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What Makes A Good Melody – Earthbound's Snowman Theme

May 17, 2019



winter is here and to get into the spirit of it I thought I'd do a video on earthbound snowman themed it's a beautiful piece of music with a melody that is somehow simultaneously emotional and catchy what makes it so good what makes a melody good in general let's find out okay first let's take a listen to the whole piece right away we're introduced to our main motif this two barolong melodic figure this is already a great melody to be interesting on its own melody needs drama and drama basically translates to big interval leaps in the first bar we have an outline delete of a minor sixth with the C in between decorating it this by itself creates interest in the second bar we have this 32nd note decoration this breaks up the rhythmic monotony of the one and two and but also creates interest because it's four times as fast as the eighth note subdiv which has always been exposed to up until this point also how often do you hear thirty-second notes and music in general already we have two things that make the melody memorable so what makes it so pretty well harmony plays a huge part in how a melody sounds I like to think of it in movie terms the melody is like the characters and plot while the Harmony is like the setting a great story and characters can work in pretty much any setting but that doesn't mean the setting doesn't change a lot about a story what star wars have been the cultural landmark it was if it was set in thirteenth century Scotland it definitely would have been different anyways the reason I bring this up is because the harmony underneath could completely change the tone of this piece the first two notes play as an accented dissonance on the seventh that resolves up to the one this is a pretty ballsy move and it instantly makes an impression on the listener if we put the same melody over the one chord instead of the four chord it just turns into a three moving up to 4 which is decidedly not ballsy these sorts of accented dissonance azar what makes the melody sound emotional if you're interested to know more look up appoggiaturas these first four bars use a very specific compositional technique that I like to call the five over one basically it takes a major seventh chord usually the four and voices it as a major triad a fifth above the root you can call it a G over C or a C major nine it doesn't really matter it creates a really specific bright colorful sound that's often coupled with the Lydian tinge of the sharp four as in this case the inner voices switch between this G / C sound a regular C sound and a sort of half D over C sound highlighting the sharp four the way it ABB's and flows between these three colors really sets the mood of the piece even though it's kind of floaty and ethereal the melody at its core has a very strong structure which helps to make it so catchy after our initial two bar motif we get another version of the motif that changes out the last note for a walk up to G this sets up another big leap this time of a fourth down to D ending a musical phrase on the fifth of the key feels just slightly unresolved and gives the music momentum while setting up another repetition of the phrase the second time we hear the phrase the ending note is traditionally a very stable chord tone such as the tonic this is called antecedent consequent period and it's been structuring melodies since forever most music plays around with this formula a little bit so instead of a nice strong tonic to finish we get an accented dissonance as the second resolves up to the third which is also a very stable note landing on the two before resolving up to the three really just makes the resolution a little bit more coy so our a section has iconic leaps and rhythms emotional accented dissonance –is colorful harmony and sturdy tried and true structure holding it all up but where does it go sure we have a great theme but does it develop into something more well video game music especially in this era is slightly limited at how much it can develop a theme as the songs are all built to repeat for an indefinite amount of time and fit a whole soundtrack on a cartridge we do however get a B section that serves to contrast the a section and develop some of the ideas introduced this B section melody is based off of the contour of the main motif by contour I just mean the direction and relative size of the intervals between notes these things define the shape of a melody and it's really how we can identify melodies at all before we get into it though let's take a listen look at the a section melody if you take out the decorations and just leave the strong beats you get a leap up of a minor 6th then a leak down of a minor 3rd the B section melody is a leap up of a 5th than down a 2nd the intervals are shrunken by a half-step but our ears still recognize this as related to the original motif it's also worth noting that the pick up to this melody is also taken from the a section just move down a 7 this new variation on the old motif has weaved into something entirely new instead of playing the full motif and then pausing the last note of the motif becomes the first note of a new variation on this motif the intervals aren't always the same but they all follow the big leap up little leap down structure that makes it fit with the rest of the song to build some more tension the sixteenth note line runs us up to a high D but if we want to repeat this melody we need to get back down somehow so after this we just slowly walk down a d7 flat 9 arpeggio until we get back to where we need to be to contrast the brightness of the a section this B section uses borrowed chords from the parallel minor key to add some darkness to the music the whole section happens over a flat six two five seven flat nine vamp which really strongly sets up a resolution to a minor one which never comes in fact towards the end we get this intense build on the five seven flat nine chord that just kind of fades away it doesn't even end on the major one chord it just fades out to a lonely sleigh bell before starting back again at the top at the four chord this is probably to facilitate endless repetition but honestly I find it kind of a clumsy way of doing that in closing melodic development and contrasting sections are essential for creating depth in a piece of music when we listen to music we want it to take us somewhere and if we just hear the same thing over and over again even if it is dramatic and interesting it can go from good catchy to annoying catchy really fast well that's the video I hope you enjoyed it let me know what your favorite wintery game music is in the comments below and if you have any questions leave those too or you can leave them on my twitter at 8-bit music theory thanks so much for watching and I'll see you around

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21 Comments

  • Reply Michael Bradley-Robbins May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    The Phendrana Drifts music from Metroid Prime has always been one of my favorites. The melody synth evokes the dripping of water in an ice cave just perfectly.

  • Reply AtmaDragoon May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    I dunno, I kind of like that brief fade to silence at the end of the B section. That sort of muffled soundlessness you can feel in the stillness of gently falling snow — it lives in that moment of quiet, punctuated only by the inevitable sleigh bell percussion. A "Big Mood" as I believe it would be termed these days.

    As for my favorite wintry game music…I mean, there's a /lot/ of good tunes in this category, but the first one I think of is the Narshe theme from FF VI. Gotta love that "exhaled breath" instrumentation to sell a sense of deep cold~

  • Reply Algy Cuber May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    my favorite snowy game music is smg2 freezy flake galaxy and sometimes sm3dw snowball park

  • Reply ARandomDude May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    mother 1's 'snowman' theme is better in my opinion

  • Reply Sydney Bean May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    Aww, I thought the second time around, after the D7 deceptively resolves back up to the EbM7, the original phrase (CM7 | GM7) was going to be repeated, but transposed to the key of Bb as (EbM7 | BbM7). Sounds pretty nice, it a unifying sort of way.

  • Reply Alec Allie May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    I know composers were limited by the cartridges of that gaming era, but I love this stuff. When looping or dynamic music is done right it allows you to get lost in it.

  • Reply Sidney Celeste May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    This is really really good, I envy folks that can play an instrument and read music. I sampled the smash bros version of "Snowman" and made a freestyle off of it. The song was peaceful until I recreated it. It's basically a verbal onslaught https://youtu.be/a1kJ0_SDpWg

  • Reply donkeyfacekilla1 May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    incredible piece of music! Great analysis too!

  • Reply 8 Bit Trumpet May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    Such a great melody!

  • Reply GameChamber May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    xD that intro got me rofl hahaha!!

  • Reply TNTyoutuber 82 May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    Freezeezy Peak from Banjo Kazooie

  • Reply JacobHero May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    Jeff's Balladdddd thooo

  • Reply Queen is my favorite band May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    a lot of earthbound songs are catchy and emotional at the same time

    a favorite of mine is pollyanna from mother 1, espescially the actual cover of it

  • Reply Animated Antarctica May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    I prefer the Winters White theme

  • Reply dragontamer1012 May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    If you don't analyze mother 3's soundtrack I will personally come to your house and make you play it.

  • Reply pkfire May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    earthbound music inspired me to start making beats

  • Reply pupinator98 May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    question: would this analysis also apply well to the snowman theme from mother (aka earthbound 0)?

  • Reply Ajani Brunner May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    I wish I understood music theory dude I’m so mad

  • Reply Mark Aitken Guitar May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    Very hip. Refreshing depth for this genre 👍

  • Reply A Spectator May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    BubbleMonkey

  • Reply Gissa May 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    Have you ever considered maybe talking more about the modal concepts? For example over the Cmaj#11 they’re clearly in C lydian. Later on with all the D7b9-ish chords they’re in D melodic minor and later in D super locrian.

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