View Full Version : Developing tension

12-28-2002, 01:23 AM
In my quest to be able to improvise well formed solos I realized that it's all about tension and release. I'm wondering what all of the ways to create tension in a solo are. I've come up with a very short list:
1. Speed
2. Playing higher
3. Distortion
4. Using wide intervals
5. Repetition
6. Dissonance

The one I'm most interested in right now is using wide intervals... I'm not very good at it at all, but when I do it'll sound cool. Anyway, I'd like additions to the list or you can expand on ones I've already had. Also it'd be nice for you to give your opinions on what makes a good solo, developing, etc..


12-28-2002, 02:25 AM
4. Using wide intervals

Try playing scales where you displace every other note up or down 1 octave. Learn scales in fourths and fifths.

6. Dissonance

Play anything at all. Especially play out of key for a few beats then play in key at the last beat or so.

I would classify these as creating interest, not tension.

1. Speed (More specifically rhythm/polyrhythm or meter!)
2. Playing higher (Higher Pitches? can create tension but more likely interest when appropriately mixed with low notes)
3. Distortion ( Not really sure what you mean by this?)
5. Repetition (Repetition is a necessary component of music because that establishes patterns that draws the listener in. You can drive people mad with too much repetition (Ever see 'Eyes Wide Shut'?, or I should say did you ever hear the music?). Just the right balance of repetition and new themes/ variation is the key to keeping things interesting. (Listen to Paganinni's 'moto-perpetuo', to me this doesn't have enough repetition. Then listen to Paganinni's 'Caprice #5' there is a good balance between repetition and variation here.)

12-28-2002, 07:11 AM
Another method of creating tension... (I'm having trouble finding the correct words, so please excuse my poor verbage!)

Delay resolution of your melody lines. Usually a melody will be zipping along and you might hang out on a "sus4" or "sus2" note for awhile. Try drag the listener along while you keep dancing around the scales before resolving to a chord tone.

Another slightly different example of this (in the repetition vein) is to have a repetitive lick which keeps repeating through a chord progression. It might not sound completely *in key* while the chord structure is moving around, thus creating tension, which will then get resolved when the first chord comes back around. Blues guitarists tend to do this a whole bunch.

Speaking of repetition, I was able to use that word (repetition) and slight variants three times in one sentence! ;) Do you feel the tension?:D

Lastly, transcribe some of your favorite guitar solos which exemplify your ideas of tension and release. Analyze the heck out of it and try apply those ideas to your playing. If you need help analyzing the solo, I'm sure the ibreathe forums would offer you their 2 cents. I'd be willing to ramble a bit!:)

12-29-2002, 12:51 AM
when I said distortion I meant using distortion at a particular time in the solo.

I've done a little analyzing and it has helped. Also have you ever heard of Joe Bonamassa? He's a young blues/rock guy and uses repetition very well. I don't know why I'm telling you this, but you everybody should check him out because he's underated.

Thanks for your replies.

12-29-2002, 02:44 PM
This is a very interesting topic.

I think we have to approach this in terms of 'musical tension', involving all techniques not necessarily depending on the instrument, and instrument related tensions, like distorion, muting etc etc ...

At Berklee we worked a hell lot with a book called 'How to improvise' by Hal Crook (advance music). It's a general guide to improvisation and IMHO one of the best that is out there. Ok, it's more a jazz approach but most of the topics are style independent.

Lemme list a few topics that are covered in this book:

Pacing (play / rest approach)
Song Melody
Phrase Length
Rhythmic Density
Time Feel
Melodic and Rhythmic Embellishment
Non-Harmonic Melody Notes
Melodic Motion at Chord Change
Guide-Tones (and Lines)

Stretching the Time
Scale patterns
Lower structure triads
Chord tone soloing
Motif soloing
Motif Development

Rhythmic Displacement
Augmentation / Diminution
Upper structure triads
Pentatonic Scales
Chord scales with non-harmonic tones
Rhythmic Values
Instrument Registers

Over the bar line Phrasing
Contracting Chord Duration
Expanding Chord duration
Melodic range
Double time
Half time
Peak Points
Solo Length

Non-Harmonic Triads
Triad Couplings
Non-Harmonic Pentatonic Scales
Non-Harmonic Symmetrical Scales
Chromatic scales

etc ....

12-30-2002, 12:42 AM
This book sounds fascinating!

12-30-2002, 02:44 AM
and a bit scary...

12-30-2002, 10:27 AM
Yes this is a very interesting topic.

I am fascinated by the method called Inside/Outside Playing.
At the beginning of the phrase you play in scale, then you move
out and at the end of the phrase ou are back in scale.

You can do this also with timing.
At the beginning of the phrase you are in time and then you play
more out of time ( laid back ) and at the end of the phrase you are
in time again.
John Scofield is a master in using this


01-02-2003, 11:52 PM
What does "Dissonance" mean. (not meaning to sound a retard :) )

01-10-2003, 11:20 PM
Larry Carlton uses a special technique to get tension. First he plays a line and on the right moment when everybody thinks the line is over.. he increases the speed and plays a cool phrase.
It's something unexpected for the listener's ear so the music gets interesting.

01-11-2003, 04:39 PM
I think this thread should be called "Creating Interest"

01-16-2003, 07:28 AM
i belive the best and most interesting way of creating tension is by using licks and repeating them about 4 times and then dooing another or the same lick a couple of frets higher and dooing that and keep going kind of thing

a perfect xample would be the fade to black solo(my most influential solo) by mettallica

the very end

does anyone agree with me

03-23-2003, 01:25 PM
Im going to buy some books from Amazon very soon, so i wondered which books youll recommend me.
A need one about improvisation and one for chords...++

03-23-2003, 08:36 PM
I think of Dissonance being the tension between two notes.