Dance music styles

House music takes its name from Chicago's Warehouse club where, in the 1980s, DJ Frankie Knuckles manipulated records, lengthening, repeating and emphasising different sections. He also added pre-set percussion patterns to emphasise the solid beats which soon defined house music. House music is characterised by:

  • four-on-the-floor bass drum
  • drum rolls and off-beat hi-hat patterns
  • looped samples
  • synthesiser riffs
  • sometimes having vocals (or vocal samples) and piano chords
  • playing usually around 120 bpm (beats per minute)

Listen to Move Your Body by Marshall Jefferson. Notice the four-on-the-floor bass drum and the piano chord riffs.

Move Your Body by Marshall Jefferson

Acid house:

  • is a sub-genre of house music
  • exploits the electronic squelching sounds that can be produced by the Roland TB-303 sequencer
  • uses samples and spoken words rather than sung lyrics


  • has similar drum patterns to house
  • uses more purely synthetic sounds
  • often has little or no chord movement
  • most interest lies in the timbre (instrumental colour) and rhythm
  • usually plays at around 120-140 bpm
  • has few or no vocals
  • is closely associated with large-scale parties known as 'raves'


Drum 'n' bass:

  • has fast complex drum patterns
  • has a heavy sub-bass line
  • uses speeded up hip-hop breaks
  • uses high speed retriggering of the drums
  • usually plays at around 170 bpm

Dirty Beats

Jungle is sometimes used to refer to drum 'n' bass music generally.

Garage uses house loops combined with deep synthesised bass lines. The tempo is usually around 120 bpm.

Trance is an offshoot of techno but with more emphasis on harmony and with much use of synthesisers. The tempo is usually around 120-150 bpm.

Ambient music is played in 'chill-out' rooms where clubbers go to relax. It is:

  • slow and dreamy
  • has a floating chordal texture
  • has a hypnotic percussion

To explore how some techniques have been developed by those working with computers, rather than decks take a look at composer Priti Paintal describing her experience of creating a dance remix of her composition Gangotri. The remixer samples some parts of the original piece and adds his own beats and loops. This transforms the track, changing the relaxed feel of the original to a much more uptempo dance piece.

Creating a dance remix