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sd
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scarydanimal


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« on: June 19, 2013, 04:52:10 pm »


Introduction

     Oh, hello there. I'm sd. I've lurked for a while and finally decided that it was high time someone actually wrote a guide to basic composition on here (that initial request is more than 5 years old). I love music, I love games, and I'm sure you all aren't too far off. If I can share some of my knowledge and help some indie devs compose their own music, or even spark some interest in budding musicians or composers, then I'm more than happy.

     However, Music Theory is a huge topic. In fact, it's more a subject than a topic. Asking someone to teach you music theory is like asking someone to teach you Biology. Remember, famous composers didn't just know this stuff, they spent their lives figuring it out. Understanding tonality (and atonality), learning about intervals and scales, and weird inversions, and modulation, and...I digress. The point is, learning theory is inevitably a life long pursuit, and not all of it is fun and interesting.

     So, in preparation for this post, I've prepared a lot of extra material covering the basics. I mean BASICS. Like, what a pitch is, basic music notation, what scales are, etc. But, I'm not sure how/if people want this information. So, rather than give you all that I made a short(ish) primer to a topic in music structure. This doesn't require any background in tonal music theory besides the ability to read music (and only sort of).

     So, before I give you the goods, my question goes to you. What do you want in terms of game music 'tutorials'? Here are some things I'd be willing to put together:

A "comprehensive" guide to basic theory. Straight up raw information.
Game Music "tutorials" where I have you composing your own music WHILE learning theory?
More analytical stuff, like I have in this post.

Let me know, and I can even repackage all my posts into a sort of tutorial series if that's what you'd like.

Also, any of you learned musicians, composers, what have you, if this takes off, there is some actual interest, and you want to contribute, please, please, please let me know. I'm not a professional musician, I wasn't classically trained, I get stuff wrong/mixed up some times, I'm human. Let me know and I'll fix it.


Motive (or Motif)

What is a Motive?

     Loosely, a motive is a short musical idea that tends to reoccur in some form throughout the piece. This is different from what is called a "theme". For our purposes, a theme is a long-ish musical idea that reoccurs less frequently than a motive. A commonly used example of motive is the short, four-note sequence in Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. If you listen to that piece, the motive makes up most of the piece. But you'll also notice something else, and this is the real power of a motive. Beethoven manipulates the motive in various ways. He does things like:

          Repetition - This one is straightforward, he repeats the motive

          Augmentation - He adds notes before, after, and in the middle of the
                                  motive, while keeping the general structure rhythmically
                                  and tonally

          Alteration - He changes some of the notes in the motive but keeping the
                            same structure and and tonality (generally done by changing
                            internal intervals)

          Rhythmic Modification - He changes the rhythm of sequence

          Sequencing - He successively repeates the structure of the motive while                      
                              raising or lowering the pitch with each repetition

          Inversion - reversing the motive!
   
          and much, much more.

     Motives and "motivic development" are VERY powerful tools. I highly suggest listening to Beethoven's 5th, and hearing all the different things he does.

Also, it's probably worth your time to search "motivic development" and see what composers do.


a. How do I use Motives to tell a story? The answer: Leitmotif
      
     Excellent question! I'm glad you asked. This one is really important. We are going to use something called Leitmotif (leading motive). Leitmotif is when a motive is used to represent a location, a narrative theme, a character, or anything in your story/setting. Get ready, you've just unlocked the KEY COMPONENT of every film/video game/television composer's toolbox.

b. Analyzing a familiar Motive
      
     Okay, maybe you didn't completely connect with the Beethoven example. I get it, not everyone listens to classical music regularly. So, I'll try and provide an example that you can relate to a little more easily. Well, a PERFECT example of leitmotif is BASICALLY EVERY PIECE IN OCARINA OF TIME. Woah, what? Yeah, leitmotif is figuratively the name of this game. Playing short tunes on the ocarina that reoccur in their source...you're playing.......motives! So, lets dive into a straightforward example of leitmotif and motivic development from Ocarina of Time. Let's take a look at "A, c down, c up - A, c down, c up" also known as "Lost Woods". Go give it quick a listen and come back.

     I fiddled around and came up with BASICALLY the same thing. I decided to do it in C# and in a lower octave just because (I'm mean). It's important to note that while our scale here is C# major, we do deviate. But we're going to ignore that momentarily; we're talking about structure right now, not tone! So here's what we got:



There's some obvious, and some not so obvious motivic development going on here. So, what's our motive? Well, it's pretty evident that it's these three guys up front:



The next thing that happens is straightforward, repetition:



Then, we do some augmentation, adding notes to the end, popping to the 7th note of the scale and descending down, changing the rhythm of the motive a bit.




Now, once we're at the last note of our motive, we do two things: an inversion AND alteration.




     There is a ton more motivic development in this piece, including a great example of sequencing, but I'll leave that for you to find. Ocarina of Time offers plenty more examples, giving each character and place a musical identity via leitmotif or some associated theme.

Homework:

Alright. I've taught you all you need to know to get out there and make some music. So here's your homework. I've composed a simple motive of only 5 notes, below. It's your job to take those notes and, using motivic development, develop this motive as much as you can to compose your own piece! You have plenty of tools at your disposal to compose something great, so get to it!


(Hint: Try using the Cmaj scale)

Hope you at least somewhat enjoyed this, and yes, that was pixel art notation.

Want me to explain something more in depth? Totally lost? Let me know!

-sd
« Last Edit: June 21, 2013, 04:06:14 am by sd » Logged
Barch
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« Reply #1 on: June 21, 2013, 12:10:59 am »

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/5108221/leitsmotif.mp3

730kb Title: Paul Eras makes game adventure  Noir by Barch

i enjoyed your homework, if I could trouble you - as the barch often does - what would be a good feature is that maybe you could come up with a music theory concept and everyone interested creates a song based on that idea.
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sd
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scarydanimal


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« Reply #2 on: June 21, 2013, 03:45:06 am »

730kb Title: Paul Eras makes game adventure  Noir by Barch

Great job there. Sounds good. I hear some alteration, repetition, and more. One thing that's cool is rather than sequencing the motive, you're modulating up a few keys, something quite a bit more advanced!

maybe you could come up with a music theory concept and everyone interested creates a song based on that idea.

That's a genius idea, actually. I may even edit this post to include that. Thanks for you feedback! Let me know if there are any topics you'd like me to cover in the future.
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sublinimal
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« Reply #3 on: June 21, 2013, 05:13:34 am »

This is a good thread. Most music tutorials talk about equipment and how notes go together, but there's little material about actually composing, communicating things with music. I get that it's partly because everyone has their own take on it, and it can't easily be taught, but it's good to at least discuss this sort of thing sometimes.
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scarydanimal


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« Reply #4 on: June 23, 2013, 01:25:35 pm »

Quote from: sublinimal
I get that it's partly because everyone has their own take on it

I sort of agree, but I'd argue that most composers, while they take different approaches, are essentially doing the same sorts of things. The common practice period (baroque, classical, and romantic) established the foundations of Western music. 95% of the music produced today (in the West) uses the same/similar structures (I-IV-V being the most notorious) and are markedly more simple than those from common practice.

It's inevitable to find classical influences in all the music produced today (though they are mostly unintentional) because, for the most part, popular music today isn't doing anything new, musically (this isn't an indictment, it's just an observation). A study of compositional theory, regarding the structures, tonal forms, and conventions established and utilized during the common practice period, therefore, is a study of the primary components of ALL western music. A strong understanding of the theory navigated in this period can only make you better at writing music, regardless of the genre.

Quote from: sublinimal
it can't easily be taught

I agree. I think the other issue is the difference in approach between learning theory as a musician and learning theory as a composer. When you learn your scales as a musician, it's a rote, mechanical process aimed to increase your dexterity and the familiarity of your eyes, fingers, and ears to common sounds and intervals. When you learn them as a composer, it's a completely different feeling; for a composer, scales are the palettes with which you express musical ideas. It's like learning a new color, for lack of a better metaphor. Since there are more musicians than composers, fewer people know how to present theory in a way that makes it feel like you're expanding your abilities in an exciting new way, rather than a chore (at least for the early stuff).

Either way, I'm glad you like it! Let me know if there's anything specific you're interested in learning about.
« Last Edit: June 23, 2013, 06:15:11 pm by sd » Logged
snowyowl
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« Reply #5 on: June 26, 2013, 01:45:54 am »

This is great, thanks!

I'd like to know more about music theory, but at this stage I don't even know how much I don't know. But I'll try to describe the next thing I'm interested in: In your examples, there's one note played at a time. No rests, no chords. So how (and why) would I go about making my songs more complex? And would this help in telling a story with music?
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scarydanimal


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« Reply #6 on: June 26, 2013, 04:24:07 pm »

Hey, thanks.

For something as vast and dense as theory, it's easier to describe what you do know and try to extend your knowledge out from there. Easier said than done, I suppose!

Thanks for your feedback. We're definitely going to cover that in the third tutorial. We're going to pick a theme/idea that would come up in a game, and we're going to use what we've learned in the previous two lessons to compose something. So, I'll mainly be talking about how to apply the things we've learned into telling a story.

The structure of lessons will basically follow the same pattern. They'll come in three part series, each building on what we already know.

1. Structure
2. Tone
3. Composition

Hopefully I address what you're interested in during the third lesson. If not, bug me again, and I'll make sure I get to it!
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