Would you like to be able to create songs that grab the attention of anyone listening? To become a great songwriter, it is essential that you gain the ability to capture the interest of your listeners at any point during your music. In order to do this, you must understand how to create high levels of tension and intensity in your songs. In this article, I am going to show you how to grab the attention of your listeners and keep your songs interesting using some simple and effective songwriting techniques.
What Is Musical Tension and Why Do You Need to Know About It?
Musical tension is essentially the feeling that "something else needs to happen" during any given song idea. As a songwriter, it is crucial that you learn how to create musical tension by using different musical elements to create an expectation for your listeners. Additionally, you must learn how to balance the levels of tension in your music by meeting the listener's expectations.
Until you understand how to create a balance of tension and release in your songs, it's likely that your music will quickly become boring to the listener. For example, think of song that is made only by a continual repeating major scale. Because it is so predictable, there is very little tension causing the listener to expect that anything different will happen (and it becomes boring). Or imagine a song that has very little direction, no sense of key and totally different melodies occurring one after the other. This would also become boring for the listener, because it would be "too tense" and would never really set up and meet the listener's expectations. Of course, not all songs will be as extreme as these examples, but this same concept still applies.
Now that you have a good understanding about how important musical tension is for creating songs that capture and maintain your listener's interest, here are 3 simple and effective songwriting techniques you can use to create tension in your music:
1. Quickly Get Your Listener's Attention by Writing Your Song Melodies with Rising Pitches
Whenever someone listens to a song, they naturally feel "tension" when they hear a pattern of rising pitches (and "release" when these pitches begin descending). By creating song melodies that rise in pitch, you can add a lot of intensity to a part in your song and quickly get the attention of anyone listening.
One of the most useful ways to use this technique is to open up your song with it. When you create a melody with rising pitches in the first moments of your song, your listeners will immediately be drawn in (and interested to hear what will come next). To make this technique even more engaging, use faster note rhythms. This will give the listener much less time to process what they are listening to. For instance, during the first two to four measures in a song, create a melody using sixteenth note rhythms that rise in pitch until they reach a climax (highest point of the melody).
2. Leave The Listener "On Edge" by Ending Chord Progressions on the V Chord
There are endless chords you can use to create song ideas and build tension. You will commonly hear musicians refer to a general group of chords in a song as a "chord progression." However, it is more specific to say that a chord progression describes how different notes within a series of chords combine together and center around a common pitch. This is essentially why a song sounds "in key" or not. Fortunately, to create tension in songs you do not need to memorize every chord in every key. No matter what key you write a song in, you will always be common chords that will add intensity to your music. The most common of these chords is the "Five
" chord or "V
." To quickly find this chord, look for the chord with the letter name that is the 5th note
in the scale. For instance, "A
" is the 5th note
in the D major scale D E F# G A
, so A major
is the V
The V chord
will always add a sense of "expectation" to the end of your chord progressions because it sounds unfinished to the ear of the listener. Experiment with this by changing the ending chords of chord progressions you are familiar with to make them into "V chords
." For even more tension, use a "V7
" chord (also known as "Dominant 7
"). To meet the listener's expectations and relieve the tension created by this chord, follow it with the main chord of the key (the "I
" or "I
"). Additionally - if you are in a major key you can add a sense of surprise to your chord progression by following your V chord
with a "vi
" chord. This is the minor chord
that is based off of the 6th note
in the major scale
(such as A minor
in the key of C major
3. Use Different Volume Levels in Your Songs to Build Intensity
Many musicians ignore the volume level of each of the different parts and sections in their songs. As a result, they miss out on a whole new dimension of creative possibilities. By using different levels of volume in your music, you can create a huge contrast that builds intensity and forces your listeners to pay attention. One effective technique for doing this is create a part in a song with a very soft volume level and contrasting it by following it with a loud section (you can also do this on a smaller scale within a single melody). Another way to quickly build and release musical tension with volume is to suddenly raise the volume of a part or section very high and then return back to where it was before. This is particularly effective when accenting specific words in the lyrics of vocal melodies.
Of course, the ideas in this article are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creating tension in your music. That said, you can easily write TONS of great song ideas using these 3 techniques alone. To do this, begin writing each musical part in any section of a song with these ideas in mind. Then combine all three techniques together (using one or more instruments) and focus on building up as much musical tension as possible. This will make the part impossible to ignore for anyone who listens to it. Then, release the tension and move on to the next part in your song. After practicing this approach several times, you will quickly gain the ability to capture the attention of your listeners at any point during a song!
About The Author:
Ryan Buckner is a professional songwriter and guitarist who has been writing articles on the topics of guitar playing, music theory and songwriting technique since 2007. On his songwriting lessons website, he shows musicians how to create better songs and express themselves accurately through music.