It’s Halloween and that means it’s time for minor chords. Aeolian and Melodic. Hungarian and Harmonic. Chromatic like a carnival. October is the month of minor pop odes like “Thriller”, a mostly Dorian groove, and the reverse picardy choruses of the mostly Mixolydian “Ghostbusters”. Speaking of which, all the classic Halloween themes come from movies. The quintessential Halloween pop song has yet to be written…or has it?
Beyond the single minor mode, there’s overly minory chord progressions, modulating from one minor key to the next. This technique for evoking the spooky is probably as old as the Oriental motif.
John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) has a classic modulating minor theme composed by Carpenter himself on the electric piano. The upper registers of the ivory-keyed piano are literally bone-chilling, especially when sparsely played atop long shots of POV slasher kills. The 5/4 time signature recalls another famous theme song—the same odd-time rhythm as Mission Impossible. Drag over the noteheads below.
The theme starts on an F# minor; the melody quavers on a perfect fifth and up to the minor sixth. In the third bar, the melody transposes down a semitone, while the bass goes up to an A#, creating an A# minor (add 9) chord. The entire progression is repeated down a semitone and then again down another semitone. Minor madness.
The i—iii chord progression of Halloween can be found in a few other songs. The Snow Goose by Camel begins with the same minor chord progression as Halloween—Gm to Bm, but more plaintive than spooky. Also, check out The Running Man Main Theme—Em to G#m with a cool melodic minor modulation.
I would be remiss in closing if I didn’t mention Devil Doll, the Slav Goth Rock band from the ’90s, that showcased many minor modulations to evoke the spooky, such as in “Mister Doctor”. Whether you’re Slavic, a Goth kid, or just in the Halloween spirit, Devil Doll is the perfect soundtrack for the munchy-crunchy leaf-perving Autumn spring.
Can you think of more minor seasonal themes? Put ‘em in the comments below!