Transitions between sections

All this talk of structure revolves around sections – necessarily so, because we’re talking about organising a large block of time, and the most common way of doing this is by subdividing into smaller sections.

No matter how you organise your sections, you will still have a skeleton of a song that consists of several sections of various lengths, one after the other. Without any transitions between sections, each section will simply stop as the next begins. The effect will be similar to that of changing channels on a television – abrupt and unsophisticated.

To make a transition between sections work, you must make something of it. Articulate it in the music, make a point of the change. Necessarily, there are one of two approaches you can take with each transition – a smooth transition or a contrasting transition.

Smooth transition

A smooth transition is one where the first section smoothly moves the listener into the second section. A common example of this is where the second section is fuller and more exciting than the first section, so the end of the first section has a build up into the start of the second section. Similarly, if the second section is slower or sparser than the first section, the end of the first section might pull back or slow down before entering the second section. The second section might even continue to get sparser in the first few bars.

At an extreme, the transition between two sections might be long enough to be treated as its own section. That is, a whole section in the song is dedicated to transitioning from the previous section to the next.

Contrasting transition

By contrast, a contrasting transition is one where the change from the first section to the second is marked and noticable. It doesn’t have to be sudden, but it does rely on the two sections being quite different. An example of this might be the sudden jump from a sparse and soft introduction to a song into the full and busy main part of the song. Another example could be a jump from the second chorus of  a song into a contrasting bridge section.

At an extreme, a deceptive transition can be used to further emphasise the contrast. An example of this could be where the first section ends by building up as if the second section is louder and fuller, but instead the second section is suddenly quiet and soft. Another example could be where the first section ends by slowing down and pulling back (perhaps even pausing) before the second section suddenly bursts in.


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