Origin (or non-comedic use) of *dunh dunh DUNH*

I’m sure everybody knows this particular sound effect—when something dramatic is revealed, the music goes dunh dunh DUNH, rising on the final note, often accompanied with a zoom to closeup on a character’s shocked expression, like this (or variations thereof—this actually isn’t quite the sound I have in mind).

However, it’s mostly used for exaggerated comic effect, at least nowadays. So I was wondering, is there a clearly defined origin for this? Has it always been comedic, or was it used earnestly? Can somebody point to a non-comedic usage? Or to the origin of the music in the video?

I always associate it with the hokey science-fiction movies of the 1950s:

“Oh, my God! Look at the SIZE of that thing!” *** Dunh-dunh-DUNH!* :eek:

This, of course, would always be followed by a few bars of theramin music:

OooooooohWHOOOOOoooooooh! OooooooohWHOOOOOOOOoooooooh!

Dunh-dunh-DUNH! :eek:

I’m pretty sure they’re called Stingers, and they come from old time radio serials.

And then:

“Be careful! Don’t hit THE GIRL!” :eek:

Relevant TV Trope.

There is a particularly British version, in strings, you hear in 40s radio shows, like “The Black Museum” and the like. I wish I could link to an example… In one episode of “The Prisoner” (“The Girl Who Was Death”) it is used for semi-comedic effect.

Are you talking about this sound effect?

I always associated it with Ren and Stimpy.

I think it’s referred to in radio plays as “Dramatic Chords”.


A more recent British convention is the drumbeat leading into the signature tune at the end of every episode of EastEnders, usually following some dramatic cliffhanger or revelation, now known as a doof-doof:

“You’re not my mother!”
“Yes I am!”
Doof Doof…etc

We have a different use here in America:

Doof Doof
Beep Beep
“Bad girls
Talking about the sad girls”

Same sound effect here: http://www.dramabutton.com/. My family uses it from time to time:

"You thought you were done with your homework… but are you?"
"You just ate the last cookie… or did you?"
"We’ll probably just stay home for spring break… or will we?"

And because I never see it worked out, it’s octaves on Eb and C, then a Gbdim7. On piano, I tend to roll the last chord, to help simulate the “splat” sound the brass makes. I also sometimes throw in a G (making it Gbdim7b9) to try and simulate that off key note.

(And, yes, I know it’s technically an A-double-flat.)