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Breakdowns are sometimes found in songs of these genres as they can be used to eschew traditional verse-chorus-verse songwriting. When played live, breakdowns are usually responded to by the audience moshing or slam dancing. Vocalists also tend to throw in a single, repeated statement throughout the breakdown, giving those who are not dancing or moshing an opportunity to sing along.

The drums are usually simple, with a four quarter-note ride pattern with the snare on the third beat. Most commonly, the drummer plays quarter notes on the crash cymbal or china cymbal. Sometimes though, eighth notes are used. In some breakdowns where a very slow tempo is used, the drummer will play half notes, to give the music a very heavy, slow feel. The drummer usually follows the rhythm, or "chugs" of the guitar on the kick drum. In most cases, the drummer will use a double-bass drum or double-bass pedal to complement the "chugs" of the guitars. The guitars play a set of rhythmically oriented riffs, usually on open strings so as to achieve the lowest and heaviest sound for which the guitars are tuned, so the dancers in the audience can respond effectively. Sometimes, these are contrasted with either dissonant chords, such as minor 2nd intervals, tritones (flatted 5ths), or pinch harmonics.

Many of the new bands that play in the genres of deathcore and metalcore make heavy use of breakdowns, which consist of slow paced strumming on the guitar, typically palm muted and playing the lowest three strings open. These strings are usually tuned down from somewhere between drop-D tuning all the way down to drop-B tuning. Drop-A tuning can be found occasionally but is very rare in metalcore bands. In deathcore bands like Whitechapel and Carnifex, drop-A is standard. Some bands such as The Acacia Strain play in tunings as low as drop-F#. Breakdowns in metalcore and deathcore are synonymous with hardcore dancing.

Some metalcore and post-hardcore bands such as Horse the Band, Asking Alexandria, Attack Attack!, and Enter Shikari incorporate synthesizers that add a dance beat style to the breakdown.