive the irrelevance to where it’s been moved but it was relevant to the thread as it sat then…

Boredom, to me, is the feeling of helplessness when achieving a given outcome seems, at the moment, either impossible or beyond my control, and I am unable to focus constructively on anything else that interests me (often due to a fixation on said unachievable outcome). I’m rarely truly bored, although there are many times when I wish to avoid the incessant microthinking internally-focused chatter via distraction.

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I’m bored when I have no good ideas AND when I can’t read because I can’t focus.

So nothing in and nothing out.

I find that if I make something when I’m like this, I think it’s absolute dogshit terrible. Then I’ll look at it later (like a week later) and find that it isn’t so bad.

I think I’ve noticed this enough times as a pattern that I’m just going to lean into it. I’d rather make crappy things than nothing at all, and that this ‘hard on myself’ energy will still be the source of things…rather than the stopping of things.

Check it out. This is what I made when I felt this way last (recently)…
-no identity
-the only thing was the sun on my face (no ideas)
-identity (the sun transferred it’s stupid face onto me)
-but so tired


I must admit my ‘down’ phases are short and rare - but I did want to share a couple of things that help me:

“Feeding my head” - I definitely need to take time out to consume other peoples work - reading , art etc

Being busy - sounds stupid but the more I have on (that isn’t having to make music) the more music I seem to make. My theory is that it all distracts me from actually thinking about making stuff - I just do it as an instinct (& I did spent a couple of years were I made myself make at least one track a week - a habit that stays with me and has stood me in good stead)

Working though it - it doesn’t matter if it’s shit keep making things and throwing them away - something good will come out the other side sooner or later

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I can so deeply relate to every panel in this comic. Thank you for drawing it, even though it must have been very difficult to do so.


Boredom is the worst. I really really really don’t like being bored. (btw, I don’t consider boredom a creative block…this merge is weird.)

Sometimes though - I have too many things I could do and the choice is overwhelming and leads to absolute lock up that feels exactly the same as boredom.

When someone asks me what my goals are, some percentage of the time I’ll say “being ok feeling bored.” Which is a solid goal…I tend to fill in the boring spaces too quickly.

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WANGH describes BOREDOM as “the unpleasant feeling of concern with the passage of time.”

Agreeing, HARTOCOLLIS writes: “More than any other affect, BOREDOM is experienced as a disturbance in the sense of time, as an inability to synchronize attention with the activities of the surroundings or, in their absence, with one’s own fantasy life.”

In BOREDOM, FENICHEL claims: “The instinctual tension is present, the instinctual aim is missing.”

WANGH goes on to theorize: “The bored person wishes he had something to do but does not know what. The inhibition of fantasy often occurs because of an unconscious fear that fantasy might lead to action of libidinal or aggressive nature – an impulse to masturbate or strike out – which in turn would bring about danger or pain.”

Lastly, BERGLER, in his paper “On the disease-entity BOREDOM,” advocates creativity as an antidote against BOREDOM.

(citation: WANGH, MARTIN. “Boredom in Psychoanalytic Perspective.” Social Research , vol. 42, no. 3, 1975, pp. 538–550. JSTOR ,")

For my 18th birthday, my high school boyfriend somehow got me a signed copy of It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. (The book was a plot point in our relationship.) Ned wrote to me, “since I turned 18, I’ve never been bored.”

There are a lot of ways to read his message. My feeling now would be that an accurate reading would say that Ned was being a little bit equivocal. Certainly he couldn’t say that adult life was grand (depression was a big theme in his work), but he didn’t want to be a downer either.

At the time, though, I took it kind of as a personal aspiration—to live my life in such a way that I would never have to be bored. Probably absolute success in this is impossible. In fact, I’ve started to notice (kicking and screaming), that sometimes my being bored, or spending my time idly, is a sign that I’m working on something subconsciously. So I try… sometimes… to not push myself when nothing is coming.


I have found in life, admittedly with a good dose of zen and taoism in the mix, that sometimes it is the right thing to do “nothing”…

Wu wei, the way of non-action…

Fields must lie fallow or they stop producing…

I often play guitar best when I haven’t picked it up in a long while…

Without negative space there is no positive space…


Feel free to take years or even decades, if that’s what it takes. I’m nearly 45, been making music since I was 14. In that time, the creative urge and muse has come and gone more times than I care to remember. Sometimes captured successfully, more than often not, but it has never stopped knocking at my door. In the times where you feel pressured to make music/finish tracks, try very hard to take a step back and ask yourself if it’s what you really want to be doing right now. Forcing things is never the answer.

I know I’m being a little cryptic, but am genuinely trying to express what it has been like, in my case. It’s a never ending battle between creative inspiration, musical chops on a real instrument, and the technical know how (computers/machines/techniques) to be able to accomplish what you need to. It’s very rare, for me, that all those things line up in the same temporal/geographical phase space. :slight_smile: When they don’t (i.e. most of the time), I content myself with real life, and listening to music, which is the fountain of all musical inspiration, for me. The last three years I’ve also taken up an acoustic instrument seriously, for the first time ever. It’s really the best thing I have ever done, as far as music goes.

Hopefully helpful, I understand the pain, believe me!