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Creating Music for Film

So, you've probably heard the phrase "film score" before. And maybe you have questions about what exactly it means. A lot of the time when I first say to someone, "I study film scoring," the first thought they have is something to the effect of rating films, like a film critic. While that's a great guess based on the words, that's not at all what it is!

Film scoring is the music composed for a film. Let's take the film Harry Potter, for example. What if you took out the music? The story would be a lot less magical. There is a need for another voice in storytelling that helps the audience know what characters are feeling, tensions that arise and help to push the film forward. Sometimes music even helps us to recognize a film, sort of like a brand. Hedwig's Theme, for example, is widely recognized, "branding" the Harry Potter music.

Why is music important for film?

It's important at the beginning of the film scoring process that the composer knows what the story is. This involves much more than just watching it, but really going in depth of what the characters are feeling and the direction of the story other than what is seen. If we take a scene from a film, at first glance, it may seem that what we see is everything going on. That is rarely the truth.

Hear me out.

Let's make up our own scenario. Say we have a scene where a young woman is gardening. She's wearing a yellow dress, humming something to herself, seeming to enjoy the time in her garden. If we add happy music to this scene, it helps the audience know that she is in fact happy, that everything is seemingly wonderful. What if we instead put in intense sort of haunting music? That gives a completely different feeling to the scene. It could perhaps hint to the audience that something sinister is about to happen. Maybe there's a character we don't see hiding in the bushes. If we put in sad music, it could speak to the fact that while the actress seems to be happy, she's suppressing some sad emotions inside of herself.

That is why music is so important to film. Along with telling us what emotions are going on when we can't see them, it can give meaning to an entire world, again like Harry Potter.

How do you create music for film?

After truly getting to know the depth of the story, the composer has to start actually composing music for it. Sometimes composers will have certain themes for characters, groups, settings, or scenarios that aid in the storytelling. For example, if we look at the film Star Wars, there is a theme for Darth Vader. Every time there's a scene change to the Millenium Falcon, we hear his theme. Whenever he shows up on screen, we hear his theme. Another character with their own personal music is Leia. Her theme shows up whenever we see the resistance, when they win a battle, or when we see her.

Many composers begin on the piano. They will improvise melodies, harmonies, rhythms, and sounds while watching the film. Then they take what they made on piano and write it out for many instruments, or orchestrate it. They also do what is called "sequencing", or putting the music into a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) where they have libraries of virtual instruments. This allows them to hear what the music would actually sound like with an orchestra.

Many film scores are often made using electronic music influences which is also done within a DAW.

How can I start?


From personal experience, I would suggest starting with learning an instrument, and the most useful for film scoring is piano. It will allow you to sketch out different ideas, improvise, and sequence music in DAWs.

While learning piano, try composing. Composing comes in all sorts of forms. You can literally play whatever you want and call it a piece of music! Try putting together different notes to make melodies. Try different rhythms and chords. Listen to other composers' music and intake all you can!

If you have specific questions, I am happy to help! Email me here.

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