How to Compose Battle MusicHello Composers, Mike here! =)

Do you want to learn how to compose battle music? Music that has a character of: Action, Intensity, Power and Energy, suitable for battle scenes in a movie, TV series, or video game.

Now, of course “battle music” come in many different styles, moods and character. However, I will share with you 5 great guidelines that I believe covers all styles.

But first, let’s listen to some great examples of “Battle Music”. Alright, here we go! =)

Mikael Baggström – The Chaos of War

This is my own composition, with the following description of my vision and mission when composing it:

An Epic Battle Music Composition. Heavy focus on big percussion and epic choirs, with a lot of drive coming from many tracks of ostinatos, staccato chords and stabs etc.

The tempo is dynamically moving between 128 – 134BPM, and the key is E minor. The minor 2nd movement that comes from the chord change from Em to C7 in the 2nd section of the track really shows the tension of the battle!

I also have a breakdown section that is like the “calm in the middle of the storm”, almost like when they go to slow motion in a movie for sense of depth and reflection, until all hell breaks loose again in the final power chorus! =)

Mike Whi – This Isn’t Over

Mike Whi composed this piece, full of hybrid sound design, tension effects and a very intense vibe. Lots of clicky-ticky rhythms adds to the nail-biting atmosphere, and after the build-up you can really sense the big battle in action.

Here is Mike’s own description: Two monolithic ships approach each other in space; enemies bracing for battle. The systems can be seen charging up, as everyone runs to their stations. And the battle begins.

David Olofson – Battle Of The Unnamed Field

David’s composition has a more classical war vibe, as in nostalgic, and very suitable for war movies based in the classical and ancient times, where horses, swords and bows were used instead of modern weapons or futuristic laser canons.

It starts with a very noble and romantic vibe. But then progresses into a more sinister, chaotic and powerful vibe. And then continues the story arc with both emotional and introspective vs chaos and intensity in the following scenes.

Here is David’s own description: Written as a story, first presenting the location, the protagonists, and the enemies, followed by a chaotic battle, which is not going well for the protagonists – but then, as all hope is nearly lost, the hero shows up with his new allies, and things turn around.

Software: Cubase Pro 10, Kontakt 5, Ozone 8. (Very rudimentary mix and master due to lack of time.)
Libraries: Spitfire Symphonic Strings, Spitfire Symphonic Woodwinds, Spitfire Percussion, Orchestral Tools Metropolis Ark 1, 8Dio Century Brass.

David Michael Tardy – Legion

This composition by David Michael Tardy oozes of intensity and power. The start minimal and impact sound focused start give you a glimpse of what is to come…which is the epic choirs, that are carried with that steady powerful impact on the 1s.

The first big transition opens up the harmonic story, which is full of epic hero vibes, supported by staccato choirs mixed with sustained power choirs. Then a more gentle, heavenly vibe, as if looking down on the battle field of all the fallen.

David’s own description: My intention with my composition is to convey the mood of intensity, action and power in Battle. I had everything drop off in the ending section because visually I thought of scenes like in Lord of the Rings, when Battle is occurring amid chaos and all of the sound drops out except for the music and everything is in slow motion. This especially occurs when the heroes are losing and getting the crap kicked out of them.

How to write Battle Music

I want to give you my personal practical tips for writing battle music, regardless of style. These are, what I consider, fundamental guidelines.

  1. Percussion is King
    Battle Music is of course all about action, intensity and power. And none of these things would be complete without percussion. In fact, battle music will almost always be heavily focused on strong and powerful percussion. I recommend layering a lot of percussion parts, but still keep the main accents very focused. Also make sure that other rhythmic parts compliment the percussion mix, for examples ostinatos, stabs, chugging guitars etc.
  2. Brass for Power
    For some reason, brass instruments seem to go hand in hand with battle music. Stabs, rips, effects, perhaps a bold and epic melody on horns. Whenever there is battle, the brass instruments are a very common ingredient in music. Especially in the low range.
  3. Choirs for Importance
    Choirs have the ability to make any music feel more powerful and vivid. Like an added sense of importance, making the moment more epic. Which makes it superb for battle scenes. Since action is more rhythmically focused, your choir parts will probably have a lot of staccato and short articulations.
  4. Hard Accents
    While any battle can be full of chaos, the music usually have very hard accents. Because hard accents will amplify the intensity by providing high contrast. And as always, contrast equals power. So make sure to augment your accents from layering and stacking sounds on the main beats you want to accent, using very high dynamics on those accents, and you might even want to use sidechain compression to dial down some instruments on the big accents, to push up the contrast even more.
  5. High Energy
    Battles are also about high energy, action and intensity. Which means the focus is on rhythm. It can be fast and chaotic, or mid-tempo and focused, but never slow. The beat, groove and drive of your music should be your main concern when writing battle music.

Now Take Action! =)

Now it is time for you to take action! Meaning to compose and produce a new “Battle Music” track, to add to your composer portfolio.

Use these reference tracks, and guidelines for motivation and inspiration. But remember, guidelines are not rules. You always have ultimate creative freedom as a composer when creating your music.

Have fun writing Battle Music, my friends! =)