Recently I’ve been working on a couple of projects that require some suspenseful swells of music. After trying out a few different methods, I decided I would share some of the techniques I used that seemed to be quite effective.
The first method I tried was to bury some long gong sounds leading up to the peak of the suspense. This worked as it was a very classical sounding score. However, if you were wanting to use this in another genre, you could always edit the sound with a pitch shifter, reverb, sending it through pedals. Etc.
My second tip is to just keep layering sounds during a build-up section. The idea of suspense could mean that the first section of your piece can be very controlled but the build-up really needs to grow. A really great way to do this is to add in new sounds to every bar. This can be anything from recorded sounds to synths and instruments.
My final tip is to increase the volume automation throughout your build-up. This really helps especially when the music needs to be minimal but you still want the audience to sense some kind of change.
I hope some of these tips can help you create some suspense in your pieces. My advice is to just always keep playing around with different elements of the score, and eventually, you’ll find something that works.
Jen Athan is a composer and producer based in Glasgow. Her work spans many different styles and genres and typically features her love of sampling and experimenting with new sounds. She has written music for theatre shows and short films and enjoys creating music to accompany a narrative.