Sinister Chords

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Boplicity, Mar 5, 2001.

  1. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    Soundtracks in movies and on TV fascinate me, often more than the movie itself. Here's my question. I love the way soundtrack composers can make a sinister soundtrack or a very suspenseful one which just telegraphs that something bad is about to happen. Could anyone please tell me what is the composition of those sinister chords and what kind of scale would tend to generate the most sinister sounding music?

    Some soundtracks that come to mind are the now classic Jaws theme, music in Hannibal and the Halloween series , the stabbing scene in Psycho, and other mystery, suspense and horror shows.

  2. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    I remember reading somewhere that people used to refer to the tritone as 'Diabolus in Musica' - e.g. the 'Black Sabbath' riff....

    w/out vocals w/ vocals
  3. Gard

    Gard Commercial User

    Mar 31, 2000
    Greensboro, NC, USA
    General Manager, Roscoe Guitars
    JMX is on the right track...

    ...the more tension in the music, the more suspense in the listener. A general rule of thumb (for which of course there are many exceptions):

    Happy = Major sounds
    Sad = Minor sounds
    Scary or angry = Diminished sounds/whole tone-half tone scales (the tritone JMX mentioned is a major part of that sound); also a lot of half step motion (the Jaws theme is based on a cello part that is just two notes a half step apart, for example)
    Spacy or dreamy = Augmented sounds/whole tone scales

    But remember, there are tons of exceptions to the "rule". This will at least get you moving in the right direction.
  4. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    ...and there are pieces written by Charles Ives(American Classical composer from the early 1900s)that require the pianist to use either-
    1)His forearms to play "chords" or
    2)Planks of wood to sound the "chords".
    Now that's what I'd call Block chords! ;)

    There's also pieces that use bi-tonality(or poly-tonality). Minors atop Majors; 1/2 steps & tritones galore, etc.
    Anyway, it's like Gard & JMX are sayin'...

    I used to fret an "Eb" @the 6th fret("A"-string)& add an open "E" under that & flick my fingers back & forth over those two notes to create "Thunder"...
    Again, it's 1/2 steps. ;)
  5. Jason,

    for the ultimate in eerie mood music check out the music from the Outer Limits(the original series from the `60s).Dominic Frontiere did a fantastic job of creating music that can make you "on edge"....You can get the music from the series a cd around here somewhere...great stuff!
  6. sn0wblind


    Apr 20, 2000
    Ontario, Canada
    wow you guys can actually get "happy" "scary"....etc... sounds from different scales ...

    about 80-90% of the original crap I write is sad and depressing death metal stuff, no matter what scale/mode I use, maybe deep down inside Im depressed, and if I am I know where it all comes from.....
  7. here's my favourite "suspense" bass chord (E minor, major 7th - correct me if wrong); (let all notes ring)
    G -------8
    D --9-----
    A ----10--
    E 0-------
    (great with tremolo-Zoom 506 users take note)

    I think this one featured a lot in Scooby Doo and Starsky&Hutch. UK forumers who've seen musical comedian Bill Bailey should know this one:D

    also you get a great effect with an autowah by playing a major seventh against the root eg. in the melody to Hendrix's "The Burning Of The Midnight Lamp".
  8. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    Fascinating stuff, guys. I think I'll fire up my dusty keyboard and try out your ideas. Then I'll try to figure it out on bass.

    I used to watch "Outer Limits," but I can't remember the music. Was it that eerie sound that came from a Theremon (Spelling?) machine. That wobbly, high pitched, electronic sound. That machine just had a way of letting you know something dreadful was going to happen.

  9. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
  10. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    Thanks for the link, JMX. I don't have Shockwave because my computer is too slow and my speakers are blown. I'm waiting for the new Windows XE to come out next fall; then I will buy a whole new computer, maybe a Dell.

    What is shocking is how fast a computer becomes obsolete. I can't even upgrade to AOL 6.0. I'm still using AOL 5.0. And I bought this dang thing only three and a half years ago!!!

    Anyway, I wish I could hear that music you describe. I love eerie music and music that signals suspense and dread.

    Last week, the composers of Survivor's soundtrack did an incredible job of building suspense musically before Michael fell in the fire and was burned so badly he had to be evacuated. You just knew some thing very bad was about to happen, just by that music.