• Grade 4: Expressive Qualities

  • Musical Tension and Release

    Aim: How do composers use tension and release to create melodies?
    Summary: Students learn to identify tension and release within a piece of music.
    Standards: US 1, 3, 5, 6, 7; NYC 1, 2, 3
    Modality: performing, responding
    Materials: Teacher Worksheet
    Time Required: 10 minutes
    This activity is part of: Music Educators Toolbox

    MET flag
  • Instructions   |   Going Deeper   |   Assessment
  • MET K Instructions Expressive Qualities
    1. Sing or play a major scale using solfège.
    2. Discuss and practice the idea of tension and release, giving some examples outside of music, such as taking a big breath before blowing out birthday candles, a baseball pitcher winding up to throw a fastball, or pulling back on a swing set to gain momentum.
      How does it feel to pause or create tension and then release?
      How would these activities be different if there weren’t tension and release? (i.e., would you be able to blow out all of the candles? How fast would you be able to swing?)
    3. Introduce tension and release in music.
      Composers use tension and release to create interesting melodies.
      Tension is often created by using a fermata, or pause, in the music.
    4. Sing or play sets of ascending pitches in a major scale. Hold the final note of each set and have students discuss which solfège syllable contained the most tension.
      MET G4 TW Tension Release
      Download Teacher Worksheet:
      Tension and Release
    5. Play the first four bars of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” Discuss the feeling of tension by stopping the music at that point. Then play the next four bars and discuss the release that occurs by ending on the tonic note.
  • MET K Going Deeper Expressive Qualities
  • Creative Commons License
    Music Educators Toolbox by Carnegie Hall is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

    Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 - 1. Allegro con brio by Ludwig van Beethoven. Performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. Available from Musopen. Sound files on the Musopen repository are licensed as public domain.

    Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68 – 1. Un poco sustenuto - Allegro by Johannes Brahms. Performed by the Musopen Symphony Orchestra. Available from Musopen. Sound files on the Musopen repository are licensed as public domain.