Writing Game Music : Part I
note notes music beats black beat put staff rest
The music for a game is very important. It sets the mood for the game, and does so much more. Without the music, it will be a lot harder to get the game player to get into the game. In almost every game development team I've been in, the musician was the one hired last, which really should not happen. As I see it, a good game has three basic parts: the programming, the sound, and the art. The sound is split up into two parts, the sound effects, and the music. Usually, for a small project, the sound effects creator and the music creator are the same person. But when you're hiring for a project, you must make sure your game has people that can provide those basic elements. In this article, I'm going to talk about how to create the music.
In an article of this size, I cannot explain absolutely everything about music. This article will be a lot easier for you if you already know how to read music. But in case you don't know anything about writing music, then I'll try to get you started. I'll explain how to read basic music, something most other music articles don't do. Soon I'll write part II of this article, which should explain how to come up with music ideas. (Ain't I just a great guy?)
I: Notes and Rests
A: Basic Notes
Music is basically made of different notes. These notes each have a different pitch and are held for a certain amount of time. So, in theory, that's basically what you're reading when you look at a sheet of music: what pitch to play the notes at, and how long to play them. Of course, another important factor is in music, which is volume, but I won't get into that, as that's kind of advanced.
As you can see, there are different kinds of notes:
See how the eighth note and everything below that have flags? Whenever you have two or more notes with flags that are next to each other, you can combine their flags together. Let's say you had two eighth notes, one sixteenth note, two thirty-second notes, and one eighth note, in that order. It would look something like this:
Even with a tie, there still is a combination you can't make...what if you want a note to hold for 1/3 beat?!?!? No, don't panic yet, there's still a way. Just change the note into a triplet. To change a note into a triplet, just put a "3" above or below the note or the group of notes. When a note becomes a triplet, it becomes 2/3 of its original value. For example, if you make a half note into a triplet, that triplet becomes worth 4/3 beats. (a half note is originally worth 2 beats, so 2 multiplied by 2/3 is 4/3.)
The most commonly used triplet is the eighth note triplet. Three eighth note triplets equal one beat. So here are three eighth note triplets:
Alright, now let's move on a bit, and start talking about rests. Whenever you see a rest, it's the opposite of a note, it tells you not to play. So then, rests have beats. Here are some kinds of rests:
So once again, when you see a rest, you don't play for that amount of time. If you see a whole note and then a quarter rest and then a quarter note, it means play for four beats, rest one beat, then play for another beat. Soon you'll learn how to find out the pitch of the note to play, but for now let's ignore that.
For rests, basically the same rules apply as with notes. You can't use ties on rests, but you can put dots to the right of rests, and you can make them into triplets. (why would you want to tie two rests together anyway? A quarter rest tied to another quarter rest means the same as if those two weren't tied.)
Yaaay! We're done with notes and rests! Now let's go to the staff.
II: The Staff
A: Measures and the Staff
The staff is what all music is put on. It consists of five horizontal lines. The staff is split up into sections called measures. The vertical lines that separate measures are called measure bars. Here's a staff split up into three measures:
Each different pitch has a letter name. The different letter names go from A-G, A being the lowest, and then they start all over. So the order of note pitches goes A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, etc. Each line and space on the staff represents a pitch. Which line represents which pitch depends on what clef the staff has. Here are the two basic kinds of clefs:
What if you want a note that's not within reach of the clef? What if you want to reach an A pitch that's higher than the treble clef? Then you put a leger line. A leger line is a short line that acts as a sort of extension for the staff. Here's a picture of a few staffs with leger lines.
The first note on that picture is a special C. It's not like the other C's, it's a special note known as "Middle C." On the Bass clef, the middle C is one leger line above the staff. (I'd draw a picture of it, but don't you think we've got too much pictures already?)
Okay, take a deep breath and let's move on. There are some pitches in between those pitches, like one in between C and D, etc. To get to those, you either sharp or flat a note. Making a note sharp moves it up, and making it flat moves it down. A sharp looks like a number sign ( # ) and a flat looks like a lower-case letter b. Just write those symbols before the note. So A# (A sharp) is the note in between A and B. It can also be called Bb(B flat). A note that has been sharped or flatted (or is that "sharpened" and "flattened"? I have no idea.) is called an Accidental.
So, that in mind, here's the notes, in order from lowest to highest:
A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab AAs you can see, some pairs of notes don't have a sharp or flat note in between them. So then what happens when you sharp or flat those notes? Nothing different happens, it still moves up. So if you wrote down the note B#, it would be the same as writing down C. If you wrote the note Fb, it would be the same as writing E.
On a piano, each key represents a note. The C closest to the center of the piano is the middle C. To tell which key is which on the piano, look at the black keys. The black keys are the sharps and flats. The pattern of black keys and no black keys goes, black key, black key, no black key, black key, black key, black key, no black key, and starts all over. So look at the piano, and you'll see the pattern: two black keys, no black key, and then three black keys. The white key to the right of the two black keys is a C. So here's a piano with the notes written on it:
Whenever you make a note sharp or flat, all of that same note stays sharp or flat until the end of the measure. So if you make an A flat, and then you write that note again in the same measure, that second A would also be flat. But if you write it again in another measure, it won't be flat, you have to make it flat again.
If you don't want a note to be affected by a note before it, then use the natural sign, which looks like a L and an upside down L put together. Here's some music with sharps, flats, and naturals:
Yaay! Only one more thing to go, then we're done with this section! And that one thing is....time signatures. (Shudder)
Actually, time signatures aren't that hard. It is just two numbers at the beginning of each song that shows how much beats are allowed in each measure. You've probably seen them, it's one number on top of the other. Here's a time signature:
And that's it! To make sure you've got it, here's a short piece of music. Get to a piano and try to play this song, it should sound familiar.
Great! Now that you know how to write basic music, you can start writing your own. Buy a program like Musictime, or some other program that uses the standard music notation system. Usually those programs will let you put notes on predrawn staffs and then play back the music for you. Most also let you change the music into a midi file, so that you can then use them in your game.
In part II, I'll talk about how to expand your musical creativity—how to come up with your own songs. Any questions, suggestions for future articles, or comments, email me at Pitech@hawaii.rr.com.