When the moon (in your game) hits your eye (of your onscreen character) like a big pizza pie (not really a pizza pie unless those are worth bonus points), that’s amore! (or more likely a high score, eh!)
When a game calls for romance, sometimes the soundtrack needs a bit of love. Video games, like movies, are an experience, filled with action, drama, even romance.
In this entry, I will be talking about the art and techniques of composing with a bit of Italian, Spanish, and French flair for video games.
Iconic Romance Instruments
Italian mandolins, French accordians, Spanish castanets, these instruments add a bit of spice to soundtracks. Add in harps, solo violins, tremolo strings, and even well placed orchestral chimes.The authentic sounds of these help shape a track of music into something with a bit more je ne sais quoi. While French and Italian stylized music contain similar instruments in particular the accordian, the Spanish flaminco guitars and castinets surely pepper up a piece and help place the music geographically.
The key to a good romance piece is to sway the beat, as if you’re dancing on a cloud. To do this, start with a moderately slow tempo, and lean heavily on the first half of the measure, then speed up very quickly to finish it. For example, a dotted half note takes up the majority of the measure, and on the last beat, a triplet sounds very fast. This type of swaying is a common trope to connote a dreamlike fantasy, great for introducing a bit of romance.
For a romance piece, use major sevenths liberally. In fact, this may be a staple of the composition! Major sixths are also employed at ends of phrases. Augmented fifths can work well especially appearing just before or after the normal triad. In general, keep pieces in a major key signature, but dabbling in the enharmonic minor will add a bit of drama and make the return to major more important.
Melody is more important here than in other soundtracks, as you'll want to focus on one instrument at a time. Imagine your violin or accordian or piano is "singing" your phrase, with the focus on something memorable. Then, if your game calls for more "background" music, just remove that instrument and have the sustained tremelo strings and the rest of your orchestra do the work for you!
Parting thoughts… as love is in the air
There’s a lot of different ways to create passion pieces, from instrument choices to tempo. How it fits in your game’s audio design will be up to you, but for ideas, cast a wide net on movies and video games to listen to. The best way to learn is to analyze and hear the commonalities for yourself and keep in a pile the types that may work for your game’s audio design. Remember to be creative and original in your scores, to only draw inspiration from sources. While there’s no right or wrong way of creating a romantic tune, hopefully this entry helps as a first-steps guide to spicing up your soundtrack!
Harry Mack is an audio designer with more than 10 years industry experience, composing video game music and sound effects for over thirty titles. For examples of his latest work and samples, visit www.harrymack.com.