Composing Video Game Soundtracks: Tips for Beginners

Creating video game music requires both creativity and technicality. If you want to embark on this journey, you will find some useful tips that you can follow below. In this brief but useful guide, we will explore the crutial role of music within games.

music for games

To be a great composer requires study and dedication, but also culture about video game music, other than music itself. A video game composer who also actually play video games has some degree of advantage.

Now it’s time to talk about specific role that music can have in video games. There are in fact diegetic and non-diegetic sounds, tracks composed for a boss fight, a specific place/level and more..

The Significance of Playing Video Games

To truly grasp the importance of music in this medium, immersing yourself in video games (especially the ones renowned for their soundtrack) is not just a suggestion but a must to develop a robust knowledge that prepares you toward becoming a contributor to the industry of video games music.

As you explore the lands of games like “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time“, “Final Fantasy 7” or “Halo 3” you’re not just a player; if you listen carefully you’ll cover an active role in the musical narrative.

Each piece of music composed for these games will make you deeply understand what the authors wanted to express, and of course will heighten the overall gaming experience.

Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Music

Understanding the distinction between these two types of music is fundamental. In the critically acclaimed game “Red Dead Redemption 2”, for example, diegetic music comes into play as players makes certain encounters. When a NPC plays the piano at a saloon, the music is part of the in-game reality and that makes it diegetic.

On the other hand, the non-diegetic music, composed by Woody Jackson, enhances the emotional impact of key moments, but also keeps the exploration always a pleasure to the ears.

In other words, music is diegetic when characters in the game can hear it, while it is non – diegetic if only the player can hear it. Recognizing how these types of music interact provides very strong insights on how the music can shape the narrative of a video game.

Boss Fight Music

Boss fight music has the crucial role of evoking powerful emotion in the player during such intense encounters and battle. Consider the iconic “One-Winged Angel” from “Final Fantasy VII” composed by Nobuo Uematsu.

It is a track that dynamically shifts through different phases, mirroring the battle’s events. The powerful melodies and dynamic rhythms not only enhance the urgency and tension but also contribute to the overall epic essence of the encounter.

Level Music

Level music plays the role of shaping the overall gaming experience. Take the “Super Mario Bros” series as a brilliant example, where each level has its distinct music that complements the visuals.

The catchy and upbeat melodies not only guide players through the level but also contribute to the game’s iconic charm.

Creating recurring motifs, as seen in these classic games, establishes cohesion and makes players associate the music with specific elements of the gameplay.

Place Music

Creating music for specific locations within a game is a beautiful art that immerses players in a world that is so worthy to be explored. In “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” the music adapts to different regions, enhancing the sense of difference place to place.

The serene tunes in the forests, the bustling sounds of cities, and the mysterious melodies in dungeons all contribute to creating a rich and immersive gaming environment.

Character's Music

Character-centric music becomes a powerful storytelling tool, capturing the essence of individuals and their personalities. Consider the very different themes  in the “Kingdom Hearts” series where each major character has a distinct musical theme.

Sora’s theme, for instance, reflects his cheerful and bravery nature, while Roxas’s theme reflects his sadness in being separated from his beloved friends.

Creating music for a character also gives the composer the opportunity to make characters speak more through music itself, as if their theme could add something to say that cannot be spoken, in a way that only music can do.

Instrument Selection Based on Art Direction

The art direction of a game significantly influences instrument selection. In the pixel art world of a game such “Undertale”, Toby Fox utilizes 8-bit music to create a nostalgic and harmonious experience, while perfectly aligning with the game’s aesthetic.

In the visually stunning “God of War” (2018), the use of orchestral instruments enhances the grandeur of the game’s epic setting, providing a cinematic experience for the player.

Also, real instrument or an orchestra can be way more expressive than a chiptune synth, so that the performance of true actors in the game can be better represented in music.

Simplicity is Key

For composers who just started their journey into the world of video game music, the mantra of simplicity is not just a suggestion but a guiding principle.

As you begin to work, it’s better to start with smaller and simpler projects. Much like a character of a game leveling up gradually, creating less complex compositions allows you to refine your skills and build a solid foundation.

Begin with short loops or ambient tracks for specific game elements before taking on more expansive and intricate compositions.

This step-by-step approach ensures a smoother learning curve, instilling confidence and proficiency in handling more complex projects in the future.


As you can see, creating video game music is a complex art that requires a deep understanding of its different roles in diverse contexts. Composing music to suit boss fights, levels, places, characters and even specific moments, significantly contributes to player immersion.

Simplicity and thoughtful evaluations emerge as precious allies, allowing music to enhance the gaming experience without becoming a distraction. Setting the right balance between creativity and practicality is key to craft impactful and memorable video game music.

By playing video games with a great soundtrack aspiring composers gain valuable insights into the dynamic world of game music composition, enriching their creative journey.

If you are just starting to compose music for videogames there are a lot of free plug-ins out there to be used. These plug-ins are just perfect to practice at zero cost, so be sure to read this article about 5 free plug-ins to start making video games music

And also, do not forget the proper usage of diegetic and non diegetic music!