The music in a film is known as the film score. Each piece of music within the score is known as a cue. Film musicFilm music can be divided into two categories - music contained within the action, and background music.
Music contained within the action is usually referred to as diegetic music. It is included in the story, eg music heard on a radio. Most film music is non-diegetic.
Background music is often referred to as underscoring. It adds to themood of the scene, reinforcing dramatic developments and aspects of character.
Film music serves to:
establish atmosphere, time and place
move the action forward
accompany scene changes
add to the dramatic impact
provide continuity across edits
When the music is precisely synchronised with events on screen this is known asMickey-Mousing, eg someone slipping on a banana skin could use a descending scale followed by a cymbal crash. Mickey-Mousing is often found in comedy films.
In a film score, the orchestration (or choice of instruments) andinstrumentation (how the instruments are used) can be very important. Instrumental colour can suggest images eg bagpipes evoking Scotland or muted brass suggesting something sinister.
As well as instrumental colours, other musical elements can help to create a mood. Horror films often use atonal music. Atonal music is not related to a tonic note and therefore has no sense of key. Musical scores for comedy films, such as the Carry On movies, often use unexpected twists and turns in the melody and rapid changes of musical style. Cowboy movies might suggest the pounding of horses' hooves with rhythmic ostinati or the tough macho cowboys with accented syncopated chords.
Composition of film music
Film music must be understood immediately, so there is no time to develop long themes. It rarely uses conventional compositional forms such as the sonata.
Film music is composed to accompany the action on screen and often uses:
quick and abrupt changes of tempo, harmony and melody
rapid shifts from one musical idea to the next
Film music composers often use leitmotifs to help build a sense of continuity. Aleitmotif is a recurring musical idea (a melody, chord sequence, rhythm or a combination of these) which is associated with a particular idea, character or place.
Leitmotifs are manipulated to match the action and mood of a scene.
They could be altered by:
changing the rhythm or pitch
changing the instrumentation or accompaniment
adding new material
developing fragments of the idea
Leitmotifs can be found in the film scores of many film music composers including Bernard Herrmann (Psycho), Jerry Goldsmith (Planet of the Apes) and Danny Elfman (Batman). Probably the best known leitmotif in film is John Williams' shark leitmotif in Jaws. The two notes F and F sharp, played on the low register of the cello signify something threatening and getting closer and closer.