How Transitions Can Help You Finish Songs

How Transitions Can Help You Finish Songs

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!

-Zencha

About Zac Citron

Zac Citron aka Zencha is the author of www.zenchamusic.com, a production site that focuses on getting your tracks finished -- through topics like mind-set, workflow, arrangement, and more. He also drinks way too much tea.

Comments

  1. Thnks for this. very enlightening. Much tea to you mate

  2. Ashish Malpani says:

    Very Helpful
    I used to always wonder how those professional tracks out there are so perfect especially the beginnings and the endings
    Most of skrillex songs have an amazing outros and exits and he did told in one of his interviews how helpful transitions are
    But he uses transitions after the second chorus to rise up his song to an amazing level(like in “Right In”)

    • I agree. Transitions are one of the best ways to make your drops hit harder.

      • Ashish Malpani says:

        How many cups of tea do you have in a day?

        • Ashish Malpani says:

          and from where did you learn EDM and stuff?? Please answer this one for sure!

          • 1-5 cups. I work best with a cup of tea next to me.

            I learned EDM by teaching myself (using tutorials like this one), making a shitload of songs, and finally attending a school in San Francisco called Pyramind Training.

          • Ashish Malpani says:

            Well can’t I learn without attending any edm school?

          • Ashish Malpani says:

            like I am a beginner hardly 3 weeks
            here is something I made in FL Studio
            http://soundcloud.com/ashishmalpani/electrophone

          • Ashish Malpani says:

            And Pyramid Training do not teaches FL Studio but I guess that should not matter much:) right?

          • That’s not bad for 3 weeks. Try adding some more instruments into your next track.

            And no, you don’t need a production school, but it definitely speeds up the learning process. Just keep *finishing* songs (actually finish them) and push your boundaries. Make sure you dont spend too much time watching tutorials. Learn something, and immediately try it.

            FL studios is fine. Your choice of DAW doesn’t really matter.

          • Ashish Malpani says:

            You are superb
            sometimes I feel better than petri
            I hope he does not read this comment;) and thanks a lot for the tip
            but how do I understand all this stuff : mastering,compressor…
            I mean it is too complex and I feel I need some basics
            Also do you know music theory like working with piano and other instruments
            I am weakest at this thing
            and I would like you to suggest some method how I will be able to compose those amazing melodies out there…they all seems so complex with daw’s
            and is this website sufficient or should I start taking a look at a lot of other websites out there
            Yours was pretty nice too:)

          • Ashish Malpani says:

            can I view some of your stuff so I can get an idea how you do it
            thanks

          • Ashish Malpani says:

            I read your e-book on how to mix electronic music and I must say that it is brilliant
            Though I am a beginner even then I understand it very well
            Thanks a lot

  3. iOur says:

    Just while it’s here, and you were talking about cliff hangers. Cliff hangers are a good way to spice up your song. Example: You’re building up your chorus and at the end there is a progressing kick drum and extreme bass then… complete silence… then back to another round of the chorus (the only difference than a drop is that cliffhangers usually go back into what they were doing). It’s a great way to avoid repetitiveness.

  4. Paul says:

    I need not read how helpful transitions really are. I notice them a lot in commercial songs. I mean, in songs. Be it through the use or removal of hit-hats, reversed cymbals, repetition of snares, etc. I know there are many more ways though. Just saying.

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