tl;dr
SURPRISE PATTERN:

when an artist violates a musical expectation (or fulfills it in an unexpected way), resulting in listener chills when combined effectively with an Acoustic Pattern

“I did not see that climax coming at all. Makes me feel tingly every time”

Technique 1:

Sonic surprise

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Technique 2:

Harmonic surprise

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Technique 3:

Tonal Surprise

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Technique 4:

Rhythmic surprise

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Technique 5:

Melodic surprise

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How It Works

When artists use the Surprise pattern, they directly trigger our startle response. This involuntary reaction prompts us to take defensive measures when we hear an unexpected sound, whether its an unseen door slamming or a clever musical surprise. Sudden changes in sound reliably trigger this response because hearing is the fastest of the five senses. While light travels faster than sound, its processed more slowly in the eye than sound in the ear. When musicians feature surprises that are effectively integrated into the musical flow, this can trigger a fear response that moves listeners to chills.

Technique 1: Sonic surprise

When an artist features a large change in frequency content or dynamics at an unexpected moment. These surprises are typically preceded by a passage that guides listeners to anticipate a certain pitch (e.g. a perfect cadence) or continuation of a repetitive texture (e.g. long, quiet section). By focusing listeners on harmonic form or sequence repetition, artists can make a sudden change in register, instruments, or loudness especially jarring. When artists effectively pull off a sonic surprise, this can often trigger a fear response and induce listener chills. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are:

— Entrance of a “contrasting” timbre (e.g. vocal vs. instrument, acoustic vs. electronic, male vs. female singer)

— Abrupt broadening or contracting of the frequency range (e.g. ensemble entrance after sparse solo section)

— Certain large changes in dynamics (e.g. loud stab after a pause, drop out from loud ensemble to quiet solo)

Genre

Pop/R&B
Hip Hop/Rap
Country/Folk
Alternative/Indie
Rock/Metal
Dance/Electronic
Film/Games
Classical/World

Song

Electric (feat. Khalid)
Dreams and Nightmares
Windows are Rolled Down
Sweet Disposition
Everbody Hurts
Sea of Voices
Apotheosis (Journey)
Requiem – Confutatis

Artist

Alina Baraz
Meek Mill
Amos Lee
The Temper Trap
R.E.M.
Porter Robinson
Austin Wintory
Mozart

Frisson Reported by Listeners

3:28
1:36
1:46
0:36
1:25
3:14
3:16
0:20

Technique 2: Harmonic surprise

When an artist introduces an unexpected chord or chord structure at a prominent moment. These surprises typically occur on resolution notes at the end of a cadence, when artists are expected to hear a chord with a certain root note or structure (e.g. major triad). By using well-signaled cadences, artists can make the appearance of a different chord especially jarring. When artists effectively pull off a harmonic surprise, this can trigger a fear response and induce listener chills. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are:

— Deceptive cadences (e.g., ii-V-vi) or modal interchange before the tonic (e.g., bVI-bVII-I)

— Novel harmonizations (e.g. diminished chord after a sequence of major triads)

— Sudden transitions from inharmonic to harmonic sounds

Genre

Pop/R&B
Hip Hop/Rap
Country/Folk
Alternative/Indie
Rock/Metal
Dance/Electronic
Film/Games
Classical/World

Song

Can’t Stop the Feeling!
Hey Ya
Midnight in Montgomery
Morning Bell
Jeremy
Magnets (Jon Hopkins Remix)
Descent Into Mystery (Batman)
Nearer My God To Thee

Artist

Justin Timberlake
Outkast
Alan Jackson
Radiohead
Pearl Jam
Disclosure
Danny Elfman
BYU Vocal Point

Frisson Reported by Listeners

0:59
1:12
1:10
0:41
1:02
4:20
1:11
2:36

Technique 3: Tonal surprise

When an artist alters the tonal center of a piece at an unexpected moment. These surprises typically occur on resolution notes at the end of a cadence, when listeners anticipate the root note of the current tonality and instead hear something different. When artists effectively pull off a tonal surprise, this can trigger a fear response and induce listener chills. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are:

— Smooth modal shifts to a parallel or relative mode (e.g. FM to Fm, CM to Am)

— Certain direct modulations to “remote” keys (e.g. shifts by half step, whole step, minor third)

— Tonal resolution after prolonged tonal ambiguity (e.g., verse hits at EbM and CM, chorus confirms EbM)

Genre

Pop/R&B
Hip Hop/Rap
Country/Folk
Alternative/Indie
Rock/Metal
Dance/Electronic
Film/Games
Classical/World

Song

Wings
Thong Song
Austin
You Oughta Know
One
Y
The Lighting of the Beacons
When David Heard

Artist

Little Mix
Sisqo
Blake Shelton
Alanis Morissete
U2
iamwhoami
Howard Shore
Eric Whitacre

Frisson Reported by Listeners

2:34
2:46
2:47
0:54
0:39
5:49
2:42
1:48

Technique 4: Rhythmic surprise

When an artist introduces a tempo change or shift in rhythmic emphasis at an unexpected moment. These surprises typically occur on resolution notes or at the peaks of melodic phrases. By focusing listeners on melodic and harmonic motion, artists can make rhythmic shifts especially jarring and attention-grabbing. When artists effectively pull off a rhythmic surprise, this can trigger a fear response and induce listener chills. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are:

— Shifts between on-beat vs. off-beat emphasis (e.g., hitting tonic “early” on upbeat, sudden syncopation)

— Shifts between even vs. odd-numbered subdivisions (e.g., hemiolas, “skipped” beats)

— Shifts in BPM (e.g., subtle shifts involving 4:3 or 3:2 BPM ratios, or straight vs. rubato shifts)

Genre

Pop/R&B
Hip Hop/Rap
Country/Folk
Alternative/Indie
Rock/Metal
Dance/Electronic
Film/Games
Classical/World

Song

Just the Way You Are
44 More
Sold (Grundy County Action)
Shut Up Kiss Me
All Is Violent, All Is Bright
Says
The Middle of the World
Appalachian Spring – Doppio

Artist

Bruno Mars
Logic
John Michael Montgomery
Angel Olsen
God Is An Astronaut
Nils Frahm
Nicholas Britell
Aaron Copland

Frisson Reported by Listeners

1:27
0:55
0:25
1:25
3:11
7:16
0:37
2:10

Technique 5: Melodic surprise

When an artist suddenly change the interval size or melodic material at an unexpected moment. These surprises typically occur at the peaks of phrases or during transitions between sections. By guiding listeners to formulate a strong expectation that they will hear a certain pitch at a certain time, artists can make melodic shifts especially jarring and attention-grabbing. When artists effectively pull off a melodic surprise, this can trigger a fear response and induce listener chills. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are:

— Establish-reinforce-violate repetition patterns between antecedent and consequent phrases

— Sudden disjunct motion (e.g. leap by a fifth or more after a phrase of step-wise motion)

— Return of a theme (e.g. after seeing theme early in piece, artists brings tune back  at prominent climax)

Genre

Pop/R&B
Hip Hop/Rap
Country/Folk
Alternative/Indie
Rock/Metal
Dance/Electronic
Film/Games
Classical/World

Song

Honey I’m Good
Pyscho (feat. Ty Dolla $ign)
From This Moment On
Someone You Loved
Deconstruction
No Fear No More
Tryouts (Rudy)
Adagio: Spartacus and Phyrgia

Artist

Andy Grammer
Post Malone
Shania Twain
Lewis Capaldi
Devin Townsend Project
Madeon
Jerry Goldsmith
Khachaturian

Frisson Reported by Listeners

2:01
1:08
2:21
0:26
7:15
2:01
3:52
6:13

Listens to more examples in the Qbrio Library