So a very common technique to use in an Electronic Dance Music (EDM) song is to create a build up by increasing the speed of the beat until it stops and drops (then proceeding to melt the face of the listener).

My question is, when the speed is increasing, is the BPM increasing in the music notation side or are more note being placed in the same BPM?


There are a couple of techniques here:

If you are gradually ramping up the speed, then you would use an increase in tempo. This gives a growing sense of urgency, but can be very difficult to manage, as when you drop the beat you need to ensure the new tempo matches, or is a fraction of that fast tempo. This is almost certainly not what you are describing.

Much more commonly in EDM, before a drop what you see is a doubling of notes in the bar, and then doubling again etc. This doesn't change the overall beat pace (BPM is a bit deceptive here) but does give you many more notes.

This looks a little like:

X - - - X - - - X - - - X - - - X - X - X - X - X X X X X X X X drop!

  • Ah ok, thank you! I'm not sure who to mark as correct between yourself and @topo - both seem valid and good! :)
    – treyBake
    Nov 21 '17 at 9:56
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    To add, the actual tempo of club tracks like this (almost?) never changes for a very good reason. These types of tracks are all mixed as singles with long intros and outros where intruments are gradually brought in and let out to give the DJ both a metronome and some sound space to mix tracks together. Usually you'll hear 12-36 bars of overlap where the beat from the outgoing track continues (with the highs and/or mids progressively cut back) with some elements from the incoming track playing overtop. At some point the bass EQ gets flipped to the new track and things continue seamlessly.
    – J...
    Nov 21 '17 at 13:16
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    In any case, the DJ is usually cueing up the next track in headphones while the first is playing and it's not uncommon to want to get the tempos of both tracks in sync before the build. This means the real tempo has to stay locked through the build so that the incoming track is still on beat when everything settles back in. Note doubling is an easy strategy to get the sense of urgency without actually messing the tempo. These types of tracks are woefully formulaic for a reason. It helps the DJ to mix without memorizing the patterns for every single song. Intro, theme, build, drop, jam, outro.
    – J...
    Nov 21 '17 at 13:21
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    There's another problem with changing the tempo, which is that it doesn't lend itself well to dancing. All the crazy changes need to happen over a consistent beat.
    – Javier
    Nov 21 '17 at 18:04
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    I'm pretty sure I've heard in EDM not only doubling, but use of triplets, e.g. quarter notes to eighth notes to eighth note triplets to sixteenth notes to sixteenth note sextuplets etc.
    – ex nihilo
    Nov 21 '17 at 23:30

For a buildup, you increase the BPM. Actually, it typically leads to fewer notes being placed in the same amount of beats: but the various instruments tend to decrease their amount of notes (playing 3 instead of 4 on a beat, 2 instead of 3, 3 on 2 beats, as trioles or staggered and so on) at different points of time in the acceleration. So there is an overall sense of gradual acceleration but the instruments tend to lower their individual workload at various points of time while driving it.

Similar to an "endlessly rising scale", just with rhythm instead of pitch.

  • 1
    -1 The overwhelming majority of EDM does not change tempo. As described in Doctor Mayhem's answer, the actual effect is an increase in the density of the rhythms being played.
    – Kevin
    Nov 21 '17 at 17:49

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