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A Familiar Melody?

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

By: Paxton Wall

Have you ever been watching a movie and happened to hear a melody that appeared earlier in the movie? You might be dealing with a leitmotif. A leitmotif is a musical theme that appears multiple times throughout the score of a movie, television show, video game, or other form of media, and is often associated with a certain character, object, or place. The leitmotif is a tool that can be used to introduce characters and even expand on the narrative without clearly presenting it through dialogue or actions.

One of the most clear examples of leitmotif is presented in the movie Jaws. In this movie, the shark is represented in the score by a two-note theme that gradually builds suspense until the tension is suddenly broken by the attack of the large fish. The use of leitmotif clues in the audience that the shark will soon attack, while also keeping the audience on the edge of their seats while they await the inevitable.

In the video game Shovel Knight, the titular character is haunted by dreams of a lost friend named Shield Knight. Her theme is present in these dreams in a minor key. This leitmotif appears again in the song The Starlit Wilds which plays every time you complete a level. The motif is present here because Shovel Knight is closer to finishing his quest to save Shield Knight.

The usage of leitmotif can increase the complexity of a piece of media by connecting the story to the music, enhancing the viewing or playing experience for the audience. The next time that you are watching a movie, listen carefully for leitmotifs. You'll find yourself pleasantly surprised at the depth they can bring to a narrative.

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