Top 5 Ways to Build Musical Tension

Bring extra momentum to your tracks by using one or more of these quick techniques.

1 - Raise the Pitch of a sound

There’s the tried-and-true method of stacking octaves or tweaking a pitch knob up over the course of 8 bars, but you might also try using a hard flanger or “jet flanger” to get a cool riser effect on drums or vocals. A grain shifter with a tune knob can work wonders as well, the one from DiversionFX CM can be heard on the drums in this example:


2 - Increase Effects

This one’s easy and effective. Take whatever sound effects you already have on the track and increase it, whether it’s distortion or reverb. For example, you might go overboard on a distortion you already have just for one bar, or do a delay wash just before a drop. Here’s a tutorial on how to get that sound: link.


3 Repeat Faster and Faster

This technique has been used on everything from snare rolls to vocal chops in so many different genres. It doesn’t just have to be an audio editing effect though; you can work ever-shorter repeats directly into a melody.


4 Remove an Instrument for a bar

Hip Hop is notorious for doing this, for example you might remove a hi-hat for the last bar before the hook or second half of a verse, and bring the hat back in at double speed. Over time our brains stop actively listening to sounds that are always there, such as the hum of a light bulb, so this also has the added effect of drawing the listener’s attention back into that instrument when it comes back.


5 Filter up or Down

Remove a part of the instrument or the whole song by sweeping a highpass or lowpass filter over a few bars. If you have a big bass that comes in at a drop, it can be fun to filter out all the lows just before the drop—so that the listener feels no bass before that critical moment. When the bass comes in it’s a powerful contrast. It’s a good idea to filter up during a bass drum roll, for the same reason, so that when the first kick of the main theme comes in it hits hard.


Author Bio: Sean Duncan is an electronic dance music producer and freelance writer from Seattle, WA.


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