With roots in the late 80s UK rave scene, before its true birth in Germany in the early 1990s, trance has quickly developed to be one of the most popular of all dance genres. Seen as a more melodic alternative to both house and techno, it features highly repetitive arpeggiated patterns, a 4/4 beat pattern, and a relatively fast tempo that can easily induce a sense of hypnosis. Starting out in abandoned warehouses in East Berlin and field raves off the M25 in UK, it now packs out massive festivals such as Waldfrieden Wonderland in Germany, Tomorrowland in Belgium and the Full Moon Party in Thailand.
Made to create a true sense of euphoria, it has its origins in techno, acid-house, chill-out, pop, classical music, ambient, film scores and even psychedelia. It is truly a worldwide genre, spanning not only Germany and the UK, but also Belgium, Netherlands, the Balearic islands and India. A precursor to EDM music, its biggest names include Amin Van Buuren, Above and Beyond, Tiësto, Markus Schultz and Paul Van Dyk. In this guide, we will explain everything you need to know about the trance music, including its origins, its intentions and how to make trance music yourself. Read on now to find out more!
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VIDEO: “Armin van Buuren- Communication”

The Fall of the Wall: The Birth Of Trance

Like so many other electronic genres, such as techno, the story of trance wouldve been very different without the unique situation Berlin found itself in at the early 90s. Between 1945 and 1989 it was a city straddling two different countries the Federal Republic of Germany (aka. West Germany) and the Germany Democratic Republic (aka. East Germany). A literal symbol of this change was encapsulated by the Berlin Wall, which stood from 1961 to its fall in 1989. While West Berliners were familiar with the types of electronic music emerging out of Chicago (house), Detroit (techno) and the UK during the Second Summer of Love in 1988, East Berliners could only access this music illegally through illicit cassettes or by illegally recording foreign radio.

When the wall came down, East and West were united through dance music. With hundreds of buildings suddenly left abandoned, East Berlin quickly became the place to put on a party. With unemployment at the highest level in the country, as well as being a mecca for LGBT youth throughout all of Germany, Berlin was the place to be in order to find the freshest electronic music around. While techno is more commonly seen as the quintessential Berlin sound, trance music can also trace its origins here. East German DJs such as Paul Van Dyk and Sven Väth helped to hone the sound in iconic clubs such as Tresor (still going) and E-Werk (now closed). Today, one can find the trance sound in fine fettle at Berlin institutions such as KitKatClub and VOID Club.

Armin van Buuren, a trance music legend.

The Trance Sound | Massive Euphoria

Trance music, with its roots in psychedelia, LSD and MDMA drug culture, is all about euphoria; a massive emotional high that many claims cannot be beaten. People who listen to a lot of trance music claim to feel better empathy with their fellow man and to feel connection with a higher purpose. With roots in mysticism, and ideals of finding oneself through altered states of consciousness and out-of-body experiences, trance music is as much a philosophy as a genre of music. This is often why trance playlists are often prefaced with descriptive words such as uplifting, inspiring, blissand beautiful.
“This type of music is all about the “drops” – those moments when the main melody has reached a peak and the drum and bass-line come momentously thudding back in.”

Additionally, to stress the beauty of their sounds, YouTube playlists will often feature pictures of sunsets, oceans, good-looking women and even the outer limits of space. This type of music is all about the “drops – those moments when the main melody has reached a peak and the drum and bass-line come momentously thudding back in. Yet after the drop trance songs are often followed by long spacey, instrumental sections without any drums, allowing the listener to really chill out afterward. This makes the genre quite different to techno, where there are no real ups and downs, only a continuous rhythm that keeps the listener unable to distinguish one track from another.

Created for people who want to dance for hours on end without stopping, trance music often features simple arpeggiated patterns, allowing for easy mixing between tracks. This sense of euphoria is the key to the genres success, where it is often the music of choice at locations such as Ibiza, Full Moon Parties and Goa, where the sunrise and sunset is often the backdrop to epic set-lists. This euphoria and the empathy for fellow man it brings is why the genre, along with acid house, is often considered to be the sound of love itself, as epitomized by classic tracks such as Age of Love and “Lost In Love“.

The Full Moon Party in Thailand

What are the core characteristics of trance music?

Trance music has a few simple characteristics that help create its iconic sound.

1. The first is the use of rapid arpeggiated melodies, which create a repetitive pattern that is either ascending or descending in nature. They are usually in a minor key and the melody often changes between chord, distinguishing it from techno which can often be the same note throughout an entire song. These arpeggios are usually given extra flange, delay and chorus to help achieve its massive effect. They are almost always in a 4/4 time signature, with the bass drum situated on the downbeat and a hi-hat on every upbeat. These drum patterns, rooted in house music, are then complemented by drum rolls, which often increase in velocity as the track goes on. It can be a fast genre to listen to, usually coming in at around 125 to 150bpm.

“Instruments to help create this effect often include synths, strings, organs and piano. This is crucial to its popularity.”
The songs are built around a central hookthat is almost continuously present throughout the song. With usually a clear to understand structure, a trance song will build up to a climax, in which the main melody is played out at its full capacity. Crucial to this is the breakdown, which is all about teasing the listener and giving them a sense of what they might hear later on in the song. Atmosphere is everything.

Although to allow easy mixing, songs may start and end sparsely, it is a genre that relies on a really full and generous sound, making use of strong reverb and harmonies borrowed from classical music. Instruments to help create this effect often include synths, strings, organs and piano. This is crucial to its popularity. Being an anthem-heavy genre, its audiences can be in the thousands, usually at large outside venues or festivals instead of merely hanging out in basement clubs.

Tiesto, the “king” of trance

Sub-genres of Trance

Trance music has inspired a whole host of sub-genres. Often seen as one of the most important parts of the genres evolution, Goa came out of eponymous state in India around the same time. Inspired by the regions hippie and psychedelic vibe, it features drone-y baselines, industrial music and elements of Indian mysticism.

Psychedelic trance is a harder strain, often at a much higher tempo, with beats changing every eight bars, new musical ideas constantly introduced and a runtime usually between 6 to 10 minutes long. It has had its own offshoots in countries as diverse as Israel, Finland and Japan.

Other genres include acid trance, classic trance, euro-trance, hard trance and uplifting trance. The latter one is the most anthemic: often drawing from Classical music, its most famous proponents are Tiësto, Ferry Corsten, Push and Rank 1. The most iconic song from this era is easily Tiëstos Adagio For Strings, remixing the Samuel Barber composition. This all naturally culminated in the rise of progressive trance, which became the sound of dance music in the early 00s. Crossovers are also common, including the trance-techno mix tech trance and the pop-influenced vocal trance.

Waldfrieden festival, a renowned (German) trance music festival held each year.

How To Make Trance Music | Software, Hardware & Samples

Making trance is all about locating the emotion of a piece and making it speak for itself. In this respect, it makes sense to keep things simple:

  1. strong repetitive bass-line
  2. Easy to process melodic harmonies
  3. Washed out synths
  4. A clear song structure.

Things can be organized in eight-bar blocks. For example, a song might have eight bars of bass and drums, eight bars of melody, an eight-bar breakdown and an eight-bar climax.

To help you achieve this sound, its worth figuring out what kind of trance sound you are going for. If you are going for the classic trance that came out of the early 90s, its worth buying synths and drum machines from that period but if you are looking to recreate a contemporary sound, you can do everything from just your laptop. Keep on reading to learn the type of hardware, software, and samples you need to make that perfect trance sound.

Hardware

Trance is all about getting the best synths possible to create the biggest possible sound. Ones we would recommend are the Yamaha CS6X, which is great for programming melodies, the classic Roland JP8080, which helped to spawn the trance supersaw sound, the Korg Radias R, which has a huge range of options, the Novation Ultranova, which has over 300 different sounds, and the Access Virus TI2, which has massive versatility, with over 7000 presets available. As for drum machines, we would recommend getting a classic such as the Roland TR-09. If this is out of your price range, then we would recommend something simple and cheap like the Teenage Engineering PO-32.

Software

Nowadays, plug-ins have become so powerful that one doesnt even really need to buy proper hardware. Whether its adding flange, creating the right type of reverb, or simply perfecting that washed-out synth sound, plug-ins can help make your sound really pop out. Take a look at the list of plug-ins below to see which ones we think are perfect for you.

Samples

The great thing about trance is that you dont need samples in order to make a great sound; everything can be done with either analog or virtual synths. Here its more important to have a good ear for melody. That said, if you are still looking for some to get started, MusicRadar has a great selection of free samples to download. For a truly uplifting sound, perhaps its always worth trying to mine samples from classical music whether it’s a romantic symphony or the harmonic perfection of the Baroque era, the melodies of classical music have always fit in well with trance, so do a little digging to find what works!
Conclusion
Trance music has always endured since its arrival in the early 90s, and even if it peaked in the early 2000s, it is still going strong and can be credited, for better or worse, with inspiring todays mainstream EDM and progressive house. Therefore, while classic trance may have run its course, trance-like sounds will always be in fashion. A great marker of its popularity is the amount of subgenres it has inspired and the sheer amount of trance festivals across the world that people still attend in their thousands. We hope you have enjoyed reading our guide. If trance isnt your thing, then check out our guides to vaporwave and future bass instead.

Vaporwave Artists You Should Listen To | Spotify

  • Armin Van Buuren
  • Tiësto
  • Paul Van Dyk
  • Sander Von Doorn
  • Above And Beyond
  • Markus Schulz
  • ATB
  • Paul Oakenfold
  • Sasha
  • Judge Jules
Redmond Bacon

Redmond Bacon

Contributor

Redmond Bacon is a film obsessive and amateur music producer who can easily spend all day either at the cinema or making fresh beats. Catch his writing over at redmondbacon.co.uk.

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