Film Scoring/Theory of Film Scoring

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This course in music and filmmaking is:
Film scoring introduction for filmmakers
This lesson is:
Introduction - The basic theory of film scoring
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The pages in this lesson are:
Summary: Basic theory of film scoring for filmmakers
Page 1: What are the different kinds of music?
Page 2: Film score example "George Lucas in Love"
Crystal Clear app kfm home.png Creating music for narrative motion picture
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Why is there music in motion pictures?

Here is why you need music in motion pictures:

  • The actor's words do not clearly explain the emotions of a scene.
Often what an actor says is the opposite of what the director wants the audience to feel.
  • Similarly, visual images do not tell the audience what to feel. Even horror movies have very beautiful visual images.
  • Therefore, the mood of a motion picture comes from the music.
  • Music gives the story more details and impact.
  • The music explains the emotions that the audience should feel.
  • Music can even narrate the story.


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Why use a symphony orchestra?

Something special for filmmakers
There is something special about a symphony orchestra.
Filmmakers do not need to be professional musicians. All filmmakers need do is create moods for a motion picture.
You don't need musical talent to do this! You just need a symphony orchestra.
What is so special about a symphony orchestra?
If you use the sounds of a symphony orchestra, people automatically think you are a genius.
The symphony orchestra inside your computer
Now, low budget filmmakers can have wonderful sounds of a symphony orchestra using software instruments inside your computer.
GarageBand makes this possible. You just add Apple's Jam Pack:Symphony Orchestra or download Ben Boldt's free instrument packages.
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Top secret

I will tell you three secrets. Pay attention!

This is the best information you will ever get about motion pictures.

The three secrets of filmmaking

1. Sound, not the picture, is more important
In motion pictures, 90% of what you see on the screen is sound. The visual image that you get in your mind does not come from the picture or even the words of the actors. Instead, most of the important details of the picture actually come from the sound.
Even more important, 100% of what you see off screen comes from sound. The audience only sees a very small portion of the movie set. All the rest is imagined from the sound.
2. Without music, the audience is confused.
All music creates a mood. This mood becomes part of the story. Therefore, filmmakers can use the music to guide the audience. Without music of some kind, the emotion of the scene is not clear.
3. Most movies need a narrator.
Often, the audience needs someone to explain the movie to them. I do not mean a voice-over narration. Instead, I mean music which narrates the story. I call this "narrative music" because it helps tell the story.
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Five kinds of music

The five kinds of music in a motion picture are:

  • 1. The melody line of the actor's voices.
This is the ever changing pitch of the actor's voice.
  • 2. Sound effects
Many sound effects have a pitch and a rhythm.




Music that you add:
  • 3. Background music
This is music which enhances all the moods in the scene. This is individual notes, rhythms, and melodies.
  • 4. Narrative music
This is music which actually tells a story.
  • 5. Songs
This is music which has a single mood. (Therefore, songs are good only for scenes which have a single mood.)


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The Melody Line
of the human speaking voice

Melody in the dialog
Dialog already has a melody. Most people do not realize this. This music comes from the pitch of the actor's voice.
If you do not believe me, just try reading a script in a monotone voice to see the huge difference that the melody of the actor brings to the scene.
Stage Acting
For stage acting, actors are trained to speak with a three octave range or more. This continually changing pitch of the actor's voice is the melody line of the human speaking voice.
Stage actors as film actors
Many stage actors such as James Cagney and Pat O'Brian speak with a very strong melody line (musical speaking voices). See their classic movie "Angels with Dirty Faces" to hear the melody of the actor's speaking voice.
When you have strong performances by trained actors, there is no need for music since the melody line of the actor's voice provides all of the necessary mood for each scene.
Modern actors are more realistic
Modern actors do not have a strong melody line in their speaking voice. They are much more monotone. With modern actors, you need more music to explain the movie to the audience.

Background Music

In this course, you will learn three special ways to create background music for motion pictures using programs like Apple's GarageBand.

Musical sounds come from three sources.
  • Individual notes and chords
  • Delicate rhythms
  • Simple melodies

Background music is called that because dialog can go over it. Foreground music (usually narrative music) cannot have dialog over it.

Sources of music for motion pictures

  • Organic sounds - Single notes as typified by the "sound of fear" which is the first lesson.
  • Rhythm - Delicate, repeating notes as typified by the "sound of joy" which is the second lesson.
  • Melody - For non-musicians, melody comes from midi files of classical music and Broadway musicals. For non-musicians, this is where all your skills of "cut & paste", simplify, and organize are put to the test.
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Note: Special editing for narrative music

  • Narrative music requires special film editing.

Because the music which narrates the story will drown out any dialog, the editor must add gaps between the dialog.

That is, you must cut between the sentences or ideas in a motion picture and pull them apart.


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Bottom line

Since the film's editor and the film's composer must work closely together, it is easier for the composer and the editor to be the same person.
That can be you... once you finish these lessons!
You can be both
You can learn to be both a film editor and a film composer.
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The next page

Next look at some of the theories of music in motion pictures.

Contact your instructor

Your instructor for this film scoring class is Robert Elliott.
You can email me by clicking here. Crystal Clear app xfmail.png




Shortcuts to the other music lessons for film scoring: The Introduction"Fear""Joy""Drama"The Workshop



Film Scoring Introduction Lessons for Filmmakers
Introduction: Basic theory of film scoring Crystal Clear action info.png
Lesson #1: Sound of Fear - Individual notes Crystal Clear app knotify.png
Lesson #2: Sound of Joy - Rhythm Crystal Clear app kcmdf.png
Lesson #3: Sound of Drama - Melody Nuvola apps kcmmidi.png
Lesson #4: Butchering MIDI files - MIDI Gartoon-Gnome-desktop-config.png
Lesson #5: Adjusting the film edit - dialog for music Gartoon-Gnome-desktop-config.png
Exercises: Film scoring exercises - real scenes Crystal128-tv.svg





A list of the lesson
in the course on film scoring
for non-musicians