Skip to main content

💸NEW: Share your earnings easily with iMusician's Revenue Splits💸

Find out more HERE
iMusician logo
All blog posts

Trance Music: Key Characteristics And Subgenres

Share this article on
What Is Trance Music? Trance Subgenres. - iMusician

Trance music is one of the most widely known subgenres of electronic dance music, even among those unable to identify it. Its roots lie in Western Europe and India, where it was developed during the late 1980s and 1990s. Since then, it has developed in various directions and can now be categorized into numerous microgenres. But what exactly is trance music?

A brief history of trance music

The roots of trance music can be traced back to Western Europe and India, where the genre was developed during the late 1980s and 1990s. Where exactly it originates from is somewhat contested. Some claim it originated in Germany, while others assert it stems from the UK. Additionally, many highlight the significant influence of India’s electronic music scene. Either way, all three countries significantly contributed to the development of trance music.

In Germany, the labels Eye Q, Harthouse, and MFS Records are credited as defining contributors to the genre. Sven Väth and Paul van Dyk are frequently mentioned as key figures in its evolution. Among the most important names in the UK are Platipus Records, Union Jack, Art of Trance, Chicane, and The KLF. Once established, trance music began spreading to other countries, including the Netherlands and Belgium. There it was adopted by Armin van Buuren, DJ Tiësto, Age of Love, and many other artists.

Please accept marketing cookies to view this content.

While trance music is primarily associated with European countries, it has been substantially influenced by the Indian electronic music scene. By blending psychedelic rock with different types of sounds and drone-like bass lines at beach parties, local DJs were able to create highly immersive, hypnotizing music. This distinctive sound captivated Western artists who integrated its trance-inducing qualities into their own compositions. India's influence is also evident in the interchangeability of the terms psychedelic trance and goa trance, with the latter originating in the Indian state of Goa and serving as a precursor to psytrance.

Please accept marketing cookies to view this content.

Main characteristics of trance music

Trance music is commonly characterized by its melodic, immersive sound. As the name suggests, the genre intends to put listeners in a trance-like state. This is achieved by driving drums, strong basslines, and the repetition of melodic phrases through tools like sequencers and arpeggiators.

Producers often work with rich, harmonic synth sounds, but many early tracks feature darker, mysterious, experimental, and futuristic elements. Some also choose to incorporate traditional instruments such as strings, pianos, and vocal samples. Sound selection choices usually depend on the subgenre. For instance, acid trance commonly borrows elements from acid techno and acid house.

Please accept marketing cookies to view this content.

Tracks usually lie between 120 and 150 BPM, with slower ones allowing listeners to enjoy their rhythmic flow and faster ones allowing for a blend of high energy and immersion. From an audio engineering perspective, trance music primarily revolves around filters, delays, echos, and large reverbs. Another key feature of the genre is its dynamic character. For this reason, composition is one of the arguably most important steps in the production process.

To create tension, producers use various techniques. Among them are automation or removing and reintroducing elements at the right time. The latter two are commonly referred to as breakdowns and build-ups. During the breakdown, rhythmic elements are removed to make room for ambiance. Producers then build up the tension by automating filters (lowpass to highpass), layering synth sounds, looping and repeating short fragments of the melodic elements, or letting rhythmic elements pop up sporadically to prepare listeners for what is to come. The build-up is followed by the drop, during which the energy and intensity of the track peaks.

Please accept marketing cookies to view this content.

Trance music subgenres

Trance music incorporates elements and production approaches from many other electronic music genres, including techno, house, ambient, synth-pop, and industrial. Thus, it is no surprise that it can be broken down into a multitude of subgenres. Among the most popular ones are classic trance, acid trance, psychedelic trance, goa trance, hard trance, and progressive trance.

1. Classic trance

Classic trance encapsulates the foundational elements of early trance music, borrowing from its predecessors while evolving into a distinct genre. Tracks falling into this category emerged during the late 1980s through the mid-1990s. They are characterized by rather melodic compositions, an underlying feel of mystery, and futuristic sounds. The term ‘classic trance’ is sometimes used to describe the highly euphoric, uplifting tracks released during the late 1990s to early 2000s, a categorization that many disagree with.

Please accept marketing cookies to view this content.

2. Acid trance

By borrowing from acid techno and acid house, the subgenre acid trance blends the signature squeaky acid basslines crucial to its predecessors with elements characteristic of trance music. Many tracks incorporate the intense buildups, drops, and melodic motifs typical of trance without compromising on the usually darker, high-energy sound of acid. For this reason, tracks are sometimes classified as acid techno.

Please accept marketing cookies to view this content.

3. Psychedelic trance & goa trance

Psychedelic trance is often used interchangeably with its predecessor, goa trance. Both revolve around fast tempos, immersive elements, rich melodies, and hypnotizing basslines. Some tracks are highly euphoric, while others maintain a mysterious, darker tone characterized by rough and gritty sounds. Visuals often borrow from surrealism or feature themes like hallucinations, psychedelic substances, extraterrestrialism, and nature.

Please accept marketing cookies to view this content.

4. Hard trance

Next comes hard trance, another genre known for its diverse range of tracks that can be ascribed to various genres. As the name suggests, hard trance incorporates rough elements, such as harsh kicks or distorted synths, into the traditionally immersive, playful trance sound. Tracks are usually fast and high energy, featuring hypnotizing breakdowns, buildups, and powerful drops. Some tunes resemble hard techno but place a stronger emphasis on melodic elements.

Please accept marketing cookies to view this content.

5. Progressive trance

Progressive trance can be challenging to describe, as many tracks overlap with other trance subgenres. Still, the style features a set of distinct characteristics. In electronic music, ‘progressive’ refers to the gradual evolution and progressive building of a track. Such tunes typically start minimalistic, gradually introducing new melodic and harmonic elements. Progressive trance tends to be slower-paced and more complex, allowing for much experimentation.

Please accept marketing cookies to view this content.

Trance music: the good, the bad, the ugly?

Today, trance music lies somewhere between having a bad reputation and experiencing a revival. The main reason for its negative image is its role in the mainstreamization of electronic music.

Before trance, many electronic music genres were rather experimental and more challenging to grasp. Yet, the melodic, upbeat sound of trance rendered electronic music significantly more accessible to mainstream audiences, thus attracting masses of people who previously did not show much interest in electronic music. When exactly trance peaked is contested, but DJ Tiësto’s performance at the Athens 2014 Olympic Games can certainly be viewed as one of its commercial heights.

Please accept marketing cookies to view this content.

Once trance-style music became commercialized, it quickly turned into a somewhat predictable and formulaic genre. Moreover, its “bigger-is-better ambitions” (as described by Pitchfork) resulted in productions that are often labeled as overly emotional, too euphoric, and …cringeworthy. This way, the genre ultimately lost much of its popularity. Due to its occasional use of imagery associated with spiritual practices and indigenous cultures, trance has also been criticized for appropriating cultural symbols and visuals.

Yet, when it comes to the music alone, younger generations are seemingly causing a trance revival, as they do not necessarily associate it with its negative stereotypes. In fact, young people have been bringing back many genres that, at some point, either lost their audiences or evolved into other styles. Moreover, many classic trance tracks from the 90s, either forgotten over the years or remained underground, do not sound like the stereotypes the genre is commonly associated with. Thus, it would not be surprising to see certain types of trance music reemerge or develop into something new and refreshing in the future.

Ready to get your music out there?

Distribute your music to the widest range of streaming platforms and shops worldwide. 

Get Started
Share Post:
Share this article on
Always stay up-to-date

All You Need.
All in One Place.

Get tips on How to Succeed as an Artist, receive Music Distribution Discounts, and get the latest iMusician news sent straight to your inbox! Everything you need to grow your music career.

Always stay up-to-date

All You Need.
All in One Place.

Get tips on How to Succeed as an Artist, receive Music Distribution Discounts, and get the latest iMusician news sent straight to your inbox! Everything you need to grow your music career.

Loading...