The Secrets of Adventure Music
Hello Composers, Mike here! =)
– So you want to learn more about composing music that inspire adventure, curiosity and going on an exciting journey of exploration?
Well today I have the honor to interview Christopher Siu, a composer that really excels in this style of music. And he will share with you, some great tips and tricks. Let’s begin! =)
Adventure Music – What & Why?
Welcome Christopher, it’s great to have you with us. I would like to start by asking you what adventure music is to you? And why do you enjoy composing in this style?
Christopher: Hi Mike, thanks for having me! It’s a pleasure to be speaking with you.
My childhood was filled with classical music, as I was trained classically on the piano from the age of 5.
I have many fond memories of playing adventure and action-themed video games when I was younger, such as Super Mario Galaxy and Super Smash Brothers.
I also grew up listening to orchestrated Disney songs, so I feel my style of writing comes very naturally to me. For me, adventure music should be a story and a journey in itself: a starting point, a climax in the middle, and a natural ending.
I believe it should be somewhat predictable and easy to follow, because as listeners we love familiarity, and people generally are more likely to enjoy a piece of music if they can follow along.
Writing adventure music allows me to express the fulfillment I feel when creating music that inspires others and takes them on a journey that they can interpret however they feel.
Tips on writing Adventure Music
What tips & suggestions can you give to your fellow composers, on the subject of writing Adventure Music. It could be on techniques, style, mood, instrumentation, arrangement or whatever you feel like sharing.
Christopher: To me, the single most important element of an adventure piece is the melody. The melody has the power to take you away from your everyday life and take you on a musical high like you’ve never experienced before. I also discuss other elements below.
- Keep it short and sweet (keeps the audience focused and attentive)
- Utilize repetition (for familiarity)
- Move stepwise with occasional leaps (this depends piece by piece)
- Stay mostly within the tonal centre of the key you’re writing in (again for familiarity)
- Find rhythmic contrast within your melodies
- Diatonic chords are a safe option (keeps audience familiar with your tonal centre)
- You can experiment with modes and altered notes (Lydian mode is very common for a more uplifting feel (sharp 4th)
- Choose a structure that can be repeated easily upon multiple listens (ABA, ABCA, ABACA are all great options).
- It’s all about FAMILIARITY here – keep the listener hooked.
- Can range anywhere from purely orchestral to hybrid orchestral (includes electronic elements), rarely purely electronic.
- The reason is because acoustic (especially orchestral) instruments are sounds that we’ve all heard before, so we feel a sense of nostalgia upon hearing these
- Typical instrumentation for Western adventure music includes strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, harp, piano, and choir
- The instruments that you choose for your main melody are very important, as you should use the other elements of the orchestra for contrast when the melody is either holding longer notes or is taking a break
- Voice leading is extremely crucial here – if you have a 3-part chord, ensure those voices resolve naturally to the next chord (strings for example)
- Respect the ranges of the instruments – if a part is too high for a cello to play, let the violas/violins take over
- When the melody holds longer notes (strings for example), allow other instruments to fill in the gap (woodwind runs, brass stabs)
- Allow for a natural sense of dynamics (the quietest pp to the most majestic ff are allowed here)
Adventure Music Example
Please share one of your own music composition in the style of “Adventure Music”, and share the creative vision you had for the track.
Christopher: This is one of my pieces entitled ‘A New Beginning’. It’s purely adventure in style, and inspired by the Super Mario Galaxy series.
When writing this, I wanted to write a piece that took the listener on a journey from beginning to end, and evoked imagery while listening.
As I result, I wrote a theme which I believe is engaging, memorable, and lighthearted. Allowing the melody to breathe and expand is what will allow your music to inspire others.
Using pizzicato strings as the harmonic support expresses a fun feel and a friendly approach. Structurally, you’ll notice I modulated from F+ to Db+ in the restatement of the first theme, and finally to Bb+ in the C section following the bridge.
This allowed me to transition back to F+ easily when I looped the track. Writing in closely related keys also helps to unify the composition and avoid any abrupt changes.
Favorite VSTs and Sample Libraries
I’m sure you were prepared for this question, as it always comes up: What is your favorite VSTs and Sample Libraries for cinematic music, and particularly “Adventure Music”? Please add a short note with your thoughts on each.
Christopher: I love sample libraries. The vast amount of options we have today is staggering, so it’s very important to choose your tools wisely and learn those tools. My libraries are mainly from Orchestral Tools and CineSamples.
- Berlin Strings – extremely detailed and realistic sound, beautiful vibrato
- Cinematic Studio Strings – dark and romantic sound, very lush
- CineStrings – great shorts, cuts through a mix, large presence
- Cinematic Studio Solo Strings – I layer these in for more detail and presence in the strings
- Berlin Woodwinds – the approach of recording each instrument separately really works for part writing
- Berlin Woodwinds Exp. B – a soloist-focused library
- HollywoodWinds – Cinesamples’ flagship ensemble woodwind library that sounds beautiful and very cinematic
- CineBrass – my favourite cinematic brass sound. I use it in every piece.
- Berlin Brass – wonderful for lyrical lines, very romantic sound
- CinePerc – extremely upfront and in-your-face bombastic
- Berlin Percussion – less cinematic, fitting for regular orchestral music
- Metropolis Ark 1-3 for epic percussion (Ark 2 has deep booms I use often, the drum kit from Ark 1 is amazing)
- CineHarps – very detailed and pristine sound
- Berlin Symphonic Harps – excellent pearly tone, blends very well in the mix
- Metropolis Ark 1 & 2 – Ark 1 choirs are epic and bombastic, Ark 2 choirs are delicate, comes with children choir legato/sustains
- Time Macro – contains a more workhorse choir library from OT, comes with a variety of syllables
- CinePiano – beautifully captured Steinway in the Sony Scoring Stage, comes with various styles of playing (cinematic, classical, rock)
- Emotional Piano – a Soundiron piano that can’t be missed, perfect for intimate scoring scenarios
- Berlin Orchestra Inspire – a piano ideal for background playing, tinkling
- Piano in Blue – perfect for light jazz, solo context
The Composer Story & Journey
What are the most important lessons you have learned on your journey as a composer? And what advice can you give your fellow composers?
- Compose as often as you can. No one will push you to compose, because we all have our own lives to deal with. The only one who can drive you forward and help you to improve as quickly as possible is you.
- Always be willing to learn, and invest in education (college/university or online courses/books) to continually challenge yourself.
- Listen to many styles of music. This is a hard one for me personally, as I feel comfortable listening to the genres of music I enjoy the most. However, if you’re going to be able to produce other styles of music that a film director may be looking for, exposing yourself to other styles is imperative.
- Finish, finish, finish. If you’ve started a piece of music but it’s been sitting in your hard drive for 3 months, finish it, publish it, and move on. It’s give you a sense of fulfillment and motivation to compose something new.
Learn more about this Composer
Finally, thank you very much for sharing your tips, experience, story and insights. Now please let people know where they can learn more about you, and your music.
Christopher: Thanks very much for having me on Mike! You can find me on my website, Facebook, and YouTube, where I upload a new video every week and discuss composition, orchestration, music theory, and do original score breakdowns.