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Create an amazing trance riser in 7 steps

The trance sub-genre of electronic dance music (EDM) has certain features that are both essential to the genre and quite close to being unique to the genre. One is the 'riser', which every trance track features, usually several times. And here we're going to make one...


Any EDM track that doesn't have a riser probably isn't a trance track. And if it is, then it would be a better trance track if it did have a one. Here we are going to look at the components of a riser and one way it can be created from basic elements. But first, here is the completed riser.


If you are familiar with trance music then you probably get the point. If you're not, then time spent researching on YouTube will be extremely useful. But in brief, the purpose of the riser is not to be a climax in itself - it is a preparation for the 'drop', which is the main melody of the track where the crowd starts jumping up and down and waving their hands in the air. The riser generally doesn't connect directly to the drop but there is a period of calm in between. The explosion effect at the end of the riser is a common method of relaxing the tension, but maintaining a sense of expectation for what is about to come in just a few bars' time.

So let's look at the components of this riser, one by one...

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This is the Balearia patch from the reFX Nexus2 synth software instrument. The only tweak that I made, if I remember correctly, is that the cutoff frequency of the low-pass filter is automated during the segment. It starts like this...

reFX Nexus2

And ends like this...

reFX Nexus2

DanceLead 2

The next step is to add a rising pitch to the combination using the Lennar Digital Sylenth 1. Here I have modulated the pitch over a range of four octaves, and also increased the cutoff frequency of the low-pass filter. From this...

Sylenth 1

To this...

Sylenth 1

Let's hear the combination...


Sounds good so far. Let's go on to the next step.


Now this is a little more complicated. It is common to use noise - white, pink or whatever color you like - with a filter sweep in a riser. However I have gone an extra stage with this and have added a pulse effect. Let's listen to the noise without the pulse first. The low pass filter is set to a very low cutoff, so the start is quiet.


To explain the processing I'll need to show you a video. YouTube's audio levels can be a bit erratic so make your own listening adjustment if necessary. The EQ used here is the EQ Eight from Ableton Live, but any similarly-featured EQ could achieve a good result. If the video looks a bit pixelated it's because EQ Eight's screen display is tiny (but fully functional).

Filter sweep

The significant points here are firstly that only the highest band of this eight-band EQ has been used, as a low-pass filter. The Q control has been set to 2.5 so that there is a peak just below the cutoff frequency, which gives the sweep much of its character. The cutoff frequency is automated, starting at around 100Hz at the start of the riser coming up all the way to 22 kHz at the end. There isn't any need for precision in these figures - just use whatever sounds good.

The next step is to add the pulse effect so that it sounds like this...


And the video version (bearing in mind that YouTube's levels can be different)...

Side chain gate

The trick here is to use the side chain input of a gate to control the level of the noise. As you can see in the top left corner of the image above, the side chain is activated (orange color) and it takes its audio input from a track called 'Noise trigger'. The 'Noise trigger' track contains a drum instrument, which is Ableton's own Impulse. Any drum instrument could be used for this - all that is needed is a sound with a sharp attack. I used a hihat. Here is the instrument...

Ableton Impulse

And here is the note pattern...

Pulse pattern

What is important to remember here is that we don't want the hihat to feed through to the mix, so the level of the channel is set to minus infinity in the mixer. Using the side chain input of a gate in this way is a useful technique to derive many interesting effects that would be hard to achieve by any other method.

Snare roll

One of the classic elements of a trance riser is the snare roll. I chose not to make this too complicated and here is what it sounds like...


The instrument here is Native Instruments' Battery with a classic Roland TR-909 snare sample with a simple EQ to brighten it up...

Native Instruments Battery

Snare EQ

The pattern is this...

Snare roll pattern

As you can see, the last two bars are in double time, which is a classic trance trick. The level rises over the first six bars using automation, then drops and rises again for the last two...

Snare automation


At any point during the construction of a trance track, or any EDM track for that matter, an astute composer is likely to turn to one of the many libraries of loops and samples. Clearly if you are a superstar, globe-trotting DJ/producer then you can afford to buy as many sample packs as you like. But the trick is to find the sample packs that are most relevant to your style of music, then edit the hell out of them to your own requirements. Editing loops and samples is always a better way to go than using them as they are, because then you will sound different to everyone else who is using them. However, I wanted to keep things simple so I have used two samples just as they came freshly downloaded. Here they are mixed together...


There isn't a lot to report here, but one thing is that when you use samples that climax at the end, it is the timing of the end that is important, not the start. So where mostly in music you will pay attention to the starts of notes, percussion sounds and effects, with rising samples then you will position the end, and then tweak the duration of the sample if you need to achieve a precise start point.

More rhythm

At this point I felt that the riser was full-sounding enough to do its job, but it just needed a bit more rhythm. I turned to the reFX Nexus2 and its Analog Drums preset...


Once again I added a filter sweep. From this (note the filter section in the bottom left corner)...

reFX Nexus2

To this...

reFX Nexus2


The last final touch is an explosion effect at the end of the riser. This is a common device in trance music. It isn't the only way you can end a riser but normally there needs to be a release of tension before the drop comes in loud and proud. There didn't seem any pressing need to change this much, so there is just a little filtering of the high frequencies. If I use the same sample again, then it is very likely that I'll process it differently.



And that's it! A perfect trance riser. Well, perfection is a state of mind and it is said that a work of art is never finished, only abandoned. This anyway is my version for this tutorial. Next time I need a riser, I'll do it differently.

Oh by the way, you can use the complete riser for free in your own work if you like. Let us know if you do because I'd like to hear what you've been able to achieve with it.

Happy trancing!

Once again, the complete riser, snappily titled Trance Riser...


Download audio files...

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Trance Riser by David Mellor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

By David Mellor Saturday February 13, 2016