Theory: Tension and Release

Noah messaged me last night at 3am asking if I believed in an afterlife. Sometimes I want to believe there is, but I think when

Noah's ready for anything.
Noah’s ready for anything. p.s. Sorry love, had to embarrass you. xoxo

we die, we disappear. Just kind of go poof and become apart of the universe. Though I do hope there is some Heaven-like realm we disappear to because I don’t think a lifetime is enough to love anyone. I mean, I’ve known Noah for 8 months now. We talk every waking moment and I still feel like I don’t even know him. I can’t imagine any quantifiable amount of time is enough to get to know someone. 

Anyways, we talked and I mentioned that life is like a ticking bomb. We’re born and that’s when the bomb starts ticking. Then it ultimately blows up, you die, and everyone’s sad and has to deal with the aftermath. I know, how morbid. Hahaha, Noah led that thought to compare life to a piece of music. I’ll let him explain the rest.


Alright, so i’m quite sure I’m not the first one who’s ever thought of this, but all life is based on the relationship between tension and release. It exists in everything. Whenever you read or speak a sentence, there is a build up to the word or phrase you stress the most, and the rest of the sentence tails off to a cadence point. If I were to ask someone to marry me, there would be a moment of tension between my asking and my potential fiance’s answer. Tension, and a release. A good way to illustrate this concept is through music.

The vast majority of traditional western music starts with a tone or chord, deviates and progresses through other chords and eventually settles back into the starting chord. Easy to understand, right? Don’t worry, it’s OK if you don’t. The point is, music builds tension through chord progressions, change in tempo, changes in volume, etc. The release of the stress comes from regression back into a chord, a slowing of tempo, a diminishing of volume, and more.

Rather than trying to guide you through a series of complex chord progressions required to analyze post-renaissance music, I instead chose this Gregorian chant. A cult classic to be sure. (Get it? OK, never mind.)

screenshot-docs.google.com 2015-02-19 18-33-29The best thing about this notation and chant is that it requires absolutely no musical knowledge to analyze. All you need to do is look at the end of each phrase, notated by the bars. The chant begins on the second line from the bottom, deviates above and below that note, and regresses on multiple occasions to the starting note. Note how the syllables “ve” and “na” at the top are the same note, while everything in between moves away from that note.

Now, you might be asking, “Noah, why does tension and release matter?” or “Why did you just analyze a Gregorian chant?”. Both are very good questions.

Human beings get tremendous rushes of dopamine when they hear a musical phrase resolve. Have you ever had goosebumps because of a well written piece of music? That feeling is your body reacting to the relief and happiness brought on by a release of stress. There is a reason that music is often used for therapeutic purposes. Believe it or not, people go to Taylor Swift concerts for something other than her gorgeous looks and shining personality. (I enjoy T-Swift, I apologize).

Moral of the story? If more of us can receive even just a little more musical education, we can experience this tension and release, and start to find it in all parts of our lives. More of us can understand that the most stressful and tumultuous moments in our lives are simply leading to a resolution.


Hope yall enjoyed that! Noah is truly the most passionate person I’ve ever had the honor of meeting and so I’m super happy that he agreed to guest blog for me. Everything to this boy is music.

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2 thoughts on “Theory: Tension and Release

  1. Your blog has always been 🔥 since I started reading it back in September. You’re really an incredible writer with deep insight and interesting facts. Keep it up Nam 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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