How to Be a Trance DJ: The Ultimate Guide

You want to be a Trance DJ but aren’t quite sure how to do that?

In order to be a successful Trance DJ, you will need to understand arpeggios, minor keys, the hook of a song, and the science of the downbeat. In addition to that, you’ll need to master today’s DJ software apps, such as Ableton as well as different kinds of hardware.

First, let’s take a look at what exactly Trance music is. Read on to get the lowdown 🙂

What Is Trance Music?

Trance music is a genre of electronic dance music (EDM) that originated in the early 90s from the German techno and hardcore music scene.

Trance music is made of synthesizer lines that repeat endlessly throughout the tracks you play as a DJ. There is only a minimal addition of rhythmic changes with the occasional synthesizer atmospherics to distinguish those changes.

Trance music is made up of mixed layers and usually has a distinct build-up and release. There will be a strong climax in the middle and then a breakdown of other beats so that the melody stands out until the rhythm starts up again.

History of Trance

Though trance music started in the early 90s, by the mid-90s, it was less popular. In fact, it had all but disappeared from the music scene until the late 90s when it made a comeback in the British dance scene.

By 1998, Trance music had made a comeback, and most of Britain’s best-known DJs were playing Trance in the country’s super clubs. Eventually, even American DJs were adopting the genre into their collections.

What Makes Trance Different?

Trance is actually a combination of a variety of musical genres, but what makes it really different is the higher beats per minute (BPM).

Regular house music runs at a BPM of around 115 to 130 BPM. Trance music will run higher at about 120 to 140 BPM.

To get an idea of the differences in tempo and genres, check out this tool. This website will allow you to adjust the tempo on the beat so you can hear the differences between different genres.

Another difference is the level of emotion it evokes from the audience. The goal of Trance music is to establish a sense of euphoria with the crowd. Many who listen to Trance mention having out of body experiences.

Examples of Trance Music

Below are a few examples of some of the earlier Trance mixes:

Understanding Your Music

In order to be a great Trance DJ, you’ll need to truly understand the music and the effect it has on the audience.

Arpeggios

Arpeggios are one of the most important parts of trance music. The word arpeggio in Italian means to play on a harp. When discussing musical structure, the arpeggio is often associated with pianos and guitars.

An arpeggio is a type of broken chord where the notes of a particular chord are played individually in a particular sequence. Typically, when playing chords, the notes are played together.

When playing an arpeggio, the notes of the chord can be played in ascending or descending order, or even randomly. You can play with some arpeggios here to get an idea of what they sound like.

It’s also important to know that arpeggios are different from scales. Scales are a series of notes within a single key that are ordered by pitch. An example of a scale is the G major scale, which would be G, A, B, C, D, E, F#.

An example of an arpeggio is the G major arpeggio, which would be G, B, D notes played individually, rather than together.

In order to fully understand how these work within Trance music, you can check out this video tutorial on creating arpeggios:

Minor Keys

A musical key is a collection of notes used to compose a piece of music. There are both major keys and minor keys. Trance music works more with the minor keys since the minor chords tend to have the emotional draw that trance music depends on.

There are 12 minor keys, and each key has seven notes that can be used to write music in that key.

To find out the name of the key of a song (such as C Major or G Minor), you’ll go by the first lowest note in that key. This is known as the root note. You can determine if the key is a major or minor based on the intervals between each note.

The intervals refer to the spaces between the notes. On a piano, this is the distance between the white keys and the black keys. The distance between a white key and a black key is considered a half step. The distance between two black keys is a whole step.

An example of the intervals for a major scale would be whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half.

An example of the intervals for a minor scale would be similar. These would be whole-half-whole-whole-half-whole-whole. Watch the video below to see the difference between the two:

Learning the differences between the major and minor keys of your tracks can be overwhelming, but practicing will help you improve.

Knowing the differences between major and minor keys will help when you are working through making your arpeggios. There are specific chords that belong to specific keys.

The Hook

The hook is the moment in the song that catches the attention of the audience. This is the part of the song that your audience is going to remember the most.

The hook can be anything that might grab your listener’s attention. It could be a unique instrumental moment or a lyric (usually repeated) that sums up the song. Watch this for reference:

Examples of some memorable hooks are “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston or the intro to “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds.

Both of those hooks are memorable for different reasons for different people. Such as the long high note in Whitney Houston’s song. Everyone who hears it knows the song it’s from:

The same goes for the intro to Simple Minds’ song. Whether people remember it from The Breakfast Club or simply from knowing the song, the intro is memorable to them:

The Downbeat

There are four types of beats. There are upbeats and downbeats. There are also stressed beats and non-stressed beats. However, you won’t need to focus on those for this article.

For trance music, you’ll want to learn as much as you can about downbeats and how to use them to your advantage.

A simple way to explain an upbeat and a downbeat is to think about when you clap along to a song. When you clap with the music, you are clapping on the downbeat. The upbeat is the moments in the music when you are pulling your hands away.

You can also think of it as walking in step with a song. If you put your foot down on the beats, you’re stepping on the downbeat, and when you lift your foot, it’s timed with the upbeat. You can better understand this when you watch the video below:

Tying It All Together

So how does all of what we have discussed so far tie into being a Trance DJ? It’s important as a Trance DJ that you are able to listen to your tracks and find that emotional element at its core and make that the focal point. You want to make that stand out.

You want to be able to look at each of those elements and find which sounds harmonize the best with each other. Each element coincides with another element, blending it all together to work in your favor.

As a DJ, you’ll need to be able to pull each element apart and determine what works best for the mix you want to create.

Now that you have an understanding of music structure and how it ties into trance music, listen to this sample, and see if you can identify the elements of music:

Subgenres of Trance

There are roughly ten subgenres of Trance that are important for you to know and learn in order to be successful.

  • Acid Trance – This type of trance originated in Europe and is known for its trippy and hypnotic melodies, which is the signature sound for this kind of trance:

 

  • Balearic Trance – Originated in Spain. Typically, this kind of trance has a faster tempo with warm vibes as well as the use of guitars. You’ll find its range is around 130 BPM:
  • Dream Trance – This subgenre originated in Italy and was used to calm audiences down, which showed to have positive results. The melody is the strongest component, and it has a higher tempo at about 130 BPM:
  • Goa Trance – Originating in India, this type uses a 4/4 rhythm to grab hold of dancers. It ranges around 100 to 160 BPMs and can sometimes be complicated to perform:
  • Hard Trance – Starting in Germany, this kind of trance has strong bass and reverberating beats. Typically, the tempo is higher at about 140-180 BPM:
  • Psytrance – Originated in Israel. It uses high-energy and rhythms that change every eight counts:
  • Progressive Trance – Another subgenre that originated in Germany. This type of trance has longer builds and is generally less aggressive than other types of trance. This usually means the track will go from start to finish, rather than jumping around. The BPMs are usually around 128–132:
  • Tech Trance – From Germany, this method uses techno rhythms mixed with electronic trance. This gives a more distorted sound that typically repeats and uses a 4/4 beat. There are also very little vocals used in tech trance:
  • Uplifting Trance – Another originating in Germany. This trance is similar to Progressive Trance, except much shorter. It’s less aggressive, and the tempos range from 136-142 BPMs:
  • Vocal Trance – The last is also from Germany. This subgenre focuses on the vocals the most and can overlap with other subgenres as well:

Tips and Tricks

You can find many tips and tricks to make the learning process both fun and helpful. Here are a few highly suggested tips and tricks from others in the field:

  • Keep your volume on your speakers low while producing. There is a myth that if you turn the volume up, anything can sound good. Mistakes won’t sound better with the volume turned up, so keep it low while producing your music.
  • Save your projects every ten minutes. The last thing you want to do is lose your work in the middle of it, so saving your work often will prevent this from happening.
  • Learn the basics of music composition. When you know the basic breakdown of a song and how the elements work together, you’ll be able to dissect it for your own production.
  • Be careful with the bassline and kick. These two are competing on the same frequency, so they don’t always sound good together.
  • Get creative with your methods on how you produce your music. Don’t use the same template for all of your music. Try switching up your process every now and then.
  • Listen to freshly mixed Trance music. If you are looking for inspiration, try listening to some new Trance music and look at how it’s pieced together.

Most importantly, make your own music. Don’t try to sound like everyone else. If you are feeling the music and you love what you’re making, don’t try to force it to sound like someone else’s.

For more tips, here is a suggested article that can help, and you can also watch the video below:

DJ Equipment

As with all types of DJs, part of the job is learning how to use certain hardware and software.

Software

There are many different kinds of software out there for you to consider. One that is often suggested for Trance DJing is Ableton. Ableton is not the traditional kind of software that tries to mimic turntables and mixers.

This software aims to make producing your music and performing it live work as seamlessly as possible. The Session view of this software is what sets it apart from others. It has a grid layout with columns and rows. The columns are for the track or instrument, and the rows are for your clips.

Getting started with an arrangement is simple. You start playing a clip, and it loops until you stop it or click on the next one. You can use that to start with an arpeggio, then add in your hook and downbeat, and you’re on your way.

There is a learning curve when you step away from a traditional DJ setup in a software program like this, but you’ll be excited by the versatility Ableton can give you as a Trance DJ.

As mentioned before, there are several DJ software apps to choose from. You want to make sure that you pick the one that works best for you and your budget.

Things to consider when picking a software are price, features, program stability, and compatibility. Compatibility is especially important when you are considering your DJ hardware.

Hardware

In addition to having a good software, you’ll also need hardware to be a Trance DJ. You’ll need a controller, a turntable and a mixer. You’ll also want a good pair of headphones.

However, you can get started with just a controller and a laptop.

One of the best things any digital DJ can buy is a DJ controller. This will give you better control over your software than your mouse and keyboard. They are built to mimic the functions of a traditional turntable and mixer.

This, in combination with your software, will make it simple to produce your Trance music. Prices for a controller can vary depending on brand and features.

Things you want to keep in mind when purchasing any piece of equipment is price and functionality. You want to make sure it works for your budget and style of music.

Summary

Now that you have the basics, you can start practicing. Hopefully, this guide has been beneficial to mastering the skills you need to learn to be a Trance DJ.

Sources

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