Tips and tricks for creating tension in your electronic music
Basic music theory and sound design tips and tricks for creating tension in your electronic music tracks.
So your track sounds great, you’ve got the sound waxed but it’s lacking a bit in the arrangement – Here are some simple tips and tricks for adding some tension to your tracks, which will undoubtedly add dynamics and movement to the overall arrangement.
The quickest and easiest way to create tension is through the use of dissonance in varying degrees – whether this is through tuning of sounds or chaotic modulation is up to you.
In theory, dissonance is the opposite of harmony – playing a C and G together on the keyboard sound harmonious, like the notes almost fit together like puzzle pieces.
Shifting the G up or down by a single degree in the scale, greatly changes the relationship of the two notes and the result is a tense sound.
This is still within the boundaries of what is ‘musical’, however in film sound or electronic music – risers and detuned sounds are great ways of breaking away from a scale to create even more tension.
Expect the unexpected…
Like I mentioned above, you’re not limited to using note choice to create tension – there are various other ways, which generally stem from the use of unexpectancy.
Using chaotic modulation like a Sample & Hold generator is a great way of creating an uneasy feeling, whether it’s controlling the pitch or a static drone’s filter cutoff.
Applying unison to a lead and turning the detune all the way up is a very common technique for creating those large techno stabs, they’re often used at the end of the bar to create tension. Using silence at the end of the bar is another good technique.
Modulating a reverb is a great sound design technique for shifting a sound out of harmony. If you have a reverb with a ‘freeze’ function, trigger a single note or chord then engage the freeze function and slowly automate the reverb size downwards – the result is a very tense riser effect.
For an in-depth walkthrough of these techniques check out the tutorial video here: