What is it that makes a song epic? You know, that grand, exciting feeling. Is it pitch? Dynamics? Instrumentation? Maybe it’s all of the above, but let’s break it down a bit further. 

The word ”epic“ originally referred to a type of long-form story or poetry, broken down into smaller sub-stories that often span generations of characters and events (like the structure of the Bible or other religious texts). These books were often thousands of pages in length, and involved many writers. Famous epics include The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, and Beowulf. 

Epic sounding music conveys a grand sense of adventure, story and mystery. One way this can be achieved is through the instruments it’s played by. 

Would O Fortuna be quite so impactful if played on an orchestra of xylophones? Or how about as a recorder solo? Not quite so dramatic, if we’re honest. Yes, it still retains some feeling, but it lacks the cataclysmic power that comes from large numbers of people singing together in unison.

This comparison demonstrates the impact of instrumentation and dynamics. A solo recorder won’t be able to create the same epic cacophony as a room full of people singing at the top of their lungs, accompanied by a full scale orchestra. 

Music theory also plays a role in the emotional register of a song, with the minor or major tonality of the piece creating a positive or negative atmosphere, but theory doesn’t strictly define the mood. The context of the instruments and performances of the musicians goes a long way to achieving that epic feeling.