tl;dr
SUSPENSE PATTERN:

when an artist creates an incomplete musical expectation, resulting in listener anticipation and chills when combined effectively with an Acoustic Pattern

“Absolutely blood-curdling. Roger Daltrey’s scream gives me cold chills..”

Technique 1:

Sonic suspense

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Technique 2:

Harmonic suspense

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Technique 3:

Tonal suspense

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Technique 4:

Rhythmic suspense

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Technique 5:

Melodic suspense

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How It Works

When artists use the Suspense pattern, they trigger our neural “reward system”. This system centers around the pleasurable neurotransmitter dopamine and evolved to motivate us to do survival-enhancing things (like eating and reproducing). There are separate dopamine releases in advance of, and during the experience of, a reward activity. When artists give listeners leading – but incomplete – information about what is going to happen next in a piece of music, this can encourage listeners to “fill in the gaps” and anticipate a certain outcome (i.e. reward). Researchers have confirmed that musical expectations can function as an abstract reward that triggers this anticipatory system.

Technique 1: Sonic suspense

Highly unstable sounds that prompt listeners to anticipate (and yearn) for them to stop. To create sonic suspense, artists use extreme timbres, textures, and frequency content to suddenly put listeners on edge. But sonic suspense is delicate; if the unstable sounds are too disjointed and disrupt the musical flow entirely listeners will disengage. When sonic suspense is effectively embedded in a stable and predictable cadence or broader structure chills, that is when chills can occur. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are:

— Sustained “high-energy” sounds (e.g., prolonged loudness, dissonance, high pitch, or distortion)

— “Missing” texture elements (e.g., dropping out the baseline on the second-to-last chord of a cadence)

— Certain sonic illusions (e.g., Shepard tones and glissandos that create sensation of constantly rising pitch)

Genre

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

Song

Good As Hell
Guns and Ships (Hamilton)
My Church
Oh Comely
Cochise
Silver
The Eyeland (Lost)
Caprice No. 24

Artist

Lizzo
Leslie Odom Jr, Daveed Diggs
Maren Morris
Neutral Milk Hotel
Audioslave
Caribou
Michael Giacchino
Paganini (Heifetz)

Frisson Reported by Listeners

2:06
0:27
2:30
5:55
3:04
3:24
1:34
5:24

Technique 2: Harmonic suspense

Delayed resolutions or increased dissonance prior to a resolution. To create harmonic suspense, artists use progressions and chord structures to cultivate and intensify anticipation for a cadential resolution. But harmonic suspense needs to be restrained; too much delay or dissonance can disrupt the flow of a progression . When harmonic suspense is effectively embedded in a stable and predictable cadence or broader sequence, that is when chills can occur. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are:

— Added non-chord tones (e.g., upper extensions, clusters, appoggiaturas, suspensions)

— Interrupted progressions (e.g., in place of the tonic there is a half cadence, 6-4 inversions, etc.)

— Symmetric sequences (e.g., V/V-V-I, descending circle-of-fifths, pantriadic “cycles”)

Genre

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

Song

Lovin’ You
XXX
Live Like You Were Dying
Hallelujah (live)
My Immortal
Sleepwalker
Bye (Close Encounters)
With a Lily In Your Hand

Artist

Minnie Riperton
XXX
Tim McGraw
Jeff Buckley
Evanescence
Illenium
John Williams
Eric Whitacre

Frisson Reported by Listeners

1:15
0:42
4:12
5:56
2:56
1:19
4:31
0:08

Technique 3: Tonal suspense

Increased tonal ambiguity or dissonance immediately prior to a resolution. To create tonal suspense, artists temporarily confuse the tonal center near the end of a cadence to intensity anticipation. But tonal suspense needs to be fleeting; too much time without a tonal center can undermine a progression and cause listeners to disengage. When tonal suspense is effectively integrated into a cadence or broader sequence, that is when chills can occur. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are:

— Modal interchange before the tonic (e.g., borrowed chord from the parallel key after the dominant)

— Tonal ambiguity before the tonic (e.g., suspended chords, inverted chords, diminished sevenths)

— Momentary chromaticism before the tonic (e.g., tenporary shift to pantriadic or atonal motion)

Genre

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

Song

Never Enough
XXX
Speechless
Welcome to the Black Parade
Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now
Positive
Reunited (An American Tail)
Also Sprach Zarathustra

Artist

Loren Allred
XXX
Dan + Shay
My Chemical Romance
Starship
Hot Chip
James Horner
Richard Strauss

Frisson Reported by Listeners

2:32
1:36
2:49
3:29
1:02
2:49
3:14
0:27

Technique 4: Rhythmic suspense

Sudden rhythmic delay or dissonance immediately prior to a resolution. To create rhythmic suspense, artists use tempo, meter, and rhythmic complexity to put listeners on edge ahead of an anticipated pitch. Given how important a steady metric pulse is to musical flow, rhythmic suspense needs to be fleeting and used sparingly. When tonal suspense is effectively integrated into a cadence that clearly tips off the tonic, that is when chills can occur. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are:

— Rhythmic “delays” (e.g., pregnant pause, rubato slow down, repeated augmentation)

— Rhythmic “acceleration” (e.g., shorter and shorter meters, smaller and smaller rhythmic values)

— Rhythmic “dissonance” (e.g., sustained polyrhythms, prolonged metric contrast)

Genre

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

Song

Despacito
Feel the Vibe
9 to 5
High Hopes
Tender Surrender
Five Hours
Main Title (The Matrix)
Conga

Artist

Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee
BJ the Chicago Kid
Dolly Parton
Panic! at the Disco
Steve Vai
Deorro
Don Davis
Gloria Estefan

Frisson Reported by Listeners

1:01
1:49
0:14
1:00
2:38
0:35
0:55
0:05

Technique 5: Melodic suspense

Certain changes in melodic motion immediately prior to a resolution. To create melodic suspense, artists use contour, interval size, and tuning to heighten anticipation at the end of directional sequences like cadences or a build-ups. Melodic suspense needs to intensify these sequences without undermining them. When melodic suspense makes it unclear when or how – but not whether – a sequence will resolve, that is when chills can occur. Some of the ways artists implement this technique are:

— Symmetric motion in one direction (e.g. moving up by repeated steps, down by repeated thirds)

— Gliding motion after a sequence of stepwise motion (e.g., sudden glissandos, pitch bends, melisma)

— Intention tuning “misses” (e.g., hitting tonic flat and then bending up to the in-tune note)

Genre

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

Song

Firework
The Knowing
Cry Pretty
Misery Business
Top Gun Anthem
Symphony (feat. Zara Larsson)
Lot’s Wife (Caroline or Change)
Danse Macabre, Op. 40

Artist

Katy Perry
The Weeknd
Carrie Underwood
Paramore
Harold Faltermeyer
Clean Bandit
Tonya Pinkins
Saint-Saëns

Frisson Reported by Listeners

0:46
3:41
2:53
2:04
3:22
0:52
2:41
5:23

Listens to more examples in the Qbrio Library