The Chilling Symphony: Creating Scary Music


Music has the power to evoke a wide range of emotions, from joy and sadness to excitement and fear. One of the most intriguing and spine-tingling aspects of music is its ability to send shivers down our spines and make our hearts race. Scary music has a unique ability to tap into our deepest fears and transport us to a world of suspense. Let’s explore the world of scary music and delve into how certain note combinations are masterfully crafted to create a bone-chilling sound.

Music often relies on dissonant note combinations to create an unsettling and ominous atmosphere. Dissonance is the clash between two or more notes which makes listeners feel uneasy or on edge. The use of dissonance is a fundamental technique that composers employ to send shivers down the spines of their audiences.

Frightened Family Sitting On Sofa At Home Watching Horror Movie On Tv With PopcornOne of the most famous examples of dissonance is the tritone. The tritone is a distance between two notes known for its unsettling and diabolical sound such as the piano’s white key notes of F to B (known as the augmented 4th). Composers such as Richard Wagner and Igor Stravinsky used the tritone to great effect in their compositions, infusing their music with a sense of dread and foreboding.

Another essential element is the use of minor keys which evoke feelings of sadness, melancholy, or fear. The use of minor chords and dissonant intervals can create a haunting and chilling sound that lingers in the listener’s mind.

One of the most iconic examples is the theme from the film “Psycho” composed by Bernard Herrmann. The shrill and piercing strings, combined with the use of minor chords, create an intense sense of anxiety and dread, making it one of the most recognizable and spine-tingling pieces of music in cinematic history.

Dynamics and timbre play a crucial role in crafting scary music. Dynamics refer to the variations in volume and intensity within a piece of music, while timbre relates to the quality or color of sound. Composers use these elements to build tension and suspense gradually.  A sudden crescendo (increasing volume) or a startling fortissimo (a sudden and very loud sound) can jolt/startle the listener. Alternatively, composers employ a technique known as “col legno”, where the strings of a stringed instrument are struck with the wooden part of the bow, creating a harsh and eerie timbre adding an unsettling dimension to the music.  Other examples are a guitarist sliding their finger up and down a string, or a vocalist gradually singing one note in and out of tune.

One of the most underestimated aspects of unsettling music is the strategic use of silence referred to in theory as “the rest”.  Music teachers will often remind their students to remember to observe all the rests (or silence). Just as loud, dissonant notes can send chills down our spines, moments of silence can be equally powerful. Silence is like a pause in a horror film, allowing the audience’s imagination to run wild with images and scenarios.  Next time you are watching a movie, notice how the moments of silence in the music match and embellish the action.

Scary music is a mesmerizing and chilling realm of artistic expression. Young students just love to learn songs that contain the mysterious adventuresome elements of scary music. Composers, through the careful selection of note combinations, minor keys, dynamics, timbre, and the artful use of silence, can create music that taps into our deepest fears and unsettles our senses. Whether it’s the haunting tritone, the mournful minor key, silence, or the increase of volume, these elements work together to craft a symphony of fear that continues to captivate audiences around the world. So, when you find yourself listening to scary music, remember that it’s not just the notes themselves but the artful combination of musical elements creating that spine-tingling sensation.

Studio 237 Music Lessons is in Santa Rosa Beach. Our teachers are ready to teach guitar, piano, drums, voice, ukulele and more. Call 850.231.3199 to schedule a visit or lessons. Visit