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8.2 Music for Film and TV

Effective Film and TV Music

What are the ingredients that make effective film and TV music? Try and list at least three elements - think about mood, and important musical choices to do with instruments, tempo (speed), dynamics (volume level). Also, try and think of some examples that support your point(s).

John Williams

John Williams is one of the most famous Hollywood film composers of all time. He has written the music for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, the original Harry Potter theme (Philosopher's Stone), the original Superman movies, ET, and many, many other scores. Enjoy listening to three examples below, and try and think what makes them such amazing film scores. They are totally contrasting from each other.

Film and TV Music Technical Terms

There are a few important basic and more advanced technical terms associated with film and TV music:

Theme tune - pretty self-explanatory, this one...

Underscore - basically, this refers to background music.

Hook - short, catchy musical idea, which is repeated over and over.

Diegetic music - this means music you can hear in the soundtrack that is being performed on-screen. Think of a music, such as Les Miserables as an example of this.

Hit point - a specific change of shot in the film which is matched by a specific change in the music to highlight it - cartoons are full of these (see below).

Thinking Task: Can you think of good examples of each of the techniques above?

Here are two contrasting videos, discussing the use of music in film.

The first four minutes of this video is really brilliant, and its much less useful after that.

Dario Marianelli, film composer for Pride and Prejudice, Atonement (both starring Keira Knightly) and many other films, discusses how he goes about writing his film scores.


Animation has always contained amazing music, from early cartoons through Disney classics, to more modern types of animation such as Wallace and Gromit. Here's a short clip of Scott Bradley's soundtrack to a Tom and Jerry classic - the music makes it!

Just watch the effort an orchestra has to go into to create the soundtrack though - the music is really complex to play, and the sound effects are created in a most unusual way!

Think about what makes this music so effective - you need to pinch some great ideas, because you are going to have a go at writing music for an animated sequence yourself.

Wallace and Gromit Composition

You are going write a short musical sequence for a Wallace and Gromit clip. Think about all the techniques you've listened to and watched in the previous lessons and pinch them - this is good composing, and not cheating!

Starting Out

  1. Start by watching all four clips in Sibelius or Cubase, depending on which software you have been directed towards.
  2. Choose one clip, and save your file.
  3. Start by thinking about your instrumental choices - these will be key to your piece's success.
  4. Choose from the table below the level at which you are going to work at:
  5. Level Instrumental
    Composition Elements
    5 2 Melodic hook, basic accompaniment, a few hit points or sound effects. Basic attempts to match the music to the clip.
    6 3 Melodic hook, basic accompaniment, several hit points or sound effects. Attempt to alter the music to fit with the clip, as the character of the clip changes.
    7+ 4+ Melodic hook, which is developed as the clip develops, accompaniment which also alters throughout the clip, and many detailed hit points to match the clip

Working in Detail

  1. Compose a short hook - something that suits the mood of the clip, in terms of rhythm and pitch, and on an instrument that fits. Repeat this as appropriate - does it need developing? Think about techniques used in the previous topic to achieve this effect.
  2. Build an accompaniment, which suits the hook and the clip, across the different instruments in your file.
  3. As the piece develops, how does your music need to change. Are there sudden changes needed, or is it more gradual?
  4. Think about adding any specific hit points or sound effects to highlight certain moments.
  5. Add any dynamic markings as necessary, and other details in your score.

Assessment: Your piece will be assessed using the KS 3 Composition Mark Scheme. Your teacher will let you know how successfully you have managed the brief and different elements of music, and you will be given some specific ideas about how to improve your composition for next time. Your feedback will be emailed to your school email address.

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