What musical devices are used in the following video? The effects are pretty interesting. I would like to better understand how these effects are done on Piano?

  • The most interesting "effect" I see is the "violin playing itself," probably accomplished by someone fingering the strings at the end of the fingerboard and holding the bow by its tip, both of which are off-camera. I cringed when they dropped it. Or are you asking about the "piano playing itself"? (Maybe either a disklavier or a bit of visual cut-and-paste?) Otherwise, the only "musical device" is changing major keys to minor. Apr 10, 2023 at 17:18

5 Answers 5


In addition to shifting the songs to minor, this video makes use a few other common "scary" music tropes:

  • Slow tempo: nearly all of the pieces are played quite slowly compared to how they would normally be performed.
  • High tessitura: The high range of string instruments, piano included, and others are a frequent presence in horror-movie music. "Psycho" and "Halloween" come to mind immediately. High note tend to connote stress, anxiety, and a "creepy" feeling.
  • Low tessitura: Low ranges of instruments often present a more ominous, foreboding feeling. This is also used for a number of the pieces in the video. CBS Radio Mystery Theater opening is my personal classic example. Listen for the cellos at about 0:20.
  • Repetitive motifs: Note that especially in the left-hand parts, the accompaniments are usually highly repetitive, sometimes the literal notes, and sometimes the general pattern. Obsessive repetition is often present in horror-movie music.
  • "Creaking" type sounds: The badly played violin in the video is a parody of another common element of horror. The above clip from "Mystery Theater" includes a creaking door. "Unnatural" sounds are a staple.
  • Light touch / soft dynamic: Horror music often has a quiet, distant feel, suggesting something out of sight or emotionally hollow. Many of these sounds would be played louder and with much more emotional presence.

... and then, of course, there's the piano playing by itself. Spooky!


I'm getting: Minor key, sustain pedal, high octave, gentle dynamics... the fact that the piano is open... and yeah, also rather mindful work with the harmonies played by left hand, broken chords where you wouldn't normally expect them and such.

When he goes to lower positions and stronger dynamics, the feeling changes from eerie to dramatic.

Obvious violinist just out of the frame is obvious, and was the bow somewhat... dry, or did the player just not get a strong grip? In any case, the violin sounding a little off added to the spookiness.


It is actually very simple, the major key melodies are converted to minor by flattening the 3rd and 6th degrees of the scale. The 7th degree is used in the same way as the harmonic minor scale is used in a minor key, as a leading tone, but can also be used for descending lines as well to create the (spooky?) augmented 2nd interval between ^6 and ^7.


Adding a pedal point is useful. For a short special effect, an unresolved dissonant pedal may work.

Hermann used high minor seconds in the strings for "Psycho."


Tempo is pulsed and less symmetric....giving an unpredictable 'wary' sensation.

A short pitch bend can descend off the phrase to give a 'sour' feel.

Adding note pairings that are considered dissonant increases the sense of 'tension'.

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