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Harmonic Tension and Release


Harmonic Tension and Release Harmonic tension is tension that is produced by chords and chord progressions. We study the details of this particular element of music composition in harmony but here are some common ways of creating harmonic tension.  The first is through dissonant (or unstable) chords, which in traditional harmony always require a resolution … Read more Harmonic Tension and Release


Harmonic Tension and Release

Harmonic tension is tension that is produced by chords and chord progressions. We study the details of this particular element of music composition in harmony but here are some common ways of creating harmonic tension. 

The first is through dissonant (or unstable) chords, which in traditional harmony always require a resolution into a consonant (stable) chord. Here’s one of the most beautiful examples I can think of. It’s from Chopin’s Nocturne in C sharp minor. Notice the thick-sounding chord producing a tension that is released in the next chord:

Tension and release in Chopin’s Nocturne in C sharp minor, first 2 bars
An alternative chord in Chopin’s Nocturne reduces the tension and therefore its musical and emotional impact.
An alternative chord in Chopin's Nocturne reduces the tension and therefore its musical and emotional impact.
An alternative chord in Chopin’s Nocturne reduces the tension and therefore its musical and emotional impact.

Oh my god, Withney Houston, it is a TRS that create that emotion

Whitney Houston's cover of Dolly Parton's 'I will always love you'
Speaking of dynamics, a moment of silence at just the right time can be incredibly effective at building anticipation. 

Repetition 

Let’s look at some examples in which a repeating rhythmic pattern (known as an ostinato) builds up a sense of anticipation. Such repetitions tend to get louder and build up even more intensity. 

The rhythm from Holst's Mars

Accelerando

Another way that rhythm can produce tension is by getting faster, known in musical terms as “accelerando”. Like the crescendo, an accelerando typically means a rise in intensity.

Grieg: In the Hall of the Mountain King theme

 


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