Capturing Inspiration on the Fly

caravaggioMany of my best song ideas seem to “happen” during brief windows of creativity, moments where I lose all “thought” and self awareness and just imagine what this unborn song sounds like, trying on different moods, tempos, vibes and vocal sounds. Typically I will have some rhythmic thing or riff on the acoustic guitar, and then just make up vocal sounds that seem to reflect whatever the music is conveying. I don’t bother with real words, just nonsensical stuff, sometimes just vocalizations of syllables.

What I typically do is just let my portable recorder run, and then go off for several minutes on the idea. Stop listen play back see if there are any bits of gold to be found. Once I have essence of something I really like, then I may spend weeks or months trying to polish that vision. But the best part has already happened, the idea has been born, and often times the non-words weird sounds vocal stuff is more appealing to me than actual lyrics, because it is that much closer to pure instrumental expression. But this is coming from someone who hears the music first and lyrics second practically always, and I know there’s a strong camp for the opposite.

Anyway. Not that this is that important. But in the past I would have to setup my laptop to record any small stupid idea I had, and then I bought a crappy dictaphone, which works at least to capture something so you don’t forget the rhythm or whatever entirely next time you sit down to play it. But what I use now is this neat and inexpensive recorder called the Zoom H2 Handy Portable Stereo Recorder that I got as a gift for Christmas. It records at whatever level of digital quality you could want, mp3, wav, etc, is super easy and portable, and has great sound quality for capturing off-the-cuff moments of inspiration.

Sometimes I’ll write out ideas on staff paper so I don’t forget them, but this is usually too tedious for me, since my music notation skills are truly rusty and were never that good anyways.

What do you guys use to capture your rough ideas?