Kicking things off officially for this series is to dive into a genre that I, myself, produce and write. Trance. As with a lot of other genres that we will be diving into, this genre seems to get just as lost as the others in dance music. To someone who doesn’t frequently listen to trance (or anything with a “four-on-the-floor beat pattern), they may just write off the music as being techno. However, there are very many differences between each sub-genre of dance music. One of the more widely known instances of dance music, is in fact, trance.
The word “trance”, in and of itself, refers to a state of mind, or heightened consciousness. Some would even say a hypnotized state of mind, giving you a sort of drifting feeling. It’s this drifting feeling that is portrayed in this genre. Mixing various layers of sounds, rhythms and filters to create a “drifting away” type of feel is what really sets this genre apart from others in the dance music world.
Trance started developing in the 1990’s in Germany. It is mainly characterized by tempos in between 125 – 160 bpm [beats per minute], it’s repeated melodic (and non-melodic) phrases. Trance music typically has a structure that builds up and down throughout a track, bringing tension and release at numerous points. In most cases, trance features one central melody or hook that runs throughout the tune. This genre is also typically at the mid to mid-high tempo range for dance music. Not too slow and not too fast. Classic trance structure features a 4/4 time signature [4 beats per measure] and 16 or 32 beat phrases. A kick drum [bass drum] is placed on every downbeat with a snare/clap sound on every 2nd and 4th beats. A hi-hat sound is typically featured on the exact upbeat as well. The rest of the percussion is filled in with other instruments such as bongos, claves, tambourines and other cymbal elements.
One main aspect of universally all trance music is the mid-song soft section. This is referred to as a “breakdown”. During this breakdown section, only melodic aspects are usually kept. The background melodies, drums and percussion and even bass elements are either faded out via a filter or volume or stopped altogether, leaving the melody and atmospherics to play. During the breakdown, you are presented with various layers of sounds that can consist of strings, synthetic pads and, of course, the main melody of the track. If there were vocals included, they would also be heavily featured during this section. Breakdowns of tracks vary depending on artist and content, but they can typically last anywhere from a few seconds to minutes in length.
During the beginning and end of the tracks, you will hear in most cases, fast arpeggios and simplified melodic elements that build and layer up before going into and leaving the breakdowns and climax sections. In the section before the breakdown you are handed a very simplified or “chopped’ version of the melody or “hook”. This is to give you a taste of what you can expect to come full force in the breakdowns and climaxes. The climax is usually consisted of a culmination of the first part of the track mixed with the main melodic elements.
For major buildups, transitions and climaxes, in most cases, are foreshadowed by lengthy snare rolls [drum rolls] layered with various noise sweeps and whoosh type sounds that build in velocity, frequency and volume into the end of the transition. The main melodic elements are often filtered in during the transitions. Filtering is a way of giving space and “distance” to a sound. (When filtering a melody, think of it as being muffled. Gradually, the sound becomes brighter and clearer as the filter increases or decreases.)
As in the case with most dance music tracks, the original versions are usually mixed with extended intros and outros, designed to help DJ’s use them and mix them into their sets/shows. Trance is featured as a main focus in hundreds of music festivals around the world such as; Tomorrowland, Transmission, Dreamland and Ultra Music Festival.
Trance music has a massive following and is considered one of the biggest music genres celebrated in the world. Listed below are some examples of trance music. Take a listen and see if you can spot anything mentioned in this post. Sound off below if you have any ideas on what else you think makes trance music unique.
Oceanlab – Satellite (Original Above & Beyond Club Mix)
Sasha – Xpander (Original Mix)
Armin Van Buuren feat. Audrey Gallagher – Hold On To Me (Original Mix)
Above & Beyond vs Arty – You Got To Believe (Original Mix)