Posted on July 29 2021 by Emi Curtis
If there is anything I learned from the music courses I took in college and my brief stint in trying to compose video game soundtracks, it’s that music is complicated. The entire process is a unique mix of both creative freedom and the logical underpinnings of music theory. Even as someone who doesn’t fancy themselves a composer, I find joy in understanding music and why it makes me feel a certain way. This comes double for orchestrations I hold dear, like many of the works of Koji Kondo and Manaka Kataoka. Luckily for me and anyone else with the same interests, online composer, Ryan Leach, has several videos covering those very topics, including one on the concept of harmonic rhythm.
While harmonic rhythm might sound complicated based on just it’s name, it may well be one of the most pertinent music concepts to know for a video game music enthusiast. Oftentimes, it is through harmonic rhythm that video game composers control the action of games on an auditory level. It is in this way that they keep the player engaged with the mood of the gameplay in any given moment. In the video, Leach uses tracks from Ocarina of Time, Spirit Tracks, The Adventure of Link, and Breath of the Wild to illustrate the different ways harmonic rhythm can be used to make the player feel lost, motivated, at ease, and victorious through how chords are arranged.
One of my particular favorite analyses he makes, is of the Chest Opening Jingle from Ocarina of Time. Our own Andrew Millard goes into a bit of this on his editorial on the sounds of Zelda, but Leach explains how the rapidly rising chord used in the jingle works to build up anticipation in a short period of time. It’s not unlikely this efficient little technique is a large part of why many of us remember this jingle so fondly. I particularly also enjoy Leach’s explanation of how The Adventure of Link‘s dungeon theme shifts between three different levels of the harmonic rhythm to achieve an array of feelings. It’s amazing to realize it was these ideas that helped composers work around the limitations of composing on 8-bit sound cards.
You can check out Leach’s video on harmonic rhythm above and see more videos analyzing music from Zelda and other IPs on his YouTube channel right here.
What are your thoughts? Are you a video game music enthusiast? Do you like to learn just how your favorite soundtracks work or do you prefer the mystery of not knowing? Let us know in the comments below.