In general, techno is very DJ-friendly, being mainly instrumental (commercial varieties being an exception), and is produced with the intention of it being heard in the context a continuous DJ set, wherein the DJ progresses from one record to the next via a synchronized segue or "mix". Much of the instrumentation in techno emphasizes the role of rhythm over other musical parameters but the design of synthetic timbres, and the creative use of music production technology in general, are important aspects of the overall aesthetic practice.
The main drum part is almost universally in common time (4/4); meaning 4 quarter note pulses per bar. In its simplest form, time is marked with kicks (bass drum beats) on each quarter note pulse, a snare or clap on the second and fourth pulse of the bar, with an open hi-hat sound every second eight note. This is essentially a disco (or even polka) drum pattern and is common throughout house music and its derivatives (of which techno is one). The tempo tends to vary between approximately 120 bpm (quarter note equals 120 pulses per bar) and 150 bpm depending on the style of techno. Much of the drum programming employed in the original Detroit based techno made use of syncopation and polyrhythm, yet in many cases the basic disco type pattern was used as a foundation; with polyrthythmic elaborations added using other drum machine voices. It is this syncopated feel (funkiness) that initially differentiated the Detroit strain of techno from other variants; indeed this is a feature that many DJs and producers still use to distinguish their music from commercial forms of techno, the majority of which are devoid of syncopation.
Much of this electronic dance music tends to be produced with the aid of interfaces (synthesizer keyboards) that are designed with the Western musical tradition in mind. However, techno does not always adhere to conventional harmonic practice, and such strictures are often ignored in favor of timbral manipulation alone. The use of motivic development (though relatively limited), and the employment of conventional musical frameworks, is more widely found in commercial techno styles, for example Euro-trance; where the template is often an AABA song structure.
There are numerous ways to create techno, but they all depend upon the use of loop based step sequencing as a compositional method . Many techno musicians, or "producers", rather than employing traditional compositional techniques, will work in an improvisatory fashion; often treating the electronic music studio as one large instrument. This assemblage of devices will include units that are capable of producing unique timbres but technical proficiency is required if the technology is to be successfully exploited. The equipment will be synchronised using a hardware or a computer based MIDI sequencer; this enables the producer to combine, in one arrangement, the sequenced output of many devices . A typical approach is to create successive layers of material until a suitable cacophony is achieved. Once a usable palette of material has been generated, a producer may then focus on developing a temporal framework; a process of dictating how the work will unfold in time. Some producers achieve this by adding or removing layers of material at appropriate points in the mix. Quite often this is achieved by physically manipulating the mixer, sequencer, effects, dynamic processing, equalisation, and filtering, while recording to a multi-track device. Other producers achieve similar results by using the automation features of computer based digital audio workstations.
In recent years, as computer technology has become more accessible, and music software has advanced, interacting with music technology is now possible using means that bear no relationship to traditional musical performance practice. Some techno music consists of little more than cleverly programmed rhythmic sequences and looped motifs, combined with signal processing of one variety or another; frequency filtering being a commonly used process.
Instruments utilized by the original techno producers based in Detroit included classic drum machines like the Roland TR-808 and TR-909, devices such as the Roland TB-303 bass line generator, with synthesizers such as the Roland SH-101, Kawai KC10, Yamaha DX7, and Yamaha DX100. Much of the early music sequencing was executed via MIDI using hardware sequencers such as the Korg SQD1, and Roland MC-50 and the limited amount of sampling that was featured in this early style was accomplished using an Akai S900.