Transitions are bridges for energy
Let’s take a look at a more conceptual part of music production — Energy.
Energy is the lifeblood of your song. It’s the pacing, the speed, the intensity, and the pulse.
I want to talk about one specific part of energy today, and that is a thing most of us call transitions.
Why do we care about Transitions?
Transitions are important in making sure our arrangement runs smoothly. They help shift energy between sections; They bring us along an emotional ride.
Without them, sections can seem disconnected and rough (although, this can be done intentionally).
They help us identify holes in our arrangement. If you’ve ever been stuck on making that next section, putting a transition in will give you a push.
If you watch any popular TV show you’d notice how they leave you hanging at the end of every episode — something called a Cliffhanger (high school english class! We’ve come full circle).
Transitions can be thought of as sectional Cliffhangers. When a transition is building up at the end of a section, it lets the listener know that there will be more — to stay tuned. Just as Cliffhangers keep us hooked, transitions can do the same.
So what are transitions?
Transitions are a tool for manipulating tension and energy. Their main goal is to make sure that energy remains fluid between sections (or the opposite, even).
Transitions are basically energy hacks — cheat codes that you can use to drastically raise or lower energy levels over a very short period of time.
Furthermore, they allow us to direct the attention and expectations of our listeners. For example, when someone hears a reverse cymbal swelling in volume, they expect a change to occur momentarily.
There are two kinds of transitions — micro-sections and transitional elements (watch the video below for examples).
Micro-sections are short phrases, rarely more than four bars, that ease two sections together.
Transitional elements are things you place at the end of/beginning of sections in order to more easily shift between the two.
The most obvious example of transitional elements is cymbals. Reverse cymbals are a very popular tactic in electronic music. Crash cymbals on the first hit of a new section are also very common — because it’s very effective.
Noise sweeps are also a popular tactic — either by opening up the cut-off filter or simply increasing and decreasing the volume over time.
Everything that can be shifted can be used as a transitional element — but it has to be done over a much shorter period of time (usually less than a bar) and it has to noticeable enough to make a difference.
For instance, you can drastically open or close the filter cut-off on your main synth over a bar to indicate a gain or reduction in energy, respectively.
Here’s a quick video demonstrating these concepts.
Transitions are just a small part of a larger whole. To get better with arrangement, and ultimately, the ability to finish songs, click here to subscribe to my newsletter.
I hope you learned something and let’s talk soon!