A Curious Brain Exercise—Video Game Music Theory

Dec 30, 2023 · Brittani S Avery

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As I mentioned in my original post on video game music back in 2021, I have been listening to it more than other music due to its wide variety in styles and emotions. Looking for something to help you focus? Try Far: Lone Sails or its successor Far: Tides Changing. Want something to dance to? Crypt of the Necrodancer is a fun time. My personal favorite, while not original to the game, is Just Shapes and Beats. Writing a macabre scene? The Bloodborne OST is perfect! The choices are endless.

The more I listened to video game music, the more interested I became in the music theory behind it. Why did this track sound so heroic? How does the story of a character reveal itself in their musical theme? Fortunately, during one of my dives down the YouTube rabbit hole, I found a few videos from music professionals that analyze video game music from all sorts of genres. In this post, I will highlight two of my favorites channels.

Davi Vasc, Music Composer for Games

One of the first musicians I strongly connected with is Davi Vasc, a music composer who posts video game music content weekly. I have enjoyed his style of analysis due to its simple explanations of musical terms. While I love all kinds of music, I am clueless when it comes to musical terminology. Sure, I took piano lessons as a child and played clarinet in elementary school, which has allowed me to be able to read music, but I never got to the how and why of musical structures. Davi makes all that super easy for music newbies.

When explaining the different chords, Davi tends to use descriptive names rather than the technical terms, such as “Happy Chord 🙂”, “Sad Chord 😞”, “Tense Chord 😠”, and “Surprised Chord 😯”. Amongst all these chords is a special chord called the “Home Chord” where the song reaches a resolution and rests from all the tension buildup. With his trusted piano, he may play a section of notes to emphasis how each chord plays a part in changing the emotion of the song. He pulls back the curtain and shows all the techniques composers use to bring their goal for the music to life.

With these clues from his fellow composers, Davi attempts to guess the story of the song, be it a character theme, boss battle music, or an ambient track. He has accurately detailed the lore of several characters or even the full story of games. He easily noticed the themes of of exploration, wonder, and taking a brief rest back home before journeying again in the main theme of Outer Wilds. He caught exactly how the endgame boss fight of Sealed Vessel from Hollow Knight worked just from its theme. Davi is quite a fun watch and I’m always looking forward to his next video.

Marco, Former Pro Opera Singer Turned Voice Actor

Marco from the MarcoMeatball channel is a recent discovery for me and, at least to my limited dive into the music analysis niche of YouTube, has a unique perspective regarding music. Marco was a pro opera singer, a tenor, for 10 years. Today, he uses that experience as a voice actor as well as a YouTube music analyst. As he has described in his videos, his role as an opera signer was to feel the emotions of the music in order to properly portray his character. While Davi tends to focus on individual chords, Marco pays close attention to the singers/lyrics and how they work with or act against the musical beats.

The most fascinating feature of Marco’s videos is his demonstrations of the vocal techniques that he and other singers use for enhancing their performance. I can carry a tune, but I am no a singer. My sister is one who has beautiful vocals. Me…not so much. 😅 But I do like to learn and getting insight from a professional is definitely my cup of tea. 🍵

An often repeated mantra from Macro is that video game music is the new classical music. In multiple of his videos, he stated various beats or melodies were straight up imitating Mozart, Bach, and other masters of the classics. In his analysis of the main theme from Dark Souls III, he says that the song could be easily played in a concert hall amongst classical music enthusiasts and they would not be able to tell if it was from a new composer or a popular video game. He goes into further detail about music from Genshin Impact being classical music for modern audiences and how video game should not discounted simply because it is from a relatively new form of entertainment. I wholeheartedly agree with Marco and I have had video game music right along side some classical music in my Spotify playlists and they often flow seamlessly. I would absolutely love to hear music from Genshin Impact, Dark Souls, Final Fantasy, Nier, and plenty of other games in a symphony hall.

If you would like to see the difference in their analysis styles, check out their videos on the “La Signora” battle theme from Genshin Impact. Davi attempts to break down the story behind La Signora. Marco speaks to the solo soprano that is heavily featured in the song. Both are wonderful analysis from different points of view.

Have you listened to any music recently that made you really think? Or play any video games whose music made you put down the controller/KBM? Let me know! Until next time 👋🏾

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