Ronald Poe

How do you make a theme villainous?

6 posts in this topic

I was curious how one can take a melody/theme villainous/darker/evil sounding. I love the idea of dark reprises and was curious how to go about this. I write electronic music and remix in a similar style (i'm quite eccentric). I have a few themes I want to do this with and would like pointers. 
I know things like occasional  tritones, minor keys, diminished chords, and accidentals are important but what else>?
One of the pieces I want to do a villainous remix of (not having much luck due to the upbeat and repetitive nature of the piece).


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HW9WHjictHc
 

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Modes like the phrygian work well.

But one thing that will help you is chromatics and mode mixture. Specifically, chromatic mediant chord relationships.

What this means is the progression consists of two chords that are related by a third, and are of the same tonality. So like, A minor to F# minor. Or A minor to C minor. Gmaj to Eb Major (very common one in "space" themes).

This kinda thing is everywhere in film and game music. Observe, chords separated by a distance of a minor third/major sixth.

As for uses of a specific mode, here's the phrygian (3rd mode of the major scale) in action.

It's also the go to for heavy metal rhythms.

Combine the two methods and you'll get an extra evil result.

You're in luck because this Mario tune's intervals are already phrygian, but the backing harmony is not. So change it from major to minor, add some chromatics and go from there. For example, after the first few notes, when it jumps up to the root at the octave, play the next note a half step lower instead of jumping farther back down like it normally does, and I think you'll start to see the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

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10 hours ago, Ronald Poe said:

Thanks for the tips. I'm still curious about how to apply this to a piece but I guess I'll experiment. More tips would be appreciated.

There are a couple easy ways you can practice putting the mode into use with just the white keys on a piano.

I assume you play or can at least use a piano roll?

In the bass, use a synth pad to hold out a drone of a low E note. Then, over top, start noodling around to create a melody, but also start from an E note. Emphasize E, F, and D when you play. That'll give you the sound of the phrygian.

For the chromatic mediants, play an A minor chord with you left hand for one bar, then follow it with a C minor chord for 1 bar.

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I use FL Studio for remixing purposes. Thanks for the tips. I'll try adding phrygian flavor and using some chromatic mediants where it fits along with accidentals. Would you guys like to see the final result?

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So generally, there are two ways that I think of to make things villainous:

1. Slow harmonic rhythm (chords don't change rapidly), and a lot of tonally ambiguous melodies. Usually, this will involve a chord that drones on say F minor, then having the melody focus on D natural, E natural, G natural, and B natural. Essentially, the melody is in G major-ish, and the harmony is in F minor. But the starts and ends of phrases will be in F minor. A melody I would write would be...F-D-E-G-B-C-Ab-G. Something like that.

2. Building on the chromatic mediant idea, going from a minor chord to a 7th chord adds a sour, villain flavor. Example - C minor (C, Eb, G) moving to Ab7 (Ab, C, Eb, Gb) has a sour feel to it.

3. I lied. There are more than 2. Chromatic movement is beautiful for this. Start with a minor chord, then move parallel chromatically, such as C minor, B minor, Bb minor. OR C minor, B major, Bb major, A major.

The overarching idea I have when writing these things is to start with a very usual, tonal idea, then go against the tonal expectations in a deliberate and consistent way.

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