Themes & Motifs
Almost every movie needs to have themes and motifs in them. There are various kinds of them, some being about different characters, others about locations, still others about certain themes or other types of things that the film composers want to convey. The Lord of the Ring's movies are a great example of this. It's really fascinating to study the soundtracks. It couldn't have been easy for Howard Shore to weave together so many intricate puzzle pieces into a complete whole.
Five basic theme techniques will be discussed as follows. This is not an exhaustive list, these are just a few that came to my mind.
1. Tempo Change
One of the simplest ways to change a theme is to slow down or speed up the tempo. This isn't a very powerful tool, but it can be used to bring about a slight change in the theme. It can be really potent if used in combinations with some of the other tools.
2. Key Change
Another great tool to use. This is especially useful if the previous music for your movie is in a different key than your original piece and you want to make a smooth transition between the two. It's also useful for creating more of a dark mood by key changing to a lower key, or making it more majestic, by key changing to a higher key.
3. Instrument Change/Addition
By adding instruments or changing which instruments are used, you can dramatically alter the sound of your theme. Sometimes the theme might come in with flutes, other times with brass instruments, other times with the piano or a combination of instruments, depending on what mood you're aiming for.
The Crown Prince, one of my compositions, is as an example of this. Listen to the first 22 seconds of it and get the feel of it. Then skip ahead to 1:34 and notice the different feel. Believe it or not, the melody line for the tuba is exactly the same, but now new instruments are added which change the whole atmosphere of it.
4. Chord Change
Even if the main melody stays the same, just by changing the chords, you can create an entirely different mood. If you're motif is major, for instance, turning it to minor for a rather depressing or sad scene in the movie would work very well.
Arcade Fire's song Abraham's Daughter is an example of this tool. Listen at 25 seconds until 38 and note the dark, foreboding sound of the piece which utilizes only one minor chord. Then listen to 39 seconds until 52 and notice the more hopeful sound of it which is caused because it uses other chords, particularly some major ones.
5. Harmony Addition
By adding harmony to your motif, you can greatly improve and beautify it. It's very useful to use when embellishing a theme for a more powerful part in a movie. Try it and see the results.
That's all for now. Keep composing!