How Ramin Djawadi Creates the Music of Game of Thrones

Music is Coming Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience

Photo: HBO

Game of Thrones composer extradordinaire Ramin Djawadi visited with NPR today, just ahead of the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience tour, to discuss his widely celebrated work on the HBO show. The concerts, which kick off next week in Minnesota, feature the GoT music in immersive live performances, and will be conducted by Djawadi himself.

He spoke with NPR‘s David Greene about his process for creating music for the show, including the well-known “no flutes!” maxim which the composer laughs about in the interview. Djawadi doesn’t necessarily need to have watched a scene to be composing for it, as he explains.

“Many times it’s just based on a conversation with the director or the producer. Or I read the script, or watch it — if I have some rough cut in front of me, I’ll watch it once. But then I just let it run in the background and start writing. Once you have that [composition], then you can apply it to picture, because the length of the pieces and what they have to do dramatically changes from piece to piece. Then you really have to go in and fine-tune the melodies and emotions to what is needed in the scene.”

As he tells NPR, Djawadi discussed his choices with showrunners David Benioff and D.B Weiss early on, including certain instruments.

“There was a no-flute rule!” Djawadi says. “Just because, stylistically, it was something that we felt was used in the genre before, and we wanted our score to be different. … So the big instrument that we actually came up with was the cello. It has a big range, it can play really low and high, and it has a dark sound. Game Of Thrones is obviously a dark show, so the cello became the featured instrument.”

The composer’s musical inspirations can strike at any moment. Djawadi says that he “used to just scribble things on a piece of paper whenever an idea came to mind. Now with cellphones, that’s gotten a lot easier. I can just take it out and sing into my phone.” According to him he might hum the new melody, or “sometimes I whistle. The main title theme for Game Of Thrones, for example, I was humming in my car after I saw the visuals. As I was driving back to the studio, I had the idea to the theme.”

So, the world-famous, inescapably memorable theme to Game of Thrones happened that quickly, with the composer humming in his car. Some things just work out that well!

He has more to say, so listen to the complete interview with Ramin Djawadi here!

15 responses

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    1. Great interview! I love anecdotes like this about the (surreally) normal origins of iconic stories or tunes. Reminds me of J.K. Rowling’s story of how she first wrote the names of the Hogwarts Founders on the back of an airsick bag. Ramin’s certainly created some wonderful, memorable stuff!

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    2. The main titles for both Game of Thrones and Westworld seem partly inspired by the work of two minimalist composers using repetitive structures.
      But especially “Light of the Seven” sounds like a tribute to both Michael Nyman and Philip Glass (his “Koyaanisqatsi” OST in particular).

      Not to mention Hans Zimmer on “Interstellar”, as he probably had those same two sources of inspiration.

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    3. I know I’m gonna get ripped for this, but please dear god Miguel Sapochnik, don’t you ever tell this genius what instrument to use again! The resultant piece was good on its own, but a terrible fit for GoT that totally took me out of that scene. I even put the TV on pause right during the finale so I could come on here to rant and rave about it, and was not treated very nicely!

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    4. LatrineDiggerBrian:
      I know I’m gonna get ripped for this, but please dear god Miguel Sapochnik, don’t you ever tell this genius what instrument to use again! The resultant piece was good on its own, but a terrible fit for GoT that totally took me out of that scene. I even put the TV on pause right during the finale so I could come on here to rant and rave about it, and was not treated very nicely!

      You mean that piano piece that was meant to be unsettling? I guess you just can’t handle it.. xD

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    5. Hey. Does someone from Houston want to come to the concert on March 17?
      I have an extra ticket, who was supposed to come with me is gonna travel outside the country and I would better go with other GoT real fan than sell it to a random buyer

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    6. Ser Oromis Locke: You mean that piano piece that was meant to be unsettling? I guess you just can’t handle it.. xD

      I have to agree with LatrineDiggerBrian here. ‘Light of the Seven’ is a beautiful, powerful composition, but such a dominant piano sounds very anachronistic in a show set in an era long before pianos were invented. I too found it distracting and dislocating.

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    7. Firannion,

      I wholeheartedly agree. I was so distracted by it. I usually love all the music in GOT… but it just didn’t fit for me. I enjoy the piece of music on it’s own, but not for that scene… or maybe not in GOT at all.

      I love how each house has it’s own theme and how Ramin will meld those themes together based on what’s going on in the scene/the characters in the scene. My favorite example- when Jon hangs his killers- that little bit of the Targaryen theme peeking out from within the Stark theme right before he cuts the rope- oh my god- brilliant!

      I’m going to see his concert on Monday night in St. Paul, MN. I’m so excited!

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    8. Danielle Stark,

      Thanks for the note about the Targ theme in the hanging scene – I have been trying to find examples like that!

      I loved Light of the Seven and did not find it out of place, but I understand why some might. The one theme I really find off-putting is from Season One — the Kingsroad, I think? — because it sounds too phony-medieval-processional.

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    9. Boojam,

      We don’t know. There had been some vague reports that principal photography would continue until near the end of February, but as that date draws near, we’ve heard nothing about any kind of grand wrap party for the entire season. Nevertheless, it certainly seems like most of the main cast members are done – Sophie has confirmed that she’s finished, and Emilia is off filming the Han Solo movie, for instance.

      My best guess would be that if the production is still filming, they’re primarily getting pick-ups and supplemental shots at the studios in Belfast to use for composition in VFX shots at a later date. But unless something leaks from the studios, there’s no way to know for sure.

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