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I'm looking for a push in the right direction as to how to go about writing Super Mario type video game themes. What scales/modes work best, time signatures, etc...

Examples of where I'm trying to go:

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These types of questions are not really answerable, and are really all just versions of "how do I compose music", for which there are entire sections in your local library dedicated to that subject. This question is like asking "what color should I use to paint a picture of an apple". Use whatever color you want, if you want a purple apple, use purple, if you want a red apple, use red. There is no answer to these types of questions, you may compose a perfectly reasonable song that doesn't use a similar scale at all, and just because you use this same scale, it doesn't mean that it is going to –  Basso Ridiculoso Aug 10 '11 at 20:01
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The two examples aren't really stylistically related at all, outside of the fact that they're both composed for 8-bit NES audio hardware. I'm leaving this open since although I disagree somewhat with the content, you've stated it pretty well and I think a good answer can be found. Bear in mind, however, that you're operating under the assumption that musical style is based upon scales and time signatures. This is not the case! –  NReilingh Aug 11 '11 at 6:33
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3 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

The Super Mario theme song is characterized by mode mixture and syncopated sixteenth note rhythms alternating with eighth note triplets.

Each note duration is very short, and each voice has a different rhythm. When the voices overlap, you hear the combination of all of the rhythms into a more constant stream of impulses. Each impulse has a different combination of voices and pitch content, and that's what gives the music its bouncy feel.

The melody is in a pretty simple C major scale, but the harmonies borrow from the parallel minor in some cases. This is called mode mixture.

If you would like to compose music in this style, you should transcribe it exactly so you can deconstruct and see/hear for yourself what makes it tick.

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You are a hero among men. This is exactly the kind of answer I was looking for. Thank you! –  SeanBlake Aug 12 '11 at 19:10
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I'm going on a hunch on this answer but it sounds like a Spanish flaminco style scale. Don't know the technical term for the scale. Hope that helps

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Maybe minor scale –  DimebagFan Aug 10 '11 at 16:05
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This notion may be apocryphal, but it does fit with what I remember of the Super Mario Brothers themes from NES.

I have at least heard that notes sounded on the early NES games had no capacity for duration (nor, presumably, timbral variations). So, you end up with each note being the same length. That limitation would tend to lead to a more rhythmic, perhaps contrapuntal style. I don't know how pitches would have been specified, so it is quite possible that pitches had to stay within the Western system of twelve tones, and presumably composers would remain within major and minor keys by choice. Other than that, though, I don't know that there are any "restrictions" on what you can write that would be similar in style to a particular video game.

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