Getting started in scoring is really, really hard. Especially if you haven’t dipped your feet in the water before and all this musical stuff is a pile of nonsense for you. Therefore I prepared for you some big Chapters. These are the massive pillars of every score, and they define how your track is progressing and how to keep it interesting for the listeners.
The key element to make music interesting is growth and contrast. Further, you should take a deep look at dynamics, rhythm, complexity, velocity, instrumentation, climax, and atmosphere. You need to take the listener on a journey. You need to start somewhere and end somewhere different.
This is the key essence of every trailer music out there. You want your track to grow, raise and finally explode in a Grand Finale. Therefore, you shouldn’t start with full force, or your track may lack power at the end. A common mistake would be to throw in all the French horns and choirs right at the first peak – so when the second comes, you don’t have any reserves left to get a bigger sound than at the first peak.
If you start quite strong, you need to find other ways of increasing the power. It comes from playing louder and from complexity, increasing speed, faster rhythm, newly added layers, etc.
Repetition is a medal with two sides. If used right, it can increase the tension as the track develops. If used wrong, the track becomes boring. We always try to have a bit of contrast in our track. This can be achieved in many ways. You could change significant aspects of your track by changing the tempo or the time signature between two parts. But of course, there are many subtle things to do if you make your melody into a solo part, changing instruments, using different ostinato patterns, etc. If you have a consistent change throughout your track, the melody keeps being interesting even if it doesn’t change.
In theory, musical contrast can be divided into rhythmic contrast, melodic contrast, and harmonic contrast. With the first two being obvious, the harmonic contrast is used especially in cinema to signalize dramatic conflicts and resolutions. Using this variation often implies a change in keys and chords.
Example: First Sketch
In our example, I wrote a small track that would be a good sketch for a later theme or melody. It hasn’t any of the aspects we are talking about, so after the initial bars, it gets generic and flat immediately, even though the main theme itself might not be that bad.
Dynamics in music is an expressive element which regulates the volume of notes and phrases. In short words: You can play a note loud or quiet. Dynamics are without a doubt the simplest and most intuitive way of adding growth (by becoming louder) and contrast (calmer parts after the climax).
I can tell you, as a musician in an orchestra, that whenever it is possible, the dynamics get changed. That doesn’t mean sou should jump between piano (quiet) and forte (loud) like a maniac. But within a phrase you can use a steady increase and decrease to get a really easy and very strong dramatic effect. This is known as crescendo (increasing) and decrescendo (decreasing) in music theory. If you listen to a solo section withing your favourite score (for example the Fiddle in the Rohan-Theme from Lord of the Rings), you see this effect used at the maximum.
Changing the rhythm is a really strong effect, and often it gets a bit overlooked. You can add in rhythmic variations in your track but they usually are not that noticeable when limited to parts of the melody or harmony. If you have a rhythmically active section, a change in its pattern is more noticeable.
But you can change more than just a few patterns, you can change the time signature and going from a 4/4 into a ¾, you can change into triplets, adding an upbeat or change the orchestral section which is pushing the rhythm forward.
A change in instrumentation doesn’t always means to have a change in dynamic. But with variation in instrumentation, you can change the tone of a phrase. This is really good for creating contrast in your tracks.
The basic progression of a track would implement a change in instrumentation. You usually start low, with strings and piano. Stronger sections like brass and percussion get added as the track progresses.
Complexity is a simple way of getting your track grow. What complexity means, is to add new elements as you progress through the piece. A choir at the climax, the addition of ostinatos, new percussion sections or the implementation of powerful brass or countermelodies are valid aspects of adding to complexity. By increasing the number of layers you increase the number of points of intrest and it can have a huge influence in growth and contrast.
On the other hand complexity should always be looked as a dangerous variation, and it should be planed out clearly. To complex tracks are the main reason for muddy and flat sounding tracks – because you really need to know what you are doing in the mixing and mastering to avoid that.
I like to call it Atmosphere, other people call it mood, tone or “the picture”. With atmosphere I connect everything that makes this track fitting the picture I have in my head. Usually the atmosphere stays the same – you don’t switch from a Theme for Pirates to a Theme for Space. But the intention of the piece can change, and I find it the most beautiful thing in the world, when a well written melody develops from a really intime and dramatic love story into this uprising, epic Theme.
Example: Bring it to life!
It’s time to give all these things a listening. Of course, the track is only 16 bars long, so don’t expect a fully stretched-out theme. But we improved in dynamics, instrumentation, we divided the two melodies clearly and added smaller rhythmical differences.