Film Scoring/Why music in motion pictures

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Wikiversity School of Music:
Mad Max's Course in Film Scoring for Motion Pictures
Lesson #01: Creating the sound of "Fear"
Pages of this Lesson:
Lesson Summary: Creating moods with individual notes
Select One:

Notation's Protégé (free demo version)
Page 1c: Getting started with Protégé
Page 2b: Creating the sound of fear with Protégé - 6 points

More Musical Sounds
Page 3: Creating additional moods for motion pictures with individual notes - 6 points
Why is there music in motion pictures?

Introduction -- Top Secret

Here are three secrets. Pay attention! This is the best information you will ever get about motion pictures.

The three secrets of filmmaking

1. The audio, not the picture, is more important
In motion pictures, 90% of what you see on the screen is sound. The picture that you get in your mind does not come from the picture or even the words of the actors. Instead, sound creates an image which completes the picture.
Also, 100% of what you see off screen comes from sound. The picture only shows a small amount of the surroundings so the only way to show all the surroundings is with sound.
2. Mood come from one thing.
Almost all of the mood that you feel from watching a motion picture comes from the music, not from the picture nor even the words of the actors.
3. The source of mood
There are four sources of music in a motion picture:
  • The melody line of the actor's voice
  • The narrative music
  • The background music
  • The musical sound effects
These different types of music will be explained shortly.

The Goal of this Course → "Creating the Mood"

One Major Goal
The goal of this course is to teach non-musicians how to create film scores for motion pictures.
Film scoring is extremely easy… once you know that the major purpose of the film score is to create the correct mood for a movie.
Therefore, don't try to make good music. Just try to create the correct moods in the scene.
Ever Changing Mood
Creating music for motion pictures is very challenging because the mood changes very rapidly. Every sentence of the dialog, every raising of an eyebrow often requires a new mood.
What To Do?
To create a film score, all you have to do is figure out what mood you need and they create that mood any way you can!!! There are not rules.
Who is the boss?
The movie's director is usually the boss. The director knows what moods she is trying to get the audience to feel. The director must explain her vision of the motion picture to you, line by line of the script. (This is called a spotting session.)
Musical Sound Effects
If you are not a musician, you can still create film scores. All you have to do is create musical sound effects that create the proper mood. 5-year-old kids know how to watch a motion picture and pound on a piano keyboard to create the proper mood for a scene. Think like a 5-year-old kid.
Midi (Beg, borrow, or steal)
And, of course, a wonderful alternative to making musical sound effects is to "borrow" musical cords and musical melodies from MIDI files. If you have lots of computer skills and love to "cut and paste", you can be a film composer by butchering MIDI files.
The First Step
Later in this lesson, you are asked to create the mood of "Fear". Can you create a musical sound effect for fear?
Or to put this another way, "Can you be like a 5-year-old kids pounding on a piano keyboard (or in this case, a computer keyboard with GarageBand and Jam Pack:Symphony Orchestra) to create FEAR in the hearts and minds of the audience?"
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Note to professional musicians

In this course, students are taught very specific rules. Students must follow these rules exactly so that no one notices that they are not musicians. Therefore musicians will find these rules very confusing.

Required Readings

Mad Max's Information Theory for Motion Pictures gives you a hint of why motion pictures are so powerful.


Additional helpful readings include:

WikiBooks' Movie Making Manual - Film Scoring Theory

Wikibooks' Movie Making Manual - How to edit a Dramatic Scene

Wikiversity Film School

This film scoring course is required by participants of the Wikiversity's Course on Basic Filmmaking.

Learning materials

One of the easiest programs to use is GarageBand.

Here is a Wikiversity overview of GarageBand and Wikipedia's description of GarageBand.

The Melody Line
of the human speaking voice

Melody in the dialog
Dialog already has a melody. If you do not believe me, just read a script in a monotone voice to see the huge difference that the melody of the actor brings to the scene.
Stage Acting
In stage acting, actors are trained to speak with a three octave range or more. That means in a sentence or paragraph, the actor's voice will range a full three octaves. 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 (see "Angles with Dirty Faces") speak with a very strong melody line. Therefore, in the movie "Angles with Dirty Faces", there is no need for narrative music since the melody line of the actor's voice provides the necessary mood.
Modern actors (more realistic actors)
Modern actors do not have a strong melody line in their speaking voice. They are much more monotone. With modern actors, you need more narrative music to create the mood for the scene.
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The Next Page

The next page explains the most important concept of music -- music which helps you tell the story.

Contact Your Instructor