Buildups are important in many styles of music. Essentially, buildups are transition sections that gradually change from low energy to high energy. They’re often useful for creating anticipation leading into a high energy section.
There are many ways of making this transition from low energy to high energy, although it’s easy to always resort to using the same tired methods over and over again. Without a wide enough variety of buildup methods in your musical ‘vocabulary’, your music will tend towards the uninspiring and predictable. This is particularly true in styles such as electronic dance music and rock.
So, if you want to shake things up a bit, try some alternative ways to building energy:
- Use syncopation. This means making use of rhythms that emphasise the off-beats. This is especially powerful if you change or remove the instruments that are playing on the beat (such as the kick drum). What this does is increase anticipation – especially if the texture is also thinner for most of the buildup.
- Gradually add other instruments or sounds. What this does is increase the density (and energy). By doing it gradually, it allows the listener to expect and anticipate the increasing density.
- Use unusual effects processing. This can really take a song in a new direction – particularly useful if the buildup section also functions as a bridge (adding new material or building on previous material, rather than returning to familiar material). Of course, this is particularly effective if the added effect sound gradually rises in intensity or pitch.
- Take it in a different direction (bait and switch). This can be a good way to surprise the listener. Construct a section that seems to build up to a particular section or texture, but then switch to something different at the last moment. One common example of this is when a buildup appears to lead up to the song’s climax, but instead of reaching the climax the texture suddenly becomes sparse and subdued.
- Speed up (tempo or pace). This is another technique that can be extremely effective if done well. It’s important to understand that tempo is different to pace. Tempo is a technical measurement of how fast the beats (quarter notes) are in a song, wheras pace is a subjective judgement of how fast a song feels. Pace can be increased without having to change the tempo by increasing the density of notes and increasing the rate of change.
- And a bonus sixth – do all the above at the same time! The more techniques you use at once, the stronger the buildup effect will be. You can use this to make a buildup extremely dramatic (useful leading into a song’s climax), or to use each technique more subtly (creating a more subtle effect).
Hopefully you can use these techniques to kick-start your own experimentation and exploration of ways to build energy. The more tailored and unique your techniques are, the more interesting your music can be.