What Is Trance Music?

Wondering what trance music is?

Okay then, let’s try and shed some light!

Trance has been a staple in the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) scene since the early ‘90s.

And it continues to be pretty popular to this day.

Trance has been through several iterations and has spawned several sub-genres since its earliest days.

Trance can be challenging to understand for anyone who has not given the style a chance, but most people who enjoy the more ethereal side of EDM enjoy Trance.

If you want EDM festivals, or if you are interested in the mental state that music can induce, then Trance music is for you.

Let’s go ahead and try to answer the question of ‘what is trance music?’

what is trance music in black text on green and yellow diagonally split background

What Is Trance Music?

Trance music is a specific form of EDM developed in the 1990s in Europe, specifically stemming from EDM genres from London and the clubbing scene in Germany.

TL;DR Summary: 

What is Trance music? Trance is a form of EDM developed from German and British EDM styles, including Techno and New-Age. This music has less form and structure than other EDM but has a stronger emphasis on intense melodies, strong rhythms, and soundscapes. The overall feel of the music rather than single moments. 

This genre has roots in Hard-House, British New-Age, Techno, and Psychedelic EDM styles.

Trance is defined by its long track lengths with multiple drops and builds but with a very open-ended approach to production.

Trance music is a powerful form of EDM designed to evoke intense feelings and emotions.

It is designed to be listened to in groups and made to be as immersive as possible.

A little bit like this…

Some of the features of Trance include melodic structures that build tension, swirling beats and rhythms…

…a heavy focus on percussion and immersive melodies, and soft breakdowns after high climaxes.

This music is made entirely digitally using synthesizers and digital instruments.

There is not much structure to Trance music; much of it is written in a free-form style while loosely adhering to a 4/4 time-signature and tempos between 135 and 150 beats-per-minute (BPM).

If you let it, it will take you on a journey deep into who you are and show you things about music that you may not have thought to be possible.

Typical Characteristics of Trance Music?

Every style of music that becomes known as an entire genre of it’s own, will have a small handful of characteristics that come together to lay-down its identity.

Here are the most common characteristics of trance music:

#1.The Beat

Like many of the genres that sit within EDM, Trance music is structured with a 4/4 time-signature.

It tends to be a little faster than House music at somewhere between 128 and 150 beats per minute (BPM).

#2.The Build-Up and Breakdown

Build-ups and breakdowns are not uncommon in EDM, that’s for sure.

But it’s even more of a thing where Trance music, where the rollercoaster ride of tension and release is everything.

In Trance, the build-up is a transitional point in the track, where the energy of the tune is built massively.

This is usually at the mid-point of the track and it’s followed by a very significant breakdown.

The breakdown will be some kind of atmospheric melody that hangs in the air for a few moments, sometimes longer.

After this, the beats are gradually built up again as the track returns to it’s regular tempo.

#3.The Hook

The ‘hook’ is another element that you will find in many genres of EDM.

It tends to be a very melodic element in Trance music.

Repetition of the melodic hook is used to emphasize the hypnotic ‘trance-like‘ effect.

#4.The Vocals

Trance tends to be mostly instrumental, but Trance producers and DJ’s also love a bit of vocals.

A lot of very successful Trance tracks have used very prominent vocal performances.

They are mostly performed by female vocalists and are extremely melodic.

Examples of Trance Music

Do you like Trance music?

Do you not like Trance music?

Try having a little listen to a couple of these proper Trance classics to help you decide.

In no particular order of preference, or anything else:

#1. ‘Silence’ by Delerium ft. Sarah McLachlan (Tiesto’s In Search of Sunrise Remix)

To me this track is timeless.

Driving yet ethereal, this is quality old-school Trance.

Delerium are Canadian and they actually formed as a side-project in 1987.

Thank goodness for side-projects!

And as for Sarah McLachlan and her amazing vocals…simply no words.

‘Silence’ was released in 1999, and has been forever subject to endless remixes…but Tiesto’s is the best.

#2. ‘Madagascar’ by Art Of Trance (Ferry Corsten Remix)

Another fine tune that perfectly captures the Golden Years of Trance.

Art of Trance had produced some top records.

This one was undoubtedly already one of the best…

…and then it got the Ferry Corsten treatment!

#3. ‘Everyday’ by Agnelli & Nelson

I’m not one for dishing out advice, but…

…if anyone wants to learn how to produce Trance, start getting into Agnelli & Nelson.

The structure of all their tunes is just amazing,

The build-up, the breakdown, they send shivers down my spine.

Their masterpiece of an album ‘Hudson Street‘ is one of my most played albums ever.

#4. ‘1998’ by Binary Finary (Matt Darey Remix)

Binary Finary are UK dance music act, originally comprising Matt Laws, Ricky Grant and Stuart Matheson.

This single ‘1998’ was their biggest hit, it was released in…err…1997 actually!

The Matt Darey Remix quickly became a club classic.

I would say this track, and particularly this remix, is starting to head down the Progressive Trance road.

#5.Gouryella by Gouryella

Ferry Corsten and Tiesto’s collboration ‘Gouryella’ turned out this eponymously named beauty back in the middle od the Golden Age.

That incredible bassline is a piece of production genius.

And the warmth of the sound that layers across it.

If you’re not moved to feel something by this tune, well I don’t know, you must have ice running through your steel veins.

#6. ‘Carte Blanche’ by Veracocha 

Ferry Corsten and Vincent de Moor are the fellas behind ‘Veracocha’

Vincent and Ferry made one song together…this one.

And it’s one of the best trance tracks ever made.

Well, if that lot hasn’t put a smile on your face I don’t know what bloody will!

A Very Brief History of Early Trance

Trance music began in the early ’90s, in Europe, mainly the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, when a few DJ’s and producers started experimenting with Acid House and Detroit Techno.

It spread quickly, as European clubbers loved it’s high-energy, uplifting sound.

People who are really into the scene sometimes refer to these early years of Trance, say 1990 to 1998 as the ‘Golden Age’.

As you might expect, the ‘Dark Age’ of Trance followed with the sound becoming much more brooding, and tending to progress along with less emphasis on the big build-up and the breakdown…

a more sophisticated sound for sure…and also far less euphoric! 

These years ran from roughly 1998 through to maybe 2003.

Since that time, Trance music has been in the ‘New-Age’. 

The New-Age has seen Trance move away from the aggressive, dark sound of the Dark Age’, back to a more melodic, uplifting, emotional sound.

Between 2003 and 2007 Trance music became more and more commercialized with an ever increasingly cheezy feel.

This tied in with (was partly the cause of) a bit of a backlash against dance music generally.

Trance’s progression from the underground, through commercialization, and eventual saturation of the mainstream airwaves was it’s partial undoing.

Underground dance music culture always spits-out what becomes too sickly sweet.

So is Trance music now dead?

Well as of 2023, over 40 million listeners in 84 different countries tune in to listen to Armin van Buuren’s ‘A State Of Trance’ radio show, which he hosts out of his custom built Amsterdam studio.

That doesn’t sound very dead to me.

Resting maybe, licking it’s wounds and gathering itself possibly…but not dead.  

Sub-Genres of Trance Music

There are quite a few sub-genres of Trance around.

It’s not always easy trying to figure out which genre, sub-genre, sub-sub-genre a track fits into…

…and it’s not something you should worry too much about, just enjoy the music.

That said, let’s try and look at a few pointers that might help to identify which genre of Trance you’re listening to.

#1. Uplifting Trance

Often referred to as ‘Pure Trance’ by Trance enthusiasts.

Uplifting Trance has stayed close to its origins.

It is energetic and euphoric.

There will be an energetic build-up, followed by an extended breakdown with a climatic beat drop.

#2. Progressive Trance

Progressive Trance is very melodic oriented.

It is less driven by the huge build-ups and breakdowns of Uplifting Trance.

It tends to have multiple melodic elements that are progressively layered to build the groove, the feel, and the atmosphere.

Progressive Trance is usually produced in a range between 125 and 135 BPM.

Here’s a sublime example of Progressive House, mixed by the very brilliant Guy Ornadel.

UK’s Muzik Magazine gave this CD away for free with a copy of the mag back in 2000. Bargain!

If there had been more Trance DJ’s around from the same mould as Guy Ornadel, and less like DJ Sammy…

…I think Trance music would still be thriving today.

#3. Goa Trance / Psy Trance

You’ll always remember a night of Goa Trance in the beautiful Indian state of Goa.

Or maybe you won’t? I don’t know. It depends how much you enjoyed yourself I suppose. 

Let’s just say…if you’ve been lucky enough to experience Goa Trance in Goa, hopefully you remember just enough to still know how great it was…but not all the detail, you probably don’t want to remember all the detail.

Anyway, Goa Trance is highly melodic, and also very complex.

Fast tempo, palpitating melodies, spacey effects, hypnotic hooks…

…almost everything you need for an out-of-body, trance-like, experience.

#4. Acid Trance

Characterized by the use of the Roland TB-303 bass machine as the lead synthesizer, Acid Trance was part of the first wave of Trance.

A descendent of Acid House in the late ’80s and early ’90s when Trance was yet to even be a thing.

Produced with trippy and hypnotic melodies, spewed forth from the guts of the TB-303, it also had a rawness that is not reflected in pure, classic Trance. 

#5. Hard Trance

Clocking-in at around 140 to 180 BPM Hard Trance is fairly easy to identify.

This fusion of Hard House and Trance was spawned as it’s own sub-genre between the years 2001-2003.

As is often the case, Hard Trance was developed by Hard House DJ’s and producers experimenting and transitioning for a unique sound of their own. 

During the early 200’0s, Hard Trance was one of the most exciting sounds on the dancefloor across the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany.

What Does Trance Music do to the Brain?

Trance music alters brainwaves.

Trance music’s hypnotic, repetitive nature can, in fact, induce a trance-like state.

Brainwaves have been observed to slow down and become increasingly synchronized.

A study conducted by Frontiers in Psychology found that the harmonic repetition and complex structure of Trance music is very definitely uplifting.

The altered brainwave activity caused by Trance music, tends to induce a state of relaxation, as well as increased focus and creativity.

Trance music can help to ground a person mentally.

It can positively affect your mental health and make you feel happier.

To be fair, I think I figured this out for myself years ago, as did many others, but hey, we’ll let the science boffins take the plaudits!

Who Invented Trance Music?

Every discussion about different music genres eventually comes round to who invented/founded the sound.

And Trance music, like most other genres, is the product of experiments and developments by a whole host of different artists.

In Germany it was most likely a development of Techno.

In the UK it was born out of Acid House.

Probably a mix of the two in the Netherlands.

We can definitely identify some first roots of Trance as we know it, if we go back to say 1988.

Way, way In 1998 the UK act ‘The KLF’ used the term trance on their release ‘What Time Is Love (Pure Trance 1)’. Possibly the first time the term was officially attached to a dance music track?

The single is a House tune, but it’s definitely heading down an early Trance direction with with it’s hypnotic loops and melody.

Let’s look at another tune to see just how pan-european the development of the Trance sound was.

Two years after its original release, German dance music act ‘Jam & Spoon’ gave ‘The Age Of Love’, originally by ‘Age of Love their remix treatment.

This remixed single was the start of Trance music really being considered as a genre of it’s own.

But aside from these two important releases, many DJ’s and producers were busy developing the sound of Trance through the underground scene.

So there we have a definitive answer…nobody invented Trance music…

…it simply evolved because of the skill and adventurousness of a whole bunch of DJ’s and producers.

Wrapping it Up!

What is Trance music? Trance is a genre all of its own.

It has deep roots in the EDM world, but it is something a little bit special that is maybe best enjoyed in a group.

Take the time to find some Trance tracks that you like, and EDM will never be quite the same to you again.

Leave a Comment