I'm convinced that the theme music from the extraordinarily popular PBS series "Downton Abbey" has something to do with its success. First of all, it sets the scene for the viewer; we know just from the music that this is going to be a drama, and that the characters (or at least some of them) are going to be aristocratic. Then, it's so darn lush and intriguing that we're drawn in to the program even if we are not familiar with the story. I know this is true for me: I react like one of Pavlov's dogs whenever I hear it!
Have you ever heard of circular breathing? Very few musicians can pull this off, and those that do practice for years before finding success. Very simply, the musician plays by blowing out through his or her instrument, and at the same time breathes in through their nose! This is an effective way of creating tension in music because the listener expects to hear slight pauses where a musician breathes. Just like with language, music has phrases and sentences, and these are set apart by small pauses (commas and periods). I've enlisted everyone's favorite curly-haired soprano saxophonist to demonstrate this to you:
Musicians in bands and orchestras can work around having to learn this technique if more than one person is playing a given part. They will work out ahead of time which player will breathe where, and the other will continue to play. The result should be a seamless line of music without pauses which creates tension. Music is all about tension and release, after all.
|Richard Wagner, King of the Leitmotif|
From now on, when you watch a movie (or opera) listen for these techniques and let me know what you find!