Making "dark" music

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    I am in a project for making music for mini cartoons and one of the cartoons is a dark, morbid show. Its about a man that is placed beneath a curse that transforms him into a monster and he ultimately goes insane.

    A sad and dark tale of his sorrows, horrors, and other unfortunate events that happens to him that leads him to his end. It’s a silent cartoon other than the music and I need some advice on how to play ‘dark’ sounding music to fit the show on my 34 string lever harp. What key should I tune it to to produce that dark tone? Maybe even play it in a ‘sad’ tone too.

    Gretchen Cover

    Alan, do you know anyone who plays organ or has a keyboard/synthesizer that can produce deep organ sounds? I would add some long organ chords to your music to make it sound “dark.” You can go to youtube and do a key word search “organ harp” to listen to clips. You say “show” so is this going to be a live performance? You could record dark background tracks and play along if you are doing this live.

    Otherwise, try music you know in a minor key, perhaps an octave lower than written. You could also set your levers to play some slow glisses. Have fun experimenting. You’ll come up with something that works. I hope you will post a clip when you are finished the project.


    Maybe also consider adding effects such as PDLT so the sound of the harp isn’t so bright. Experiment with glissandos. Glissandos in thirds or with some of the strings damped will sound darker. Plucking chords with one hand while holding the strings close to the soundbaord (“Xylophone”effect) produces a muted, darker tone.


    What about diminished 7th chords, they are pretty dark and effective……..
    So from all naturals: set C# and Bb, or F# and Eb, or G# and F-natural etc you might have to look some of these these up… and perhaps that’s more limited on the lever harp. Just play them as sevenths, you can improvise to your heart’s content….


    There’s a Canadian fellow on YouTube whose videos I’ve been following; his name is Josh Layne, and he’s a great musician, as well as being incredibly knowledgeable, and he explains things very well. One of his videos presented techniques for making “scary” sounds on the harp that you might find useful, things like rubbing the bass wires to make a whistling noise or pressing a pedal only partway to make a hair-raising rattle. Even buzzing a string against the back of your nail is a possibility for a good, creepy noise.

    For an instrument that can sound like heaven when played, the harp sure can make some amazingly horrible sounds sometimes. 🙂


    Retune the strings, no key at all, off-pitch, ghastly sounds like that…


    I will also have to agree with diminished 7ths and 9ths. I am particularly fond of them as arpeggios and with a few strings (or even all the strings if you feel like it) slightly out of tune. Creates a very unsettling sound. Seems to be a good go-to for what I would classify as “dark” and I personally find doing so to be quite satisfying, and even highly entertaining, for whatever reason. 🙂

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