Guitar in film, TV and gaming is a beautiful thing. Capable of a huge range of sounds, tones and emotions, the guitar has been utilised in a wide range of genres. Guitar can be a great composing tool for both single note and chordal ideas and the ability to add effects opens up many more doors when creating a mood. There are genre specific situations with classical guitar, flamenco, country, metal and so on but there has also been a huge influx of ‘hybrid’ styles - blending metal with orchestral music for example.
One of the great things about composing/creating screen music on guitar is the fact that it’s typically easy to get started with ideas. Arpeggiating chords, rock licks, muted picking, funk rhythms or big spacey voicings are all fair game. The many flavours of electric and acoustic guitars also come into play. Let’s check out some ideas to get you started, these are just simple phrases that (hopefully) evoke a feeling or emotion that might be seen somewhere on screen.
Figure A – ‘Contemplation’
Essentially an Em-C-D chord progression play this at a slow tempo using a glassy Strat sound with some reverb and delay. You could use the tremolo arm to give the chords some vibrato/pitch movement too. To set the scene think of man leaning against a wall looking up at the sky or a blank stare out into space.
Figure B – ‘I Hear Footsteps’
A combination of quavers and semi quavers this idea uses faster phrase and space to create a feeling of movement. Try a clean sound (or perhaps something slightly dirty) and play at a medium tempo. You could try palm muting to add dynamics and open up on the last three notes. The whole melody could also be doubled with some tuned mallet percussion for contrast. Think a ‘70s mystery show with someone creeping down a hallway or a mouse scurrying along a kitchen floor.
Figure C – ‘Parking Lot’
You might try a Tele or SG on the bridge pickup with a little bit of breakup. Play the riff with a slightly raw and loose feel but not too messy. Picture a classic hot rod pulling quickly into a carpark or a close up of someone turning the ignition to start a car. The idea is just stock rock/garage/punk but played with a little attitude and placed in the right scene it could work a treat.
Now, none of these ideas are groundbreaking compositions. But, they don’t need to be to create a mood or convey a feeling. These ideas could be solo guitar or built up with a rhythm section, ensemble, band and of course effects can be utilised to taste (there are also some sounds that instantly call up a specific mood – wah funk, ambient delay, tremolo country/folk etc). Pay attention to your favourite TV show or movie, or even a random ad on YouTube, and see what you can garner in terms of sound and composition. Chances are you’ll hear some tasty uses of guitar and latch onto plenty of ideas that aren’t super difficult.
Revist last month's guitar column here.