Music theory is an important tool for composers when scoring for movies and TV. Knowing and properly utilizing music theory when writing can really help strike emotion in audiences and create memorable moments. In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at some iconic scores for movies and TV shows like Star Wars and The Simpsons and looking at a piece of theory that connects them all. If you’re interested in learning more about music theory, you can with Sound Collective’s “Music Theory for Producers” course. You’ll learn the key elements of music theory like the difference between key signatures, different scales, the foundations of harmonies, how to build melodies, and much more. 

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Aside from captivating visuals, often the music accompanying a scene in a movie or TV show is what gives the audiences emotions that extra kick to build up and spill over when watching. A lot of work goes into making a soundtrack for a movie: licensing songs, producing and recording, as well as composing powerful, fitting, and rememberable scores. If you take a look at many iconic theme songs from popular TV shows and movies through a musical lens, you’ll notice a very interesting common theme. In music theory there are musical scales called modes. Modes are similar to regular scales in the sense that they are sequences of notes with distinct relative distances between the notes. However, modes are permutations of regular scales. A regular scale as 7 notes in it, meaning that there are seven possible modes that can branch off from the scale. There are several types of modes including Dorian, Ionian, and Aeolian all which follow a specific ascending and descending sequence of notes. For example the Dorian mode follows the patter, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half, whole in ascending order from the root note. An easy way to look at modes is to see that scales and their modes contain the same notes, modes just use different root notes.

When it comes to music for movies and TV, the Lydian mode is a permutation of a scale that can commonly be found throughout many iconic theme songs and scores. Lydian mode is defined by a note ascension pattern of whole, whole, whole, half, whole, whole, and half. A Lydian mode raises the fourth note of a major scale by a half step. Lydian mode is popular for its unique tone and the message it musically conveys to listeners. The mode is best known for its heroic and hopeful feel but with a drop of uncertainty and anxiety to create a mythical sounding pieces. This makes Lydian a great mode to write a dynamic hero or series theme song in.

Yoda’s Theme – Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

You can hear the Lydian mode at work when “Yoda’s Theme” plays in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. “Yoda’s Theme”, written by John Williams, is a hopeful sounding theme for the alien character written in C Lydian. You can tell by the melody’s raised fourth to F# instead of F.

The main melody of Yoda’s theme is written in C Lydian but then switches to C Major. You can tell this by looking at sheet music of the piece and you’ll notice the F# in the melody eventually switches to an F natural. As you can hear, the lydian mode creates a very exciting and mythical feeling that matches a character like Yoda very well.

Back To The Future Theme Song

The theme song to everyone’s favorite time travel movie has an extremely recognizable motif written in Lydian that appears all throughout the composition by Alan Silvestri. You can first hear the motif 30 seconds into the piece and then repeated a few bars later. The motif is written in A Lydian but can also be heard in F Lydian as well later on. There are many recognizable motifs that are riddled throughout this theme, but this motif is one of its most recognizable.

Jurassic Park Theme Song

Composed by John Williams yet again, the Jurassic Park theme is another example of an iconic theme written in Lydian mode. Written in C Major, this theme features an F# as its fourth degree, just like in Yoda’s Theme. This again creates a fantastical sounding energy that goes great with the idea of running around with reanimated dinosaurs.

At 5:32 mark of “Welcome To Jurassic Park”, you can hear the part of composition that is written in Lydian.

The Simpsons Theme Song

Another incredibly famous theme song that uses lydian is the intro track for The Simpsons. The Simpsons is the longest running American animated series with over 700 episodes spanning over 32 seasons. The series debuted in 1989 and has only gotten more popular since. The intro to this iconic American series, though written in Lydian, is technically written in Lydian Dominate. The theme is often confused with traditional Lydian because of its main melody’s raised fourth. However, the scales seventh is lowered making it a dominate scale.

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