Typically, macro-tension will be used to transition into a drop, chorus, breakdown, bridge, or outro. It often includes:
- Risers (white noise, pitched risers, etc.)
- Snare rolls/builds
- Automated filtering and other effects
- Melodic and harmonic tension
- Change in volume
- Removal and/or addition of new instruments and sounds
It’s hard to define this high-level view of tension, partly because it’s often subtle, and also because it’s never clear-cut.
What is micro-tension?
It’s the small differences: short fills, a one-bar break, the removal of a kick drum at the end of an 8-bar phrase, the crash cymbal at the start of a new phrase.
Its purpose is to create constant tension, keep the track moving forward, and force the listener to stay interested and engaged.
Listing all types of micro-tension would be impossible as there are simply too many. Micro-tension doesn’t just include your typical crash cymbal impact, a short drum fill, or a funky vocal stab, it also includes tension in chord progressions and melodies.
It needs to be considered both in the composition stage and arrangement stage.
- Use deceptive cadences. A cadence is usually the last two chords of a progression. For example, a song in G major might end with the chords D7 G. That’s a very predictable cadence. But you can create a pleasant build in tension by ending a phrase on a less-common chord: G C D7 Em for example, or perhaps G C D7 C. As soon as you hit that unexpected chord at the end, it creates tension, allowing you to do the progression again, but ending on the more expected tonic chord: G C D7 Em G/B C D7 G.