Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/how to make a music stab


I often hear sharp musical stabs in action movies which sound like short violin chords or some sort of horns. Can you please watch a small clip in the video below(at the 1 minute mark)and identify what instrument is used, and is it a chord? I want to reproduce this sound in my midi sequencer. How can write/compose this type of sound. Is there a name for this technique? If a combination of instruments are used can you name them?


Hi Vadim,

Thanks very much for getting in touch. This effect you describe has been used a lot in orchestral music from the late 19th century to the present day. Stravinsky used it quite a lot in works like "The Fire Bird" and "The Rites of Spring". I have the score of the latter in front of me and he gets the effect by using the entire orchestra (except the upper strings which are doing a tremolo effect at that point) playing a short heavily accented chord (1 note per part). He marks it "sf" - short for sforzando.

I have checked the video you mentioned but unfortunately the audio quality is not really good enough to figure out exactly what instrumentation has been used. However, we can make a reasonable guess. An orchestral "stab" is usually created by using as many instruments as possible on a widely-voiced chord, writing it heavily accented and of course loudly. The actual chord could be major or minor and would invariably have some degree of dissonance such as a major seventh added. The effect is often referred to as an "orchestral stab" but you could call it a "tutti sforzando" but only fellow musicians would probably understand.

It seems (at the 1-minute mark you mention) that the horns and low brass are playing the stepwise melody so they are obviously not used to create the orchestral "stab". In this instance, the arranger has probably used the strings, woodwind and/or percussion to create the sound, writing them fairly high in pitch so that the sound cuts through the lower brass. It sounds like a minor chord with some dissonant notes added for effect but the audio really isn't clear enough.

So for writing this effect, you need to use as many instruments as possible spread over a wide range of notes. By all means add dissonant notes to help the dramatic effect.

I hope this helps a bit. If you think I can explain further, please let me know!

Best wishes


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Dr Colin


I can answer questions from students of "classical" composing, arranging, notation problems and music theory, writing for instruments and voice and writing music for education. I can answer questions about orchestration but I do not cover questions about pop or rock music, pop song writing or electronic music.

I taught for many years in UK up to "A" level theory and composition. I have spent many years in music education, initially (like everyone else) as a teacher. Then I moved on to advisory work (teaching teachers!) and also lectured, giving many workshops for teachers in developing music education skills and techniques. For a time I worked as a teacher-lecturer at London University's Institute of Education and eventually worked full-time as a Music Education Adviser to schools in part of London, offering advice on music education and curriculum development.


I started composing music at the age 14 (it was mostly rubbish, since you asked) and now have a large number of compositions to credit as well as many publications, especially for instrumental music and choral music. I have also written several acclaimed works for large orchestra and choir. My work has been published particularly in the UK (under different names)(notably by Boosey & Hawkes, Novello, and Schott) but also in the USA and the Netherlands.

My music for elementary players (several publications) has been performed and broadcast worldwide. I am now retired from my previous job as Music Education Adviser. These days I spend most of my time composing and arranging. I am currently working on instrumental arrangements of world national anthems for my National Anthems website and also completing a suite of very easy piano solos and duets for elementary players. For many years I have used the music program "Finale" for all my music writing activities.

International Society for Music Education; Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

"The Times" Educational Supplement; "Hi-Fi News and Record Review". For several years, I used to write for many of the state music education periodicals in the US and I also wrote several influential articles on instrumental music teaching for "Music Teacher" magazine in the UK. (UK).

PhD(Hons); MA(Hons); FLCM (compositon) ARCM, LMusTCL,(music diplomas)

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