In a Tom Cosm video tutorial on making beats in Ableton Live, he states (12:20):

See, we have that kind of suck now. That's another kind of tension thing. I find with these kind of tension things, you need a release after or just a few beats after to kind of get them some resolution.

What is he meaning by a "release", and where can I look to get more theory or understanding on that concept?


He’s referring to tension and release, an element of music theory which states essentially that music uses tension to create an expectation, followed by a release that fulfills the expectation. Dissonance and consonance are a very common method for tension and release, but you can also use rhythm, dynamics, and other musical elements to create tension and then release it.

For example, when a song gets very quiet, we usually expect it to get loud. When somebody sings do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti, there’s a strong expectation that they follow with do. When somebody knocks the rhythm “shave and a haircut,” we expect “two bits” to follow. All of those are ways of creating tension, and the parts that satisfy it are called the release.


Tension and release is a very important concept in music structure. A lot of chord schemes are built so that a certain chord will cause a feeling of tension, which can then be released or prolonged as desired. This is something our ears pick up instinctively; anyone with or without musical knowledge will subconsciously notice this tension and release.

Take a look at this article if you want an in-depth explanation -- I think it is quite nicely written.

  • Ack, beat me by 25 seconds! Nice article on melodic tension and release. I suspect that the video might be using a different kind of tension though. Anyway, +1. – Bradd Szonye Jun 27 '14 at 18:44

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