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Writing Game Music : Part 3

Yeah, here we go now! Finally, Iíve come around to writing part III of this series. Weíre gonna get into some good stuff now! This article is what parts I and II were leading up to. If you have already had a basic music education, then you can read this article. If not, I suggest reading articles I and II of this series.

Oh yeah, sorry I took so long to finish this article. You see, my computer was broken and this article was only half finished at the time.

Now, in this part weíre going to learn how to write variations on songs. This is something you can use as a last-resort, if you run out of creativity and just canít think of any songs. Also, writing variations is a great creativity exercise (and whenever itís a lonely Saturday night without a date, itís something to pass the time!).

Weíre also going to cover harmonization. At the end of part II, you saw me make two different versions of a theme. After learning about scales and chords, Iím going to teach you how to use certain instruments, chords, and styles to change the music to get the effect you want. Iím ready! Are you? Then grab a notebook, blink your eyes 20 times, spin around clockwise, and letís go!

I : Intermediate Level Music Theory

Whoa....I just said "intermediate level music theory." Sounds smart, doesnít it? After you read this section, you can tell your friends how smart you are. In article I, the entire article was a beginnerís level music theory. Before I go on to harmonization and writing variations, I have to teach you more music theory stuff. So hereís some info youíll need to know.

A) Scales

No, not those things on fish, Iím talking about a musical scale. Letís talk about major scales first. Remember what middle C is? I taught you about it in article I. Itís the C thatís one leger line below a treble clef staff, or one leger line above a bass clef staff. On a piano, itís the C thatís closest to the center of the piano. Now, put your musically talented fingers on the middle C. Now, play that note, and play every single white note until you get to the next C up. When you finish, you should have played eight notes. From middle C to the next C, that was an entire octave. (abbreviated as "8va".) Just FYI, each note is twice the frequency of the note one octave below. So if you played middle C and somehow multiplied its frequency by two, you would be playing the next C up.

Anyway, when you played those eight white keys, you just played the C Major Scale. A major scale is eight notes, expanding over one octave. If you try to play all the white keys from one G to the next G up, youíll notice that the second to last note (the F) sounds weird. Now, try it again, but when you play F, instead of playing F, play F#.

Interesting, yeah? Anyway, now try playing all the white keys from one D to the next. Sounds weird, donít it? To understand why, you need to understand what an interval is.

If you remember from article I, the succession of notes is:

A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A

If you start on one of these notes and move one to the left or right, that would be moving one half-step. So if I moved from C#/Db to D, that would be regarded as moving one half-step. If I moved from C to B, or from B to C, or from E to Eb, or from D# to E, each one of those would be regarded as a half step. Okay, you get the picture. So what if I moved two to the right or left? You guessed it---it would be moving a whole step. So from F to G is one half step, from A to B is a half step, from C to Bb is one half step, et cetera. These are called intervals. So the interval between F and G, for example, is a whole step. The interval between B and C is a half step. The interval between B and D is a one and a half step, or 1 1/2 step.

The pattern, or formula for a major scale is:

whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half

Or (1, 1, 1/2, 1, 1, 1, 1/2). Take a look at your piano and letís play the C scale again. Start on C. According to the formula, the next note would be one whole step up. The next key would be a whole step up. The next key would be a half step up. So if you play the entire scale, you would see that you are playing each white key for the C major scale. Any other scale has at least one black key in it. This is easily forgettable, take a break now and let it all soak in before you go crazy!

And once youíve recovered, we can continue. Letís look at some scales just to make sure we all understand.

Okay, measure one shows us the C scale, measure two shows us the D scale, and measure three kindly demonstrates for us the Bb scale.

Weíre movin on now!

B) The Key Signature

Why do they call them accidentals? Because they werenít included in the key signature! Ah, I guess only a musician would laugh at that. Maybe they wouldnít either. Anyway, you remember how accidentals only last for one measure? Key Signatures are a bunch of sharps or flats that are in front of the time signature that make those notes flat or sharp for the entire song, or until a new key signature is made. Letís look at the D scale with and without a key signature:

On the second staff in that picture, we see that with that key signature, we donít have to add any accidentals in order to play the D major scale. So we say that this song is in the key of D.

Now remember, an accidental only lasts for one measure, a key signature lasts forever, until a new signature is written. So say that you write a song in the key of D. Then letís say that in one measure, you want it to play F natural instead of F sharp. So you put a natural sign in front of an F. In the next measure, if a note is put in the F space, what note is played? The answer: F sharp! You see, a natural sign is just another accidental, and once the measure is over, the accidental no longer exists.

Okay, here are the keys and the sharps or flats of four key signatures:

Key of C: No sharps or flats

Key of C#: F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, B#

Key of Db: Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb

Key of D: F#, C#

Itís weird. C# and Db are the same note, but still they are treated as if they were two different keys! I hope you see why this is so. No key signature can have both sharps and flats. If you call it C#, then that means that sharps are used. So the key must be represented in sharps. If you call it Db, then that means there are flats in the signature, because you canít play a song in the key of Db and then expect for there to be sharps in the key signature. Put another way: In the key of Db, there is at least one flat, and that is obviously Db. So if there is one flat, there can be no sharps.

Anyway, I would make a list of all the sharps and flats of every single key, but Iím eager to go on to chords. Besides, you should be able to figure it out by now, itís good practice! Now letís just learn minor keys and then we can move on to harmonizations and chords.

C) Minor Keys:

Okay, you already know how to play major keys. Now letís go on to minor keys. Remember the formula for a major key? (1, 1, 1/2, 1, 1, 1, 1/2) Hereís the formula for a harmonic minor key:

1, 1/2, 1, 1, 1/2, 1 1/2, 1/2

That second-to-last interval is a one and a half step.

Now play the C harmonic minor key. Sounds weird, doesnít it? Click here to listen to midi1.mid. Midi1.mid is a midi file that just plays the C minor scale going up, and then down.

Some of you might be thinking, "are there key signatures for minor keys?" Well, yes and no. Let me explain.

Every major key has a relative minor key. This minor key is the one thatís three half steps below it. So the relative minor key of C major is A minor. (Since the note A is three half steps below C.) The relative minor key of Eb major is C minor, etc.

The relative minor key of any key has the same key signature as its relative major. So then if you wanted to write a song in C minor, you would make the key signature the same as the key of Eb major. (Eb major has three flats: Bb, Eb, and Ab.)

Alrighty. There is one kind of minor key which is the most commonly used, and that is the harmonic minor key. Iíve made reference to this before, but havenít really explained what this was. Letís say we wanted to write a song in the key of G minor. Since G minorís relative major key is Bb major, we would make the key signature the Bb key signature. (Two flats: Bb, and Eb.) When we play the scale going up, we use the formula for a harmonic minor key, which Iíve given above. But wait, the second-to-last note before the last G is not an F, like the key signature says. Instead, itís an F sharp! And thatís the partially confusing part. When playing a song in a harmonic minor key, whenever you play the second-to-last note of that key, (in the G scale that key is F.) it is raised one half step.

Unfortunately, we canít include that fact in the key signature. It would be easier if we would just add an F# to the key signature, but we canít. (some of you might be thinking, why not put a Gb? Well, because then that wouldnít solve our problem, because that would change the note G, and what we want to change here is the note F.)

Just to make sure weíre all clear, hereís some pictures of minor scales:

Those keys are, in order: C minor, A minor, E minor, and A# minor. By the way, that little thingie by the second to last note in the A# minor scale is called a double sharp; it raises a note an entire whole step. Similarly, a double flat lowers a note a whole step. A double flat looks like two flat signs next to each other, or a double-b.

Chords and Harmonizing Notes

  Chords and Harmonizing Notes
  Writing Variations

  Printable version
  Discuss this article

The Series
  Part 1
  Part 2
  Part 3
  Part 4