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In video games, the use of leitmotifs is embedded within the very nature of the soundtrack. It's almost as if a game can't be a game without using leitmotifs. And they do it so seamlessly, so elegantly! When I try to change a certain motif to introduce it later, I face a challenge. It becomes something different. The only times I succeed in it is when I imagine the piece in my head. But that's inefficient since I don't always have the capacity to imagine a track. It just doesn't work that way. So I was wondering if there are some methods to play around with motifs without losing their recognisability? (An example of that would be changing a melody from sad to happy but making it known that it is the sad melody but now happy... I don't know how to explain, hopefully you understand me)

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The key is to identify the core character of your leitmotif. Find that abstract representation of it and you will be able to generate countless variations from it while still keeping the character recognizable. By the way this is a technique also used in the technical innovation theory TRIZ ;).

Defining characteristics of your leitmotif could be one or several of the following (not an exhaustive list):

  • jumpiness (lots of leaps or only small interval steps)
  • contour (moving upward, downward, V-shaped, A-shaped, …)
  • rhythm
  • instrument (some leitmotifs are always played by the same instrument)

Try to find your defining characteristics and then build a few instances that vary other (non-characteristic) aspects. E.g. to make it sad, use a minor scale instead of major or use a duller instrument. Taking the rhythm out of a happy motif can also make it more lethargic or sad. Turn an upwards moving, happy motif around and let it move down. The possibilities are endless, but you can look for classic motif development techniques for ideas (e.g. mirroring or playing backwards, augmentation/diminuation, transposing etc.).

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