Let's Transcribe and Arrange: MOTHER Intro

Category: Music
By: Sam Matucheski

I’ve got a fun idea for some #content, a series going through transcribing and arranging music in the vain of a text let’s play or let’s code. It’ll be fun, I hope…

Let’s inaugurate this series with the opening music from the 1989 Famicom game MOTHER (now officially referred to as Earthbound Beginnings in America). I’m not actually sure if this piece actually has an official title (this can be very common with video game music). I’ve seen it called “Introduction”or “Mother Earth”, I’m simply calling it “Title Screen” a very common term to name game music and since, well it plays at the title screen.

A couple quick notes about the NES/Famicom sound chip. It has 5 channels consisting of 2 square waves (sometimes more correctly referred to as pulse waves), a triangle wave, a noise channel,and a DPCM sample channel. This piece uses the first 4 channels but I’ve chosen to omit the noise channel as it’s just a percussive hit on beat 4 for the entire duration of the piece.

Like a cooking show, here’s one I've prepared before! (Apparently embedded PDFs won't work on some mobile browsers so use this link instead.)

Let’s dive right in!

Probably the most noticeable part of the piece is the ostinato part in the triangle channel. {% asset_img "mother_intro_ostinato.png" "Ostinato" %} It spans 3 octaves and starts out in the treble register which is kind of unusual for the triangle wave in a lot of music for the NES/Famicom. It’s most common role being the bass. Looking at this ostinato along with the eighth to quarter note motif in square 1 we can pretty firmly conclude the piece is in G major but the F natural does take some interest. It makes the ostinato a fully chromatic walkdown and leaves some wonder about how flat 7 is going to be used in the piece. The typically unusual sound of the high register triangle wave with this chromatic walkdown with the motif in the square being reminiscent of something played on perhaps bells or a glockenspiel gives the piece a mysterious air of wonder.

Square 2 comes in helps outline the intended chord progression before switching to melody in the next phrase. The progression ends up being G, D/F#, F, Em which is I, V6, bVII, vi in G major.

Now let’s turn this collection of electronic beeps and boops into something for the piano. For the arrangement, I’m going to be taking some heavy influence (read, ripping off) from a video by a piano player know as Professor Sakamoto. He has an excellent medley of MOTHER music. The intro/title screen music is surprise, right at the beginning of the video.

Here's what I've come up with.

The first two phrases are easy and can be played on the piano just as is (although you do need to use the pedal for the second phrase, but I'm sure an actual pianist could figure that out). I also think they are fine without any extra embleshments, I like retaining the openness of the original 3 voices to set the mood of the piece. The next phrase I do want to embellish though is the third phrase. After all, we've kept in the same for this long, but we're playing the piano now. There are a lot of notes we can play at once.

Here's the original phrase. Phrase 3

One of the things we want to maintain when when embelleshing is to maintain the voicing in the melody. When adding extra notes to fill out the intended chords we don't want to put anything above the melody or we're going to end up hiding it. This means we want the notes from square 2 to be the highest (for this arrangment I'm just going to omit square 1's part from this phrase).

Phrase 3 with embellishments

You can see what I'm talking about now. The first note in the melody is a B and the implied chord is obviously a G major triad so to embellish it we can play a very quick arpeggio of a third inversion G major triad so we end on that B. (This appargio style embellishment was totally taken from Prof. Sakamoto's cover by the way, same thing with the triplets in the final measures. They were too cool not to add.) We do the same with the other notes in the melodies, find which inversion has the melody note on the top.

If you're an actual pianist and you think I'm bad at writing for the piano send me an email and tell me, please!