How To Create Songs That Demand The Attention Of Your Listeners Using Powerful Tension-Building Songwriting Techniques

5 minutes read, by Ryan Buckner

Do you want to learn how to create songs that force people stop everything they are doing and take notice? As a songwriter, having the ability to quickly get the attention of your listeners at any point during a song is vital for keeping your music interesting throughout. To do this, you must learn the basic principles behind creating songs or musical parts that use tension-building songwriting techniques. In this article, I will show you how to use several of these techniques so you can begin creating songs that will cause people to stop and pay attention to any specific part in your music.

What Is Musical Tension And How Is It Used In Songwriting?

Before I show you some powerful tension-building songwriting techniques, it is important that you understand what tension refers to in music. Musical tension is the feeling created whenever you write something that gives the listener the expectation that 'something else' needs to happen. That said, to create 'great' songs you must learn how to balance 'tension (creating an expectation) with release (giving them what they want to hear). This skill is absolutely vital for all songwriters.

Without a strong sense of balance, your music will become boring very quickly. If you create a song that has too little tension overall, most people will lose interest in it. For example, imagine a song that continually repeats the chords C major, F major and G major. On the other hand, if your music contains parts that create tension but does not release the tension in a way that feels 'resolved' it will become tiring to listen to. A common example of this is when someone creates a song with too many out of key notes that seem to go nowhere or song sections that sound different and don't connect very well.

To learn more about how to effectively balance the levels of tension in your music, read this article about writing better songs with unity and variety.

Now that you understand what musical tension is and why it is important in songwriting, here are three powerful techniques you can use to quickly build tension and grab the attention of your listeners:

Write Melodies That Rise In Pitch

In music, we naturally associate a melody line containing a series of rising pitches with an increase in tension and stress. On the contrary, we interpret a melody with descending pitches to be 'resolving' tension. With this in mind, creating song melodies with notes that 'rise' in pitch is an excellent technique for building musical tension.

In fact, this technique is so effective that it is commonly used as a way to 'hook' the listener in the opening moments of a song. When you use rising pitches during the first few seconds of your songs, it will instantly compel your listeners to want to hear what comes next. Additionally, you can amplify this effect by using fast note rhythms to give them less time to process what they are hearing. For example, while creating a song intro, write a short melody (around 2-4 measures long) that uses sixteenth note rhythms and continually rising pitches.

End Chord Progressions On The "V" Chord

While creating the chords for a song, you have a wide variety of options for building tension in your music. As a songwriter, you will often hear the term "chord progression" used as a general term to refer to any series of chords being played one after the other. More specifically, this term describes how the notes in a series of chords work together to revolve around a central pitch. This is what makes a song feel 'in key'. When creating songs in any given key, there are specific chords you can use to add high levels of tension to your music. The most fundamental of these chords is the V (pronounced: "five") chord. For example, if you are in the key of A minor, the V would be the chord with the letter name that is the fifth note in the scale: A B C D... E - which is "E" (E major).

No matter what key you are writing music in, you can always add tension by ending any series of chords with the V chord in the key you are in. By doing this, the listener will naturally feel tension because the music will seem 'unresolved'. Known as a "Half Cadence", this is by far one of the most common and effective techniques for building musical tension. For added tension, end your chords with a "V7" (the Dominant 7 version of this chord). To give the listener relief of this tension, play the first chord of the key after the V chord – Or to surprise them, follow the V chord with a vi chord (I discuss this idea more in my free eBook with unique chord progression ideas for songwriters).

To learn more about using keys and which chords can be used to give your music a sense of direction, read this article on how chord progressions work.

Use A Contrast In The Volume Of Your Music

While creating songs, many songwriters overlook the importance of using different levels of volume in their music. That said, using volume to provide a major contrast in your music is very effective for creating tension. One way to take advantage of volume is to create a song that has a low level of volume and contrast this by writing a section in the music that is much louder. Additionally, you can force the listener to immediately pay attention to your music by using a sudden, dramatic increase or decrease in the volume of one or more parts in your music before quickly returning to regular volume. This technique is especially effective for emphasizing specific lyrics in a vocal line.

Get more ideas for using volume to create songs that are more musically expressive by checking out this article about expressing yourself in music.

Although this article only scratches the surface when it comes to using songwriting techniques for building tension, you can easily create many song ideas with these concepts alone. To do this, keep the three main techniques discussed above in mind as you write each section of a song. Then, experiment by combining them together in different ways to increase musical tension for the parts you write. As you are doing this, also remember to resolve the tension to create a sense of balance.

Do you still need help in how to write a song step-by-step so that you can unleash your creativity? Click on the button below to check out the FREE 10-days mini course"How To Write A Song Step By Step":

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