Compose your own Doctor Who theme - with Delia Derbyshire and Ten Pieces

  • Find out how to make your own Doctor Who theme.
  • Learn to compose music using found sounds and music software.
  • Discover more about Delia Derbyshire and how the first Doctor Who theme was written.

The Doctor Who theme

  • The Doctor Who theme tune is a very famous piece of TV music.
  • It was written in the 1960s but new versions have been made over the years.
  • Ron Grainer wrote the theme, but Delia Derbyshire recorded and arranged the first version at the BBC Radiophonic workshop.

Listen to the theme - can you hear the futuristic sci-fi sounds?

Listen to the Doctor Who theme arranged by Delia Derbyshire.

Found sounds

Derbyshire’s composition was created by recording found sounds. A found sound is a sound you can record from the world around you – it could be anything you like, from the noise of a car to a bird or a door.

Back in the 1960s, there was no music software available. To make the Doctor Who theme, Derbyshire recorded sounds onto physical tape – including a plucked piano string, wooden blocks and clanging metal.

She then cut up the tape, adjusted the tempo and spliced it together to create the eerie futuristic music.

Watch how Delia Derbyshire created the first Doctor Who theme tune using found sounds.

How the latest Doctor Who theme was made

In 2018, Segun Akinola wrote a new theme for the latest series.

He took the original music and used software to make new sounds from the old sounds. Segun says,

Music doesn’t have to be played by traditional instruments. Anything can be music. It just depends what you do to it.

Watch composer Segun Akinola explain how he made his own Doctor Who theme.

Compose a Doctor Who theme

Follow the steps below to have a go at making your own version of the Doctor Who theme using found sounds.

You will need a recording device (phone, computer or microphone) and music software.

The original theme is made up of:

  • a rhythmic bass line
  • a simple melody

Step 1: Record sounds

First, you’ll need to capture some sounds which you can then play with in the music software. Use your recording device to do this.

The Doctor Who theme uses longer notes for the melody, which could be a held ringing sound, like a spoon hitting a cup, the sound of a bird or a buzzing noise.

Listen to a recording of a drinking glass tapped with a teaspoon.
Listen to the sound of a plastic tub tapped with a spoon.
Listen to the sound of a washing machine.

Import and edit your sounds

  1. Copy your sounds onto your computer or phone and import them into the music software.
  2. If your software lets you, change the BPM and time signature.
  3. Set the BPM to 200. BPM stands for beats per minute and relates to how fast or slow a piece of music is – the higher the number, the faster the piece.
  4. Change the time signature to 12/8 time. The time signature says how many beats there are in a bar of music.
  5. The main part of the theme is the famous melody. Take one of your sounds and put it on an audio track in the project.
  6. Isolate one of your sounds by cropping it. Use that as the first note of the melody and start to recreate the theme.

Rhythm

Try to match the rhythm of the Doctor Who theme.

  • Copy and paste the cropped, isolated note to make 16 notes, as there are 16 notes in the theme tune.
  • Change the length of each note or the spaces between them so that the timing sounds similar too.

Pitch

Try and match the melody. Many pieces of music software have a transposing or pitch editing tool. This changes how high or low a note is.

  • Use this to change your individual cropped sounds higher or lower so that they sound like the Doctor Who theme.
  • Use the notation above as a guide.
  • The difference between the first two notes (B and C) is 13 semitones. A semitone is the smallest gap between two notes on a guitar or piano.
Listen to the Doctor Who theme recreated using the sound of glass and music software.

Effects

Next you can add effects to the track to give the found sounds a futuristic feel. Some effects you can try are:

  • Delay - repeats the notes.
  • Reverb – adds an echoing effect that makes it sound like it's in a large room or hall.
  • Chorus – makes it sound like lots of tracks are playing at the same time.
Listen to the Doctor Who theme made by tapping a glass, with added delay and reverb effects.

Make it your own

Now you’ve made your own version of the melody, make a bass and rhythm track to go with it. Some steps you can try are:

  • Use a different found sound to recreate the bass line.
  • Add a drum loop using music software.

Record your music

When you have finished, create a recording:

  • Export your track from the music software.
  • Record instruments playing your piece.
  • Make a video, putting your music to the film.

Where next?

Explore more KS3 Music activities from Bitesize and Ten Pieces.

Compose your own music for a film
Compose your own minimalist music
Teacher resources - discover Ten Pieces Trailblazers!