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  • Chris Anderson

Music Revision - Stage & Screen - Music For Film

The use of music in film has a similar impact as it does for theatre. In this blog I explore some of the different elements of film music.

Types of Film Music

  • Film Score: This is the original instrumental music composed specifically for a film. It includes background music that accompanies various scenes, dialogue, and action. Film scores are often performed by orchestras or ensembles and can vary in style and genre to suit the film's tone and theme.

  • Leitmotif: A leitmotif is a recurring musical theme associated with a specific character, object, or concept in a film. It helps the audience connect with and identify these elements throughout the story. Composer John Williams is known for using leitmotifs in many of his film scores, such as the iconic themes for Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in "Star Wars."

  • Source Music: Also known as diegetic music, source music is music that comes from within the world of the film. It's music that the characters can hear, such as a song playing on a radio, a band performing at a party, or a character playing an instrument. Source music adds realism and context to scenes.

  • Songs: Songs are vocal compositions that are integrated into the film. They can be used to convey emotions, provide exposition, or serve as a thematic element. Often, songs are used during opening or closing credits or in scenes where characters sing.

Functions of Film Music

  • Mood and Atmosphere: Film music sets the mood and atmosphere of a scene or an entire film. Whether it's a tense chase sequence, a romantic moment, or a lighthearted comedy, the music helps shape the emotional context.

  • Narrative Support: Music can emphasise plot points, enhance tension, and guide the audience's emotional responses. For example, a sudden change in music can signal a plot twist or create a feeling of suspense.

  • Character Development: Musical themes associated with specific characters provide insight into their personalities and arcs. The evolution of these themes can mirror the characters' growth or changes.

  • Cultural Context: Music can provide cultural context and authenticity, helping to transport the audience to different time periods or regions.

  • Transitions: Music smooths transitions between scenes, helping to maintain continuity and flow. It can also bridge time gaps or changes in location.

  • Foreshadowing: Composers can use music to foreshadow events or themes, subtly preparing the audience for what's to come.

  • Subtext: Film music can convey subtext and emotions that may not be explicitly expressed through dialogue or visuals. This adds layers of depth to the storytelling.

  • Unity: A well-composed film score unifies the visual and auditory aspects of a film, creating a cohesive and immersive experience.

Collaboration and Process

Composing music for films involves collaboration between the composer, director, and sometimes even the film's editor. The composer typically watches the film, discusses the director's vision, and begins to create themes and motifs that align with the story. The director guides the composer, providing feedback and input to ensure the music enhances the intended emotions and narrative.


Film scoring can involve a range of instruments, from orchestral ensembles to electronic sounds. The composer uses instrumentation, melodies, harmonies, dynamics, and tempo to craft the desired emotional impact.


Legacy and Impact

Film music often becomes inseparable from the films themselves, creating iconic moments that are instantly recognisable. Composers like John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Ennio Morricone, and others have left a profound impact on the art of film scoring, shaping the way audiences experience movies and their emotions.


Next month I’ll write about ten of the giants of film music!

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