Scary Music

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When the shorter days of October turns our minds toward pumpkins, costumes and spooky fun, it's time to make some do-it-yourself scary music.

Scales

Harmonic minor is the darkest of conventional minor scales. You can make scary music by playing just the scale (see Bach's Toccata below) or over chords.

Explore: For a cartoonish sneaky sound, play notes from A harmonic minor = A, B, C, D, E F, G#, A (no chords) with lots of rests and a staccato articulation (think pizzicato strings).

Explore: For a cartoonish sneaky sound, play notes from A harmonic minor = A, B, C, D, E F, G#, A (no chords) with lots of rests and a staccato articulation (think pizzicato strings).

Explore: Improvise a similar right-hand line over primary chords by doodling around on the harmonic minor scale. Emphasize the raised 7th (G# in A minor) and don’t worry about whether or not to play chord tones.

Explore: Improvise a similar right-hand line over primary chords by doodling around on the harmonic minor scale. Emphasize the raised 7th (G# in A minor) and don’t worry about whether or not to play chord tones.

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Keys

Major to Minor
It goes without saying that minor keys are inherently darker than major keys. However, minor key tunes aren’t necessarily eerie. In fact, most evoke warm, sentimental feelings. The trick to making minor keys sound creepy is to go against expectations.

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To make it even more unsettling, mix major and minor in the same tune as if something has gone wrong.

To make it even more unsettling, mix major and minor in the same tune as if something has gone wrong.

Chords

Diminished chords effectively build tension.
Explore: To evoke A silent move cliché (picture the damsel in distress tied to the railroad track with the bad guy twirling his moustache), play tremolos on any series of diminished chords. 

Progressions

Generally, scary progressions mix chords (often minor) not found together in the same key. A great example is John William’s Imperial March from Star Wars (aka Darth Vader Theme):
|Gm / / Ebm |Gm Ebm Gm / |Gm / / / |Dbm / / / | Ebm / / / |Gm Ebm Gm / |
Explore: Mix almost any combination of minor chords that are not in the same key. 

Classical Quotes

Here are a couple of scary themes from classical literature. There’s no need to learn the whole piece. Just get a few measures into your muscle memory to play as is or throw into your improvisations as musical quotes.

Note the harmonic minor scale in the 1st two measures and the C#dim/D chord at the end of the 2nd measure. Then a D major chord! Play it with a pipe organ sound for maximum effect.

Note the harmonic minor scale in the 1st two measures and the C#dim/D chord at the end of the 2nd measure. Then a D major chord! Play it with a pipe organ sound for maximum effect.

Everyone recognizes this creepy funeral march. Eight measures is all you need to do the trick (or treat).

Everyone recognizes this creepy funeral march. Eight measures is all you need to do the trick (or treat).

Improvising buy the book

Scary Music eBook - Loaded with many more scary music tips and easy-to-play scary classical music arrangements.

Creative Chords Book 2 has scary-in-a-fun-way arrangements of three classical piano favorites as well as an eerie version of an old jazz standard. 

Until next time, enjoy your creative music making journey,

Bradley Sowash

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