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Writing Game Music : Part 4

Can you believe it? Here's part IV! I was looking around the internet and was shocked at how little information they have on this stuff! So I decided to keep on writing these things until I run out of things to talk about. (Well, this broken leg of mine might be a reason I've got so much free time...don't ask. Okay, since you asked, I got it while skating...so now I can't skate for about two months...DOH!)

Once again, this series of articles is designed to turn you into a game music composer. If you know absolutely nothing about music, then you don't have to worry, just read parts I, II, and III before reading this part.

Now, what we gonna do in this part, John? Well, articles I, II and III turned you into an amateur music composer. Hopefully by now, you've read them and written a few songs. This addition to the series is going to be about how to write better songs. For example, how to write an opening of a song, how to build up to the ending, how to end a song, etc.

But before that, you have to learn about something which I haven't taught you earlier. This is actually something that beginning-level musicians learn, and you'll need to know it in order to make songs more exciting. What is it? Controlling the volume.

Part I: Controlling Volume with Music Notation

A) Volume Levels

There are basically two different kinds of music levels: Piano, and Forte. Piano means soft, and Forte means loud. Yes, Piano is also what we call the instrument you can play, but try not to confuse the two. So if your music teacher tells you to "Play piano," you'll have to find out whether she means to play a piano, or to play the song soft. So that you don't get confused, I'll explain why the Piano has the same name as a volume level.

When the piano was invented, it was a revolutionary keyboard where you could control the volume just by pressing soft or pressing hard. Since it could be both soft (piano) and loud (forte), it was called the pianoforte. Eventually it was shortened to piano.

Okay, that's the story. Anyway, remember these four things and you'll be fine:

Piano - Soft
Forte - Loud
Mezzo - Medium
Issi - A word that pretty much means "very." The more "issi"s there are, the more "very"s there are.

I might as well explain the word "issi". Okay, Forte means loud, right? So then what does fortissimo mean? It means "very loud." Then, what does fortississimo mean? Very very loud. Get it now? Same thing applies to piano, pianissimo, pianississimo, etc.

Now I'll explain the word mezzo. It basically means medium. So if I want you to play a song at the volume level "mezzo-forte", then that means "medium-loud." That's a volume level in between mezzo-piano (medium soft) and forte. So then here's a basic succession of volume levels, from softest to loudest:


Of course, you can have more volume levels than that, like fortississississississimo, but these are basically all the levels you'll need for now.

It's hard to let you know exactly how loud the volume levels are since you're just reading an article, it's the kind of thing I have to describe in person.

The volume level "piano" is represented by the letter p. Pianissimo is represented by pp. So that means pianississimo is represented by ppp, etc. The volume level "forte" is represented by an F. The word "mezzo" is represented by an m. So if you wanted to write the volume mezzo-forte, you would write MF. Here's a sample pic:

Let's take a look at it. The first measure is at the volume level "piano". The second measure is changed to "mezzo forte", and then the last measure all of a sudden becomes loud at the level "fortississimo", sometimes called "triple forte" by lazy people like me.

B) The Crescendo, Decrescendo, and other tricks

In the picture above, measure one is played piano. (Not the instrument, the volume level.) All four notes in each staff are played at the same volume level. Then, all of a sudden, when you reach the second measure, it becomes louder, at the volume level mezzo forte. What if you want to make it a gradual change? For example, instead of having piano the first measure, mf the second measure, and fff the third measure, what if you just wanted it to start at piano, and gradually change to fff until the third measure? Then you use a crescendo. A crescendo sort of looks like a "less than" sign in math. ( < ) The only difference is that it is a lot wider. Here is the same picture as above, except this time there is a crescendo:

So now you see that instead of playing each measure at a certain level, this one sounds better. You start at piano, and with every note, you get louder. You gradually get louder, until you reach triple forte in the beginning of the last measure.

The opposite can also be done. You can gradually get softer, by drawing a decrescendo:

In this example, you start loud, at fff. You gradually get softer, until you play piano at the last measure.

What if you want to play one note exceptionally loud and then after that, return to the normal volume level? Use an accent. This looks like a "greater than" sign. (>). However, don't confuse an accent with a descrescendo. Just remember, if it stretches over two or more notes, it's probably a decrescendo; if it is above or below only one note, it's probably an accent. Just one of the many tricks of the trade that us musicians know.

A beat such as this is usually used for action songs. To listen to it play twice, download midi1.mid by clicking here.

Of course, there is more than one kind of accent, but maybe we'll get into that in a later article.

Opening, building, and ending

  Controlling volume
  Opening, building, and ending

  Printable version
  Discuss this article

The Series
  Part 1
  Part 2
  Part 3
  Part 4