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Learning From Classic Films

Part 7:    Music  |  Ambient  |  Sound

I am a big fan of Star Wars. If you took a second to close your eyes and think about Star Wars, what comes to mind? What are you hearing? Laser blasters, lightsabers, possibly a dramatic score by John Williams? for the major films in pop culture, music plays a major role in developing the themes and tone of the production.

Ben Burtt makes laser blasters sound

For scores of a more subtle nature or even in commercial work, music still shapes how we perceive the visual imagery on screen. For example, imagine a scene where our main actor is running through a field. The brush is tall and they are running at a fast pace with no clear emotion on their face. In the background you hear a brooding horror soundtrack with shrill violins and low end rumbles. How are you feeling for our actor? Scared or concerned? Now imagine the same scene, our actor running through the field, but this time an inspiring action soundtrack emerges. Triumphant brass and orchestra take charge and sound just like your favorite super hero flick. What are you feeling now? Probably something different than our last example. Though the change of soundtrack for our scene was subtle, the interpretation of the scene changed dramatically. The same principle applies to all of film — whether it’s a toothpaste commercial or blockbuster hit. If you’re looking for great commercial music, stock music subscription or library sites may be a good bet. If you’re making the next Avengers movie, better hire a professional composer.

Here is my favorite video on how music impacts all types of filmmaking:

But what about removing music all-together? Now that we know that changing a soundtrack can change the scene, will removing it do the same? In short, the answer is yes. While there are plenty of wonderful silent films out there, most films need a score. Don’t believe me? Let’s bring this full circle and look at an iconic scene from Star Wars at the end of The Force Awakens where Rey climbs to the top of the island to meet Luke Skywalker for the first time.

I’m cherry-picking this scene because there is nearly no dialogue for the entire 3-minute scene and John Williams has his score do most of the talking. I’ve found two clips of this scene, one with and without music, and I think it will blow your mind. In particular, pay attention to how awkward and strange the last 30 seconds are compared to the version with the score. The scored version is powerful, literally showing how music creates a language and emotion of it’s own. 


No music

Music plays into emotions more than you may realize and when it comes to filmmaking it is one of those essential things that can really make or break a production. The next time you are looking for production music, take your time and think about how your viewer may interpret your scene based on the supporting music. Let's see how I used in wedding films! 

In this wedding film, I only used one song. This song has build structure, it means it has many feeling in one single song. With asian instruments, it wound be perfect match with the small China town location in this film, the bride is half Chinese, half Vietnamese. So when I show this film to the couple, they loved it very much!

I bought this song from Musicbed with some key words:

GENRES: Cinematic, Indie, World

MOODS: Uplifting

CHARACTERISTICS: Earthy, Enchanted, Gloomy, Orchestral, Wondrous

KEY F: major

Music theory is a practice musicians use to understand and communicate the language of music. Musical theory examines the fundamentals of music. It also provides a system to interpret musical compositions. For example, basic music theory defines the elements that form harmony, melody, and rhythm. It identifies compositional elements such as song form, tempo, notes, chords, key signatures, intervals, scales, and more. It also recognizes musical qualities such as pitch, tone, timbre, texture, dynamics, and others.

Music theory is a complex and extensive subject. There are several practices, disciplines, and concepts. Best to learn music fundamentals first before exploring advanced music theory. The building blocks that form musical compositions include:

- Harmony  is when multiple notes or voices play simultaneously to produce a new sound. The combined sounds in harmonies complement one another and sound pleasing. Chords and chord progressions are examples of harmony. A chord has three or more notes that play at the same time. The chords and chord progressions in a piece of music support or complement the melody. Combining vocal parts also creates harmony. The combined voices of a choir are a perfect example. The multiple voices that make up a choir blend to make a harmonious sound.

- Melody  is a succession of notes or voices arranged into a musical phrase. A song’s melody is often the most memorable and recognizable part. Melodies can be created with instruments or vocals. They have two or more notes in a sequence that sound musically pleasing. Most compositions consist of multiple melodies that repeat. The two primary elements of a melody are pitch and rhythm:

Pitch is the audio vibration produced by an instrument or voice. It’s how high or low a note will sound. Arranging these pitches in a series creates a melody.

Rhythm or duration is the length each pitch will sound. These durations are divided into beat divisions like whole notes, half notes, quarter notes,

- Rhythm  is an essential element of music with more than one meaning. For example:

Rhythm is a recurring movement of notes and rests (silences) in time. It’s the human perception of time.

Rhythm also describes a pattern of strong and weak notes or voices that repeat throughout a song. These patterns can be created with drums, percussion, instruments, and vocals.

The basic elements that comprise musical rhythm include:

Beat – A repeating pulse that underlies a musical pattern

Meter – A specific pattern of strong and weak pulses

Time Signature – The number of beats per measure

Tempo (BPM) – Indicates how fast or slow a piece of music plays

Strong and Weak Beats – Strong beats are the downbeats, and weak beats are the offbeats between the downbeats

Syncopation – Rhythms that accent or emphasize the offbeats

Accents – Refers to the intensity or emphases placed on notes Understanding rhythm will help you create great harmonies and melodies.

Learning basic music theory is essential for enhancing creativity and developing musical awareness. It’s a challenging but rewarding set of skills to learn. Knowing how music works will make the music production process easier and help you become an effective music producer. Understanding music makes your filming works become easier. Music is very important in wedding films. It not only plays emotions, it also creates outline of the film. I will write more about that in the last part of this series - Part 9: Editing

That's all for today! See you on part 8!

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