How Many Notes Are There In The JAWS Theme?

ScoreKeeper sets it straights and implores you…Don’t forget the D’s!

People who are passionate, knowledgeable and spend an exorbitant amount of time focused on a particular subject can often develop adverse responses to widely-held beliefs that are, in fact, erroneous. Everybody's an expert in something, right? I’m sure you’ve come across a nugget of information that folks outside your field accept as common knowledge even though you know it’s not wholly accurate. These fallacies are usually trivial with no real consequence; however, to those immersed in the subject over long periods of time, it can turn into an irritating pet peeve.

Well, I’ve got one and I aim to correct it!

How often have you heard John Williams’ Jaws (1975) theme referred to as having “two-notes”? How many times have you actually referred to the Jaws theme as having “two-notes”? Exhibit A)…Check out the t-shirt below. I love this shirt. I own it myself and wear it proudly, but you’ll see it only shows the two notes, E-F.

Ask anybody, scour the internet, talk amongst your film friends, and you’ll find an epidemic of “two-note” utterances in reference to the iconic music from Jaws. While I understand the contextual references are sound, it is in fact incorrect.

There are actually three notes to the iconic Jaws theme!

Let’s take a look at the original manuscript. The selections below were extracted from the original conductor’s score scribed by Herbert Spencer (John Williams' principal orchestrator at the time). You can clearly see the initial motivic element in the basses starting on a single note (E) which slowly builds an oscillation between the fundamental pitch and a secondary note (F) a half-step away. As the oscillation condenses, it bounces back-and-forth between these two notes until measure 12 when a new note (D) is introduced into the fabric of the oscillation (circled in red).

Why is this important? Why can’t we just keep referring to it as a “two-note” theme? For starters, this third and often neglected note is massively important to the character and success of the overall theme itself. The initial oscillation between E and F perfectly illustrates a swimming great white shark on the prowl; however, the D’s are aurally representative of the actual bite of the shark itself. Listen to it again…

The oscillation clearly conjures up an image of a swimming shark but it’s the accented D’s in the ostinato that recall the quick attacking jabs of the shark’s jaws as he nips and bites at things in the ocean. Without the D’s, it’s simply a swimming shark. Potentially terrifying, but still fairly innocuous. Jaws isn’t about a swimming shark, it’s about a biting shark, and with the D’s in the theme, this is indeed a great white shark that bites!

It’s trivial and of no consequence; however, it’s tremendously important and has been a pet peeve of mine for many years. I confess, I too am guilty. When lecturing or writing about the Jaws music I often resort to using the “two-note” thematic reference to avoid the raised eyebrows and puzzled looks I would expect to receive if I pretentiously interjected the elusive third note into my discussion.

No more. From here on out, I solemnly swear that I will forever refer to John William’s iconic theme as having three notes. Let’s make this world a better place and start a grassroots campaign to make this common knowledge in the years to come. Spread the word. Love this score and its awesome three-note theme with every fiber of passion you can muster, but please, I implore you, don’t forget the D’s!

This article is part of B.M.D. Guide To: SHARKS!!!