What are some of the practical functions music can achieve in a narrative film (that is, any film that tells a story)?

In the video playlist above, Dr Vasco Hexel gives a lively overview of all the ways music can be used in a film, from setting the scene to creating characters. Videos include:

  • Overview
  • Setting the scene
  • Linking scenes
  • Emotion and meaning
  • Creating characters

This is an excellent starting point for any students looking at film music for the first time, or for anyone with an interest in film music. This talk was recorded live in 2016.

Explore more:

  • Star Wars: In video 4, Vasco talks about the ‘Imperial March’ from John Williams’ Star Wars scores, used to represent the character of Darth Vader. Listen to the March and find out how the musical elements of the theme evoke Darth Vader’s evil and powerful nature. You can also hear more about this piece from Dr Hexel as part of our film score case studies.
  • James Bond: In the same video, Vasco mentions the way the classic James Bond theme is used and has evolved over time, appearing in subtler ways in later films. Find out more about this in more detail.
  • The Leitmotif: Vasco mentions the term leitmotif – an important idea in film music. A leitmotif (German for “leading motif”) is a short musical idea that a composer links to a particular person, place, object or emotion. The theme from the ‘Imperial March’, for example, is Darth Vader’s leitmotif. A leitmotif quickly tells us about a character’s main traits, and can be transformed to reflect what is happening in the narrative – perhaps played in different keys or instrumentation. John Williams uses leitmotifs throughout his Star Wars scores, and also in other soundtracks, such as his Harry Potter scores (most famously ‘Hedwig’s Theme’). You can also hear leitmotifs throughout Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings trilogy: have a look at an in-depth breakdown of how they are used.


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