Always wanted to make scary music but never tried?
Maybe you’re… too scared? 👻
Wearing only a costume on October 31st is for kids, time to take it to the next level and compose a spooky soundtrack to accompany your Halloween party. “It’s impossible” you say? Read on and you’ll see that it’s more attainable than you think. In this article we’ll discuss the tricks and gadgets that some of the most reputable composers of horror soundtracks use. Take a deep breath and get ready to scream (or hear the screams of your audience). 🎃
Bowed instrument techniques
With bowed instruments you can create a lot of spooky effects, whether it’s with the violin, viola, cello, or double bass, a few special techniques can give anyone goosebumps… Get ready to learn some Italian: Glissando is the technique where you slide your fingers up and/or down the strings while bowing steadily. Col Legno is when you turn the bow upside-down and tap the strings with it creating a sound of “clicking bones”. Tremolo, also known as “shivering bow” is when you rapidly bow back and forth with a slight movement of the wrist or fingers creating tension and/or apprehension in your music. Try these yourself and see what kind of effect they create for you and don’t be afraid to experiment. And while you’re at it, why not use a scary looking instrument?
See the video below for a violin demonstration by Diane and for more spooky ideas:
Any spooky pedals out there?
To give your scary guitar, bass or keyboard music even more depth, some delay pedals can create this kind of filtered delay effect that creates the creepiest atmosphere. One trick is to filter out the low frequency of the delay… We recommend the ARP-87 from Walrus Audio for this, with its four programs: digital, analog, lo-fi and slapback. The analog and lo-fi settings, especially, can sound pretty creepy if you’re playing minor scales or chords. If you’re willing to spend a little more, the Strymon Timeline is a fantastic and very versatile delay pedal that can do pretty much anything in the delay world.
Listen, especially to “Sound #5” in the video below 👇 With certain settings you can get sounds that send shivers down your spine:
To make even the most hardcore Halloween / horror fans shake in their boots we can’t pass up the theremin, the oldest electronic instrument in history, which you don’t even need to touch to use. This fact alone gives it some mystery. Thomann carries a few different models of the theremin, with which you can create some really retro-sounding ghost-like or alien-like sounds. It immediately sounds eerie, the trick is learning how to control it properly. All we can recommend is hours, weeks or months of practice (if you’re brave enough)!
In the video below the fantastic Carolina Eyck demonstrates how the instrument works and what sounds you can get out of it. Skip to 13:00 to learn how effect pedals (delay, chorus, octave and looper) can be used with the theremin to create the spookiest sounds ever! 👻
Minor chords & dissonance
The tools you use don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. If you’re using creating tonal music (music with a key) any instrument can create spooky or scary sensations. The tricks are in the intervals you use. We all know that minor keys or chords usually cause more “sad” or “melancholic” emotions to arise, and this could be one way of getting closer to scary. But there are certain intervals (the difference in pitch between two notes) that can also “disturb” us in certain ways. There is one, in particular, which, in Medieval times was actually illegal to play, called the Devil’s Interval. It’s the tritone, or augmented 4th (or diminished 5th), the interval between D flat and G, for example, or A and E flat. These interval are even more effective when played high in the range. Check out the video below for examples of the Devil’s Interval and some “Death chords” as a bonus:
Of course, one of the most readily used instruments for creating creepy atmospheric music, especially for high-budget films, is the synthesizer. Let’s take John Carpenter for instance, he uses modular analog synths to create some of the most memorable horror film scores in the history of horror films. Remember the theme from Halloween (1978)? He used the legendary (and super expensive) Moog IIIP Modularsystem Synthesizer along with a ribbon controller and a 1970s Mini Moog. These are hard to find today, unless you have tens of thousands to spend, but there are alternatives from Moog in our shop. With these synthesizers, and the know-how, you can create spooky masterpieces. Get practising!
Did you enjoy our tips on how to make scary sounds? What variations do you know? There are many many other ways of making scary sounds, which is your favourite? Let us know in the comments below. Have a safe and happy Halloween!