How to Compose trying to represent something specific

Hello Everyone!

Iìve been studying and practicing composition a lot lately following both Mike courses and a couple others (mainly because I felt I needed some more “basic” composition knowledge before going straight into Mike assignments).

I’m having some troubles so I tought I’d ask for some advice.

As you can tell… I’m a beginner.

After some studying I can “kind” of create something now (and well… it’s a great step up from not beeing able to compose a single thing just a couple months ago) BUT I can’t seem to find a way not to make my composition completly random.

I’ll make an example here:

Perhaps I would like to create a theme for a game character. So I go and create a whole document on the character himself writing down personality traits etc… I can also program the musical piece knowing that I wont it to, let’s say start slow, get higher and higher with more energy and then have a pacific and calm ending after the highest climax (just an example).

The thing is I can’t find a way to translate the ideas and the planning into music.

I can create “stuff” but I can never relate what I compose to what I would like it to rapresent for me.

Perhaps you guys have some “hints” about this issue thanks to your experience? I know you don’t really do games in here but I guess it is the same for movies, trailers, etc? :slight_smile:

Thanks a lot,


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Hey Luca!

You just need to learn music theory.

Start with learning you major and minor scales.

Major - Happy

Minor - Sad

After this I’d then learn what emotions the intervals (distance between two notes) create.

For instance:
major 4th - triumphant/heroic/magical (superman theme)
Major 2nd - love/nostalgia/calm (Alien Resurrection theme)
Major 6th - grand/flowing (the NBC Theme)
Major 7th - tension/rising/ (Maria - Guys and dolls)

I’ve give. Some examples to study too but here’s a good article to learn these.

When you have mastered the understanding of key and interval, and how they relate to rmotion you’ll more easily be able to create music in a specific style. I believe this is the first step a composer takes in understanding how music relates to emotion… some might learn like this and others might learn instinctively, but the end result is of ten the same.

Hope this helps you.

Also @Mikael has compiled a fantastic recourse for scales and modes. I’m sure he can point you to it :slight_smile:


I did study music theory quite a lot… and I am using it… but to have a song sound “happy” or “sad” is not really the same as having it rapresent well something :confused:

I’ll try to make an example using classical:

  • Flight Of The Bumblebee: what this super famous song rapresent should be obvious… I guess tho it’s not really just a matter of tempo and key :slight_smile:

I hope I managed to explain the concept better… I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear enough beofre but, well… language barriers I guess ^^


Yes I think you explained well. I’d like to add that there’s so much theory to learn though, so don’t stop learning :slight_smile: I have a vast background in music theory and. Even I haven’t learnt even a tenth of it. It’s ever expanding it seems haha :stuck_out_tongue:

Perhaps you are at the stage where you need to learn technique… this simply comes from studying pieces in depth. So I’d suggest trying to copy some pieces to learn from them. Create some cover versions.

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Hey Guys,

fits perfect:

@Geoffers wasn’t superman a perfect fifth (7 Semitones) ?

Have Fun


Hey Michael. No it’s definitely a 4th. Though it depends which way you look at it. In this case it’s a 4th due to the movement. A 4th is either a perfect 5th down from the tonic or a perfect 4th up from the tonic :slight_smile:

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Ah thanks, yeah Avengers was the fifth…

good video about that;

But learning all that stuff gets harder and harder the older you get… i see this right now :slight_smile:
was easier in university times. And besides Job, its almost impossible to remember everything haha :smiley:


@Seven_Tears I should clarify on that as I’ve left it too open. People may end up asking the why.

In the superman theme John Williams starts off the theme by stacking perfect 4ths creating new harmonic variables, this technique is simply known as “stacked intervals”. Then the first part of the heroic theme is in 5ths and then John williams finishes the section off by using a perfect cadence… however, this cadence is in second position in the treble, outlining the perfect 4th with a stacked third. The bass then fills in the tonic notes to make sense of it, but in theory John was eluding to a key change which is why it wouldn’t like the theme rises at the end before returning to the theme again.

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wow! That was an amazing explanation what’s going on there.
But its hard to create a theme like this on your own on a white piece of paper.

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I just watched the video you posted. That a good basis to start your understand ing on. It doesn’t really teach you my these themes work so well as there’s a lot of relationship between pitch and the rhythms used over time.

For example, the superman theme and avengers theme share one type of rhythmic quality. They both use something called an acciaccatura, which is more commonly known as a grace note. This is simply a note that leads into the main note.

On a staff this is how it would look.

This is the easiest way to create a heroic theme with just two notes.

The Indiana Jones theme does this too but it also incorporates a lot of short notes to give it a bouncing feeling.

The hiccup theme in the video is the odd one out. It uses a repeated phrase/ostinato that outlines the perfect intervals in a rhythmic way, so that the rest of the orchestra can stay more static. This is how that type of melody would look.

(Please ignore the scribbles. This is essentially the notation for the hiccup theme. The use of slurs give it that flowing motion. Btw, I had to change cleff because I was running out of room. That is a tenor clef if you didn’t know :slight_smile:

You will noticed I used Sfz on the first picture, this is Sfortzando. Meaning suddenly loud and then quiet. This is used everywhere in superhero themes.

I hope this demistifies any of that uncertainty you had in terms of writing this type of music :slight_smile:


Please ignore the bar lines in the hiccup reduction btw. I put them in the wrong place because I was rushing. :slight_smile: it’s in 4/4 so just could 4 beats and that’s where the bar line goes. I put it after three because I wasn’t paying attention haha :stuck_out_tongue:

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Wow these are a lot of replies to this post… I’ll check them all out as soon as I can :slight_smile:

And, well… of course I’ll keep studying… I’m very well aware that this is something that’ll take time to learn and probably it’s not even possible to completly master :slight_smile:

For compositional theory I’ve been following some different online courses from college teachers… like electronic composition theory from jason allen and more “basic” compositional theory from Mr. Johnathan Peters with Musescore. These did help me out with the basic theory of composing.

Of course I can’t forget Mike courses that, tho, I feel are a little bit more advanced and need some knowledge before really getting into them.

Having a supporting community tho is so much help in keeping the studies up :slight_smile:


After being in the nature for the last hour, i had the idea that we could make a small super hero theme contest @Mikael might be an idea for a future contest.
ima going to sketch a bit later on, that topic intrests me now :slight_smile:

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Luca, my main way of thinking for emotions in music, is in contrasts. Everything can be described in contrasts! :slight_smile:

For example, if you focus mainly on major chords and harmonies…that will have a “uplifting sound” vs if you focus more on minor chords and harmonies. That is of course elementary as Sherlock Holmes would say. :stuck_out_tongue:

Now, take this concept to everything.

Major vs Minor
Dark vs Bright
Fast vs Slow
Legato vs Staccato
Rhythmic vs Melodic
Dynamic vs Compressed
Ensembles vs Solo
Low Register vs High Register
Piercing (ex: brass) vs Smooth (ex winds)
…this list can go on for anything you can think of

Try to describe your main character, the theme you are creating, from a list like this. Of course there are no rules, but this is the way I think of creating “your story of music” for any theme etc. Put it into words first, then apply it to your music. :slight_smile:


Great Idea… i tell you what, the winner can get a free copy of my latest instrument? how does that sound @mikael ;D

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I’m open for suggestions. :slight_smile:
But I don’t like to make future plans in this forum to be honest, I like to keep it more casual for me, as otherwise it will start to feel as “work”. :stuck_out_tongue:


I’m a little late to the conversation, but I agree with @Geoffers and @Mikael say. The most important thing to study, in my opinion, when it comes to finding a good fit musically for a character theme or whatnot, is the simple intervalic relationship between notes. Chords are important, but especially they are a collection of different intervals.

The main theme for the Imperial March for example is based on a major 7th chord if i remember, but the Important emotional aspect is the major 7th interval which gives it the darker tone. Really study what different intervals sound like and what emotional feel each can give both melodically and harmonically…


So wait… Let’s say I want to have a theme for a character that rapresent internal doubts, strength and action and then the rest after battle.

WIth your reasoning I’d probably have to start out with minor chord progression and a slower. not very rythmic tempo and more “melody based”, then I’d have to transition in a more energetic/rhytmic section with a different chord progression, perhaps some ostinato’s and perhaps ending it on an high climax suddenly transitioning to a long and relaxing, slow and perhaps almost “pad like” sound.

I guess that would be it?

Still I can’t really figure out how to make a melody taht would go along with this planning but I guess that comes with experience? (of course if I’m wrong about what I understood please explain better? xD )

@Geoffers as far as “studying and analyzing” goes… I’m always listening and trying to analyze pieces.

Like… these last days I’ve been listening a lot of the main deus ex human revolution theme, one that I deeply love, called ICARUS. As far as I managed to understand it it’s in G minor, I managed to get the notes and play over the real song using brasses inside my old DAW with my midi keyboard… it was also kind of fun. Still trying to get a grip on the instruments and technique (if anyone’s interested in the song this is it:

I Think this specifric song is quite complex as it has elements of both “relaxing” AND “more… action” music in it at the same time… but I might be wrong about it.

Also… I’m using this website for a more dfirect approach:

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To be honest, you are talking about the absolute hardest thing to learn as a composer. Something that takes many years of training. I strongly advice you to study music theory in depth. :slight_smile:

Then after that, study real soundtracks, themes, motifs…analyse everything that is going on.


Well I never have and never will stop studying and analyzing tracks xD I do both as a daily basis. The thing is that as a game developer I need to be able and create such themes… even if, of course, at the moment I’d be satisfied just with basic rapresentations… my example was just an example :slight_smile:

I am well aware it’ll need months if not years to get to a high level and I’m not taking it lightly… I’m just looking for some little pushes in the right direction :slight_smile: