When you think of Song Structure you usually think of standard arrangements. A song typically has an intro, a chorus, a few verses, a bridge and maybe an outro. But in the world of electronic music, these sorts of notions are often thrown out the window. Instead we focus on ideas of tension and release, anticipation. Often electronic tracks are more minimal in arrangement, making it easier for DJs to put their unique spin on a track. 

But even within this minimalism there is room for flourishes of arrangement. Arrangements in dance music can be employed to signal different things to the audience – a white noise build up tells us the tension is building, until it hits a crescendo – which signals a point of release – commonly referred to as a drop. This might be followed by a bassline kicking in, a big bass drum sound… really anything can follow a build of tension, even silence!

Building and releasing tension is probably the most common technique in dance music and is usually referred to as tension and release. Liveschool Trainer Jarred aka DJ Plead is well versed in the art of arrangement for electronic music and his tracks can serve as great case studies in how to direct the listening energy of the audience. However in Jarred’s tracks he rarely resorts to a big drop…

In my tracks it’s sometimes hard for me to place where the main section is. I often just continuously alternate between tension and (mild) release. In this example I used a few very simple techniques to create a section that I’d consider a ‘release’ section. 

DJ Plead’s track “Going For It” is a fantastic example of this approach with no exact “main section” there are moments where tension builds through subtle cues in the arrangement of the track

The tension section begins at about 1:00 and culminates in the release section at 1:25. I build tension firstly by introducing the shuddering melodic element through a low pass filter. Opening the filter up to allow the high frequencies built into the synth sound and the shakers to dominate. At this point I remove the kick from the mix. In dance music I find that removing the kick to be a great way to suggest to the listener that a new section is approaching and to allow them to build anticipation.

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After the tension has been built over 25 seconds, we see Jarred transition into release mode

The ‘release’ section then focuses on the lower frequencies as I drop the melody down an octave and close the low pass filter off again. This section actually contains less elements than the tension section, as I’m trying to get the listener to focus in on the essential kick groove. It then allows me to build up new tension as I re-introduce elements. 

This is just one creative use of Tension and Release – a technique that you can think of as a tool to be employed in any situation where you want to direct the attention of the listener to a certain moment. If you want to take a look at some more songwriting and arrangement techniques, check our blog on 6 Ways To Take Your Chorus Up A Notch.