I’ve written up a fair few Halloween songs over the years and have spotted a few common traits that make for a spooky song. Here are some tricks you can use to write your own terrifying tune or spook up an existing one.
The quickest way to create a creepy, unnerving chord is to play notes together that are a semitone (i.e. one fret) apart. Since the strings of a ukulele are tuned so close together it’s perfect for doing this.
Similarly playing chromatic notes (notes that are a fret apart) in sequence also sounds spooky.
The classic example of this is the theme to The Twilight Zone. Here’s an example that uses a similar idea:
Low + Slow = Suspense
High + Loud = Terror
You can create suspense by playing slow, quiet and low (or as low as you can on a uke) and build the tension by getting faster and louder. The most iconic use of this is the Jaws theme (which, again, uses chromatic notes)
When the time comes to release that suspense get as high, loud and dissonant as possible. Just like the shower scene in Psycho.
This example combines those two ideas:
Almost all common chords contain a perfect fifth note (e.g. a C chord contains the root note C and a perfect fifth G). Moving the fifth note up one fret you get a sharpened fifth (in a C chord you’d move the G up to G#). Because it’s so unusual an unexpected it has a very unnerving feel.
Similar to the sharpened fifth but this time you’re moving the fifth note down one fret (in a C chord you’d move the G down to F#).
This is known as the devil’s interval. It was considered so evil it was banned in churches.
The most famous use of the devil’s interval is during the octaves the very start of Purple Haze. Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter goes one step further and uses a flattened fifth and a sharpened fifth together (bar 21 of that tab). Perhaps those nutty evangelicals were right about Harry Potter being satanic after all.
This example is in C minor. It shifts octaves up the fretboard and includes flattened and sharpened fifth notes:
I had a go at using some of these techniques to come up with my own spooky ukulele tune and this is the result:
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