What Are The Differences Between These Styles?

There are some styles that I have just not been able to get into, and that is mostly because I can’t hear the differences between them, nor can I sometimes tell the difference between one song and the next in these styles. This does not mean there aren’t any actual differences between them, it just means that I personally have not been able to hear them. Knowing the differences between these styles may be able to help me understand them better.

What are the differences between house, trance, and rave from the perspective of music theory? (I almost put techno in the mix, but techno covers a much wider area)

The description “it’s just the feel” doesn’t tell me anything, I need musical descriptions, theoretical descriptions to really understand. Descriptions like “house uses longer fades” or “trance uses more effects on the fades” or something to that effect is very helpful as well.

I don’t enjoy disliking music genres. I listen to just about every style out there. I used to hate hip hop, I don’t anymore. I used to hate rap, I don’t anymore. I used to hate modern country, I don’t anymore. But my ability to like those styles was directly a result of my learning more about them. The only styles left that I haven’t liked are house, trance, rave, and other styles that are often found at dance clubs and gay establishments. I WANT to like these styles.

Does anyone have any advice or descriptions that may be able to help me?

This book (chapter 11-18) has lots of information from a music theory perspective on various genres within the world of electronic music:

But I think one can extract a lot of useful information just by reading all the texts and listening to all the examples here:


Edit: Bantai was faster…

There’s nothing wrong with disliking certain styles of music.

I hate:

Pop, 90% of bands, most house, some techno, Hardcore (the dance music), shitty dubstep remixes that people put on youtube (and make dubstep look bad), about 75% of drum & bass, commercial hip hop (but I LOVE old-skool, alternative and UK hip-hop), RnB, and pretty much anything on Radio One in the daytime.

You would think that rules out quite a lot, but i’m not even going to try and list the styles of music that I like, i’d be here for hours… :D

Those kinds of descriptions aren’t particularly meaningful when divorced from the reasons why those genres exhibit those attributes.

“Musically” (to use your term), rock music has a different characteristic chord progression than jazz does, but knowing that gives you insight into neither jazz nor rock.

My takes:
The key to understanding house music is that it was born as a replacement for disco, and it remains a replacement for disco in its usage and effect.

Trance is like house but differs in that it has an emphasis on big transitions and spectacular effects. House music is meant as a background - it’s created to be a backdrop while your attention is on the other people dancing. Trance tries to get your attention.

I don’t know anything about rave music, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it.

Incidentally, I would characterize techno as being more narrowly defined than either house or trance.

Simon Reynolds’ ‘Energy Flash’ is a pretty good read and as informative a history of electronic dance music (albeit from a personal perspective not so much an analytical one) as you are likely to find.

He has specific musical examples of the classic tracks which helped define the different styles. As much as the technical difference between the music though this book will give you a feel for the cultural context of the music and the different scenes that emerged. Energy flash covers all the major styles of electronic dance music from the early Chicago house and black gay scene, madchester, uk rave scene, spiral tribe and krusty rave scene, european gabba and speedcore techno, jungle, intelligent drum and bass, psy-trance/goa, warp/idm, uk garage… the lot basically. If you check out the selected discography as you read it (i think it used to come with a cd but you can use youtube now) i’m sure all will become clear. Really good book, well written.

Completely generally speaking, from a standpoint of someone that doesn’t listen to them much anymore, but did listen to lot’s long ago. (I do listen to house or really derivatives of it though)

House is more presence and distinctly all around you, lot’s of focus is getting the speakers to hit as clean as possible to really use the the full spectrum of a sound systems capability & capacity.
Meant to be played in a very large area, the different instruments used, intermingle but are not meant to blend into each other. Lot’s of colorful sounds but very distinct from one another. Main focus of the sound is here and now, very pronounced.

Trance is heady, meant to send you to different mental states, so it uses lot’s of layering and blending to achieve the passage through it. Instruments used, morph from one to another into something else completely. Instruments are often hidden inside the overall sound and sometimes emerge distinctly when focus is brought to them. Quite a bit goes into that aspect. You could begin feeling a foresight of what dominant sound will emerge next. Also lot’s of people could be hearing the same tune but listening to vastly different areas of it.

I simply look at it in terms of funk. House music can be evocative, ie make you want to dance and has a ‘groove’ so to speak, and is massively varied in its approach. Trance and techno is more of a mental assault, and is pretty strict to its genre.

Tell someone you make house music, and there are millions of different variations that it could be, tell some one you make trance or techno, and you have a good idea how it is going to sound.

House is also infinitely varied on its choice of instruments, trance and techno follows a more similar constant theme of sound.

These descriptions have really helped a lot. I know some things to listen for now. I really appreciate it.


I think its fair to say there just as many variations in techno as there are in house. in both genres there are ways of doing it which are cliched and formulas, and plenty of people do that. then in both genres you also have some people who are innovative with it… just like pretty much every other genre of music. Although if they are too inventive with it then it becomes another sub-genre usually heh…

the key difference between house and techno originally is that house mechanises disco, where techno mechanises disco but takes on the aesthetics of that mechanisation; originally house music had mechanical drum machines out of necessity - it was a way to make disco that went on longer and wasn’t restricted by a drummer getting tired basically. but the fact the sound was synthetic, was initially, coincidental. in techno the purpose was very much to follow the aesthetics of these machines (influenced by bands like kraftwerk) - to make something that explored those futuristic sounds and grooves.

How funky it is, is subjective, since the idea behind electro and techno is kinda that the groove is so rigid it becomes funky - like the robot dance in breakdancing. House more usually would have a shuffle beat on the groove to be funky - so its two different approaches, but also ones that overlap since there’s plenty of techno with shuffled grooves too.

Both genres usually have a 4/4 bass drum beat with open hats on the offbeat and a snare on the 2 and 4. The key difference is the sounds used and the aesthetic approach: house music is more likely to use recognisable ‘real’ instruments like organs/keyboards, guitars, samples from hip hop, soul or funk music. techno music is more likely to use deliberately futuristic or mechanical sounds - more obviously synthetic sounds from the synthesizers, noise, vocoders perhaps, filtered noise.

Trance is similar to techno and house but is more concerned with the melodic use of synthesizers to create its effect, or take the listener/dancer on a ‘journey’ often with many crescendos and so forth.

Don’t forget too that these genres (like with the roots of all genres) have ties with things like cultural context, fashions, as well as certain geographic locations such as certain cities or clubs. A lot of the stylistic evolutions in the Hardcore Continuum wouldn’t make much sense if it weren’t for certain histories, vibes and movements that happened in places like Detroit, Berlin or London. A little research will show you why Rave sounds euphoric, why Dubstep is gloomy, or why Jungle morphed from a rabid beast slowly into the refined detachment of Drum and Bass.

Knowledge of drugs and drug culture is also essential. Psychological altering via different types of drugs surrounds different types of genres. Ecstasy is as much to Happy Hardcore as acid is to Psy-Trance, for example. DJs knew this too, and they could shape their sets according to the crowd’s usage, intensity and stages of drug use. In turn, this further re-inspired producers to change the genres.

In reality the stylistic lines are not as clear cut as anyone would like, and evolution of style cannot be easily predicted. This especially confuses music journalists who are often seeking to easily label something as X or Y or part of such and such movement. Despite these sometimes shoddy labels and inaccuracies, once a ‘genre’ is codified other artists will then seek to ‘perfect’ that imagined template and thus reinforce the definition. Usually not long after that the genre is then popularized and a whole host of lesser imitators have a go at it. Therefore the genre’s initial innovators will move on and mutate the idea into something new, all with varying degrees of success.


Run! :P

You’ll also find the way to differentiate house from trance/techno is the way basslines are constructed. In house its an important musical element and adds to the ‘groove’ of a track, where in trance/techno its not as musicaly based, more monotonous, or non existance and mainly emphasised around the bass drum kick instead.

‘Groove’ isn’t nesesscarily about the rhythm section. Its how the beat, the bassline and the instruments work together, in sync or not. I can often make a track with a 4/4 beat and bassline, and stabs for instance, then experiment with offsetting the bassline or stabs one note delay behind the beat - result, instantly ‘funkier’ output.

sure, groove is about the way the various elements interact. the way that happens in different froms of dance music is different, but you can’t really say a genre of dancing music has no groove whatsoever. you might say it has a different groove, or a groove you don’t like as much as another groove, but if people are dancing to it you can bet there’s some sort of groove there…

True, its a matter of taste, though some do push the boundaries.