Skip to main content


Music, Film and Video Games

John Williams composer
John Williams, composer of the first three films and creator of Hedwig's Theme. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
More than simply cool music to listen to, there has been a rich musical history in film music and music for video games, which often rival the music heard at a classical concert. When I teach students how to write music for a visual medium, like film, I explain to them that part of the composer's job is to support the storyline of the film and to provide the emotional impetus that brings the audience into the film on an emotional level. Composers accomplish this is so many ways. 

There are certain "tricks of the trade" that will almost always bring the same emotional result. For example, a plaintive and sorrowful melody in the violin or piano will pull at anyone's heartstrings, while strong brass marches will evoke feelings of war, anger, and sometimes fear. In these cases, the film composer fulfills a secondary role to the music. In other words, it is less important to emote the composer's own private feelings and it is much more important to work with the director and evoke the feelings that the director wants. Sometimes this can be challenging if the director is not a musician or if the composer doesn't understand film lingo. Today with YouTube, it sometimes helps if the filmmaker shares favorite Youtube links to music he or she feels works with their movie. Then you will know what they are expecting. This is today's version of the "temp track". 

Film music shares many characteristics with both opera and Romantic Era music:
    •    Like Opera, film music is meant to accompany visual and dramatic elements
    •    Like Romantic Music, film music needs to elicit emotions from the listener
    •    Film music shares many similar harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic elements with Romantic Era works
    •    Like the operas by Wagner and the leitmotif, major characters in film music have their own "themes"

    •    Like opera music, film music may exist outside the realms of the movie theater and become a masterpiece in its own right

Animation and Film Music  

Some earlier cartoons, like the Silly Symphonies and the feature films Fantasia, Peter and the Wolf, and Fantasia 2000, were animated around the original classical compositions. The animators create art concepts around the music of the classical works. They would listen to the works, create storyboards, sketches, and then animate. With earlier works, the animated was done entirely by hand. Here you can see a concept drawing for Mussorgorsky's Night on Bald Mountain.


John Williams

John Williams ( is an interesting composer. Although he is best known for his incredible film scores, he also has body of classical compositions. I remember about 15 years ago, John Williams wanted to retire from film scoring. It was announced on television and was a pretty big deal. He wanted to dedicate his life to writing symphonies. However, the pressure to keep writing for films caught up with him (especially for films like the Star Wars Prequels), and he continued composing.

You can read a full bio on Williams' music at IDMB ( Williams' earlier works included the music for Gilligan's Island and Jaws, and (like any good film music intern) he had a part anonymously composing for about a dozen or so famous films, like the musical South Pacific, before making it on his own. Needless to say, it is his relationship wtih Steven Spielberg that has cemented his name in music history.


English: Ahmed Malek, famous algerian film mus...
English: Ahmed Malek, famous algerian film music composer, from 1960 to 1980 Français : Ahmed Malek, célèbe compositeur de musique de films algériens des années 60-70-80 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As a composer, or even as an avid music listener, there are certain musical cliche's that continually pop up in classical music that have come to denote certain nonmusical ideas. By recognizing these, a listener can sometimes figure out what the compositions refers to without knowing ahead of time:

    •    Minor keys often refer to unhappiness and sadness
    •    Overtly major keys, like C or F, are often considered "happy", and can be manipulated to bring joy to a work
    •    Simplistic melodies that are almost like a lullaby can signify innocence
    •    Rumbling in the timpani with clashing cymbals is often a thunderstorm
    •    An arpeggiating harp might signify heaven or angels
    •    Obvious cultural references (like an African djembe beat or a Celtic wooden flute melody) can indicate a specific geographic region
    •    Extremely fast tempos can indicate tension or running
    •    Clip clopping in the woodblock could mean horses galloping
    •    A trumpet fanfare often indicates royalty

These are just a few of the musical cliche's that you may find when listening to a work. While a seasoned professional composer tries to avoid overtly using these in their works, you will often find such musical ideas in film music. A film music score needs to support the film, as well as reach the greatest general audience. For this reason, many (but not all) film music scores rely heavily on musical ideas like those above.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Popular posts from this blog

Top 10 Mistakes When Writing for Percussion

Top 10 Mistakes When Writing for Percussionby Sabrina Young
10. Indicating the wrong mallets for an instrument.Brass mallets on vibes? Try a hammer on a violin!

9. Writing the glockenspiel part as heard.You shouldn't have to climb a ladder of leger lines to read a glock part. Keep it in the staff.

8. When in doubt, adding more suspended cymbal.This is a huge mistake made by arrangers. Yep, cymbals add automatic intensity to a piece, but so can a bass drum roll, a rousing hand drum part, exciting mallet licks, or a hundred other combinations. Well-written percussion parts stand out in the band and church repertoire.

7. Better means more complicated, right?This is my main mistake. A percussion part can be simple enough for a middle school, but it is the ability to use the different tone colors of the percussion palette properly that indicates a maturity in writing, not that impossible part for the timpanist that has them playing timpani, gong, crash cymbals, and triangle in the span of…

Music Industry Insider: 50 Ways to Make Money as a Musician

50 Ways to Make Money as a MusicianWant to have a musical career but not sure how to make money as a musician in today's market? Well, first you need to redefine your goals as a musician and realize that like any job, being a musician involves a lot of work, perseverance, and talent. And in today's Digital Age, you need to be able to combine your skills to help you make a living as a musician. You will probably need to select at least a dozen forms of income and micro-incomes in order to make a full time living as a musician or choose a primary steady gig and add on other projects (what most musicians have done for centuries). 

Each method of making money has a $, $$, $$$ or S for work that will make you a little pocket money ($), possibly significant money - hundreds to thousands ($$), at least part time or possible full time work ($$$), or is steady work (S). Notice that none of these options involve making millions of dollars so you can drive around in a diamond-crusted limo…

Top 5 Tips Submitting Your Indie Film to Film Festival in 2019

Top 5 Tips for Film Festival Submissions in 2019 You just finished your film! So now what? Sure, you can show your friends and family, even put it up on YouTube. But why don't you try getting it out to a much wider audience? Indie filmmakers and student filmmakers can have their movies shown around the globe at film festivals.

Film festivals run the gamut of red carpet affairs like Sundance and Cannes to more local events, online festivals, and university-led events. For example, in Buffalo, there are a number of incredible film festivals like the Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival (a local film fest that has a special love for all horror and science fiction), the NCCC Film and Animation (a great venue for students and local film networking), and other film festivals like the Buffalo International Film Festival and the 48 hour Film Festival. 

The 48 Hour Film Festival is a worldwide phenomenon where filmmakers get together and create a film in, you guessed it, 48 hours! Best of …