What do you do when you don't know what to do?

And does anybody else have this problem?

You want to play with your machine…But you’re not really sure how/what to play with.

Years ago I played this game on PS3 called Proteus. I quite liked the soundtrack and how all the sounds responded to what the player was doing/seeing/interacting with. On a limb I sent the composer an email, saying I really enjoyed his work and asking him some questions about composing in general. What he responded with I still remember: “Sit down and explore and enjoy yourself, and consider that a composition can sometimes be a reward.”

I still think about that sometimes–and this philosophy helps with Elektron exploring.

So generally when I sit down with an Elektron machine without any plan whatsoever, I just load up a machine and lay down some trigs. Hopefully an idea will strike like “Oh, I’ve never p locked the distortion amount on this step” or “oh I’ve never sent a hold triangle LFO to the attack of the amp envelope” kind of stuff. Generally some sounds/feeling/groove will start happening and I’ll see where else it will go. Oftentimes it’s nothing, and that’s okay, but sometimes it turns out to be something that gets me going. Either way, along the way, ideally I’m learning and growing with my instrument and I suppose that is the most important thing.

But still it’s daunting. There is something a bit overwhelming about sitting down with one of these machines without a dedicated plan.

So what do you guys do?


For me moods triggered by visuals work perfectly. Just skipping through a movie without sound or switch through a stack of photos or pictures until something triggers a mood I want to express …


When I find it hard to come up with a plan, I go outside at night and just planet out for awhile!



Oh man, I have a pretty sure fire method for these situations… with guitar. BUT maybe it can be translated. I’m not quite fluent enough to make this work with my Elektrons yet, but I’m sure eventually I can apply it. Maybe you already can.

I call it “circle of truth.” You abide by some rules. 20 minutes to set up a new rig. You can use gear you’re familiar with, but arrange it in a new way, or swap out some kit… just make sure it’s a fresh enviornment. Sit down in the middle of the gear and take 20 minutes to do nothing but listen and play. And listening is by far the most important part.

Granted this is a lot easier with an instrument that responds quickly and dynamically to the touch, but I usually end up spending most of the time turning knobs and repeating phrases, not unlike a sequenced instrument.

The best case scenario is you get massive inspiration. Worst case scenario is you’re had 20 minutes of exercise in your chosen art form.

If inspiration is lacking and you’re in a place where reefer is legal… that always gets my wheels turning :wink: Just be sure you’re coherent enough to operate your machines.


Yes very interesting…When I first got my MnM I played with it in my room, in the living room, at the kitchen table. Then I thought “well if it’s always hooked up all the time it’ll be easiest to just turn on and play”…which was true. But playing around with where I have it could help.

As for listening: I totally agree. There’s a maxim I heard somewhere that said creation is like a bank. You have to deposit a certain amount before you can withdraw. So if I listen/learn a song on piano or guitar or whatever, after absorbing it and really understanding it, I can withdraw from it in an original composition or sound design or whatever.

But this topic is more about what to do when you DON’T have anything to withdraw…In which case, a possible solution can certainly be to just sit and listen to music, as counter-productive as that might seem at the time.

I agree with this in principle, but to convince myself “hey you didn’t just waste 20 minutes” is a lot more difficult in practice :stuck_out_tongue:

There’s an Ariel Pink song:
“Will I write a song you love today?
There’s no way to tell and who cares well I don’t

Every time I pick up a pen I get
Interesting results”

I see where you’re coming from, but I have to disagree a bit. I find that even playing a single note in the “Circle” and listening will lead you to the next note. It can be a self sustaining system!

But, since I’ve never been anyone else, I only know that it works for me. Maybe not everyone. Anyway, there has been and will be tons of great ideas in the thread! Best of luck, comrade!

edit just saw your follow up.
If it doesnt work… meh, you only wasted 40 minutes. You probably waste more than that on social media/in traffic/at work in a day.


If I’m short on ideas, I usually make sample food, which often triggers ideas


If I’m short on ideas, I call it practicing.
But most of the time I just enjoy jamming.
When ideas are striking, I hit the record button.
Lately mostly the OT one (not red anymore, what a pity) for live reuse.

Actually I’m more an improvisation man. So I have way more trouble to stick to a plan :nerd_face:


For me it’s more a clear state of mind and full energy. Generally I find this in the mornings, a coffee and straight into it. Also, I find I need to be creative all day in order to be all that productive, things really get going by the afternoon. I find these days I have to be pretty lucky for things to get started later in the day, even the evening my brain is pretty fried. Other people might work the opposite, then again if I start sleeping in way late, things can get nocturnal pretty quick. But then maybe there’s no restrictions the next day, have a coffee at 6pm or so and cups of tea through the night, really get stuck in. For me it’s all about no distractions, if I keep getting interrupted it’s hard to find a flow.

All that said nothing gets me going like a gig. If you have an external deadline, I dunno about you but it basically sends me crazy, my desire to present something show-worthy forces all sorts of imposed limitations and scrambling to get something together. Often it’s not as exploratory as just noodling about on a box, in fact I’ll probably become more safe in some senses. To me the noodling, experimental sessions are often the most valuable - they become the food for samplers and tracks down the line.


Many times I try to look at every perspective i.e…

Instead of adding something new, look for accent points or chances for variation.

Use what you already have for a different purpose (bassline/melody or rimshot/bassline)

Copy the pattern, delete everything you don’t love, and start over.

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Isn’t that already a plan? Very general of course, but exploring new territory like a child and without knowing, where this could lead to, but to hope there will be something after time, is IMO always a good idea to get our creativity flowing :wink:


If I’m feeling blank I often impose some sort or arbitrary limit or constraints on what I’m doing. Be that only using one machine or only allowing myself to work within certain parameters. I find this forces my mind to focus, then something creative usually follows. If it doesn’t, I’ve at least become better at a very specific part of my workflow.


I usually get frustrated and try different things which don’t work in the end. After a while i realise that i’m not enjoying music in general and i need to let go. I feel ‘hungry’ again after few days though :slight_smile:

I go for a run + hot shower + cup of coffee , and i’m good to go .


Rip someone off.

Sorry, I mean, “use a favourite song for inspiration”.

but seriously, I keep various folders of things i’ve heard that I felt inspired by when I heard them and/or written outlines of a tune idea. That way I usually have a queue of ideas I’d like to develop and not enough time to jam/develop them… It’s not even possible to straight rip something off, because you always bring your own style, but it’s usually more a case that there was one element that I thought I could recontextualise into the sort of thing I do somehow, or a general style that I want to make a tune in.

In the latter case, this is kinda introducing restrictions, which is always good. Saying "I’m going to make something that’s my interpretation of “x” makes a bunch of decisions early - bpm, basic drum pattern things like that. You can always trash those decisions once you’re started.

Or even just stick in a massive sample from a tune you like, and write round it until something’s going, then take the sample out and write.

Or keep clicking here until one of them means something




Often it’s just to get started, turn the machines on, strike a note, twist some knobs.

Other times I’ll listen to a bit of music to get in the mood, something I’ve enjoyed, and try to analyse what exactly it is i like about it, and try to recreate that kind of sound on the synth as a starting point.

I like having the idea that I’m going to try to create something very quiet and minimal as well. Just make up a little sound collage of small low volume sounds and slowly build it up, quiet quiet quiet, and then suddenley it’s all buzzing and chirping around. I like that a lot.

But basically just start. Begin. Do it. Play a note or a chord or a drone. Get cracking. :slight_smile:


what I like to do is grab a random sample/loop/sound and then run it -again, rather randomly- through any piece of external hardware.
(this can of course also be done with effect VSTs/AUs!)

then maybe through another.

then through another.

filters, distortions, reverb/delays, ringmodulators, bitcrushers, compressors, anything really - and in no particular order.

by the 3rd pass you usually cannot recognize the original sound at all anymore, and more often than not I end up with something that is either rhythmically inspiring or just by its texture alone…


Whenever I’ve ran out of ideas. I take a break for a day or two and do something else. As it relaxes my mind like doing chores etc.It will pop into my mind after. Remember if you push too hard , its usually a sh*t!

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so true - most of my ideas (unfortunately) come when I´m not even near my instruments.
probably should abuse that haha :stuck_out_tongue:

What i observed is that when i force myself too hard to make something really “unique” or “good” it becomes boring stuff.

So when there is no idea i think at the beginning for example i need a long element or stabby or what ever without limiting too hard. Then i start tweaking and it could become a pad, drone or bassline. After that i go on with the next element.

At some point it hits me and i don’t really think about what I’m doing. It’s like in subconscious or flow state.

And having a break (like posted before) is also a good advice. How often do i though “oh no i have to go on the toilet, not now" and came back with a good idea - and also more relaxed :smile: