Spooky Science: The Sounds of Halloween
Do you enjoy watching scary movies at Halloween, or going to haunted houses? However you may want to have a thrilling experience this time of year, spooky sounds and music will likely play an important part. Part of what makes a haunted house or a mysterious movie perfectly eerie is the soundtrack that goes along with it – all the noises orchestrated to raise the hair on your arms, make you shiver, and leave you with little doubt that there are things unknown lurking about. In this science activity, you’ll investigate what goes into the composition of a perfect creepy soundtrack.
This activity is not appropriate for use as a science fair project. Good science fair projects have a stronger focus on controlling variables, taking accurate measurements, and analyzing data. To find a science fair project that is just right for you, browse our library of over 1,200 Science Fair Project Ideas or use the Topic Selection Wizard to get a personalized project recommendation.
Music is a big part of a movie, or theatrical, experience. Music adds layers of richness to the visual experience of a movie, and it enhances the storytelling by increasing emotions or tension in a scene. Scary things feel scarier with the right music. For example, by intensifying emotions, the music makes it so that you don’t just jump when that hairy spider comes around the corner; you scream!
There are several different aspects of music that can make it feel eerie or convey a different emotion to us. The musical instruments involved can play a key role. For example, percussion instruments (such as drums or cymbals) make a very different sound than string instruments (such as violins or cellos) or horns (such as trumpets). The pitch of the melody – whether it is high-pitched (like the songs of birds) or low-pitched and deep sounding – and if it is generally increasing or decreasing also affects how we feel about the music. The music’s key (such as if it is minor or major), tempo (or speed of the music) and volume are other musical components that can each convey different messages to the listener.
Extra: Repeat this activity but this time use several different movies (and at least five scenes from each movie) to investigate whether certain musical aspects typically accompany specific types of scenes, such as action, happy or sad scenes. Do action scenes usually have the same type of tempo? What about happy and sad scenes – how does the music change with the different types of scenes?
Extra: Get some volunteers and play short segments of music from different types of movie scenes for the volunteers (without letting them see the actual movie scene). Ask the volunteers what type of scene they think the music accompanies. How accurate are the volunteers? Is there overlap between types of scenes? For example, did some of your volunteers think music from a happy scene belonged in an action scene, or that music from a sad scene belonged to a scary scene?
Observations and Results
Was the eerie or scary music typically played in a minor key, with a relatively high-pitch melody? Did it build up tension by going from being quiet and slow to becoming louder and fast?
There is a lot of variation in what makes up “eerie” or “scary” music, but there are some common themes in movie soundtracks and classical music. The music is typically played in a minor key. For music to sound eerie or spooky, it might also be relatively quiet and slow, which can build up unsettling tension in the listener. Then, at a scary or intense moment, the music may become much louder, faster and increase in pitch, possibly with a rising scale. Higher-pitched melodies and musical instruments, such as strings and children singing (without using distinct words), are often used for these scary scenes, but other instruments, such as horns and pianos, are sometimes employed too.
More to Explore
Teisha Rowland, PhD, Science Buddies
Science Buddies |
Emotion, musical instruments, tempo
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