Film scoring/Introduction

This course is for high school students and first year college students.

Interesting examples by FIREborn: Fear.ogg ---- Sad.ogg ---- Tired.ogg ---- Surprise.ogg ---- Joy.ogg ---- Fast like the wind.ogg.
This school is:
Narrative film production - Wikiversity Film School and School of Music - Wikiversity Film School
This course is:
Film scoring
The pages in the course is:
Introduction to film scoring You are here!
Create the sound of fear from a single note
Create other moods from a single note
Create the sound of joy using a delicate rhythm
Create other moods from delicate rhythms
Quiz: Music which tells a story
Create a mood with a melody
Create a story with a melody
Quiz: The Spy Story - Who is who?
DVD-Video: Scoring your first scene - The Promotion
Create four motifs - Mama, papa, baby, and Goldie
Create continuity with a single motif
Foreground / Background music - soft vs. loud
Quiz: Watch a short movie - George Lucas In Love
DVD-Video: What is a "Spotting Session"? - Only A Dream
DVD-Video: Write two musical cues for Home Wrecker
More musical theory
Butchering Midi - The starwars theme
DVD-Video: How would you score Green Tea Smoothie ?
DVD-Video: Write a film score for Blindman's Bluff
Write a film score for Seduced by the Dark Side!

Wikiversity Film School
The Courses in
Film Scoring
for Musicians

"What music does in film or commercials is to make up for the emotion that's lost on camera. My job is to create the mood and direct your feelings. If it's working beautifully, you don't even realize it's there." - Brian Banks, Fortune Magazine, April 30, 2007

The ideal student

This course is only for people who want to make musical sound effects.

The wrong student

If you enjoy writing songs, do not take this course.
If you ever attended a music school, do not take this course.
If you enjoy playing music, do not take this course.

Frequently changing moods

Movies have lots of edits. You will be amazed.

In a scripted television drama, there is one edit every three seconds. The longest edit is six seconds.

Motion pictures for the younger generation have one edit every 1.5 seconds.

Therefore, the MOOD changes every three seconds to six seconds.

And that means the mood of your music must change every three to six seconds.

Therefore, you only have time for musical sound effects, not real music.

Songs are useless

A song has only ONE (1) mood. Therefore, songs are useless for a scene with dialog.

You only use songs for montages, titles, credits, love scenes and car chases. Never for scenes with dialog -- which is the only scenes in this course.

Use Midi, not DAW

For this course, you need a MIDI setup which will sync to digital video (QuickTime or WAV) such as GarageBand.

If you play lots of real musical instruments, you can use a DAW such as GarageBand. But this is only for advanced users. Most people should use MIDI with software instruments.

And you should have the sounds of a symphony orchestra (starting with a nice violin trill).

GarageBand with Jam Pack:Symphony Orchestra is more than enough. You don't need anything more!!!!


Your instructor recommends Apple's GarageBand with Jam Pack Symphony Orchestra for beginners. It is reasonably simple yet surprisingly powerful... once you find the hidden features.


There is no programs for Linux that will do film scoring with software instruments in sync with QuickTime, WAV, or OGG movies.

With Ubuntu Linux, you can try Rosegarden to make the midi files. Then use TiMidity++ (a command line application) to change midis to oggs, and Audacity for some final effects (mostly amplifying and adjusting the envelope). Not easy!

Update (2021): MuseScore offers the possibility to export directly your score in many audio file formats.

It's not about you!

This course is not about you or your music. This is not a place to show how great you are.

This course explains what the director/producer of the motion picture needs.

You learn to create the music that they want, not the music you want.

About this course

Which kind of film scoring?
This course teaches you how to score a conversation from a narrative motion picture or narrative television drama.
This course teaches how to use musical sound effects to create moods for dramatic scenes where people are talking. That is all!
Creating the mood for a conversation is the most challenging job of a film composer. Everything else is much easier. That is why the course focuses on just this one kind of film scoring - conversations.
Film scoring made easy
Film scoring is easy. Anyone can do it.
You just need someone to tell you the theory and then show you how to apply it to real scenes from television dramas.

The secret of film scoring

All you have to do is learn the secret of film scoring:
  1. The only purpose of a film score is to create the moods for a scene.
  2. Single notes are best. (Usually, a single note is all that will fit.)
  3. Delicate rhythms also work well. (No drums or other percussion, including piano)
  4. Melodies can do lots of special things.

Preparing the viewer emotionally

Explaining the story with music
This course deals with dramatic TV shows ( cop, lawyer, medical shows). This is a medium where sounds are used to cue the viewer emotionally. That is your job!
The best way to do this is to keep your music short and simple. That is why this course is emphasizes the basics. You simply add moods to a scene.
I cannot stress this enough. This course is not about making music. Instead, this course is about creating moods.
In this course, you create most of your film score by creating musical sound effects, not music. That is all that is needed.
Don't get carried away with your own brilliance. Please keep it simple!

The disks are on loan

This disks for this course come from the Star Movie Shop.
I can loan them to you if you promise to return each disk in one month. (None of the disks is copy protected.)
Otherwise, you must purchase the disks from them.
You begin at the beginning.

Start with the basics

I can teach you film scoring. But you must start with the basics.
For the moment, forget about John Williams and Danny Elfman.
Instead, think Schroeder (of the "Peanuts" cartoons). Just a 5-year-old kid pounding on a toy piano to create musical sound effects.
These musical sound effects create moods. That is your goal. To create moods for your audience.
Requirement for this course
To take this course, you must become a 5-year-old kid who likes to create wonderful moods just by pounding on your Midi keyboard.

You begin here - The theory

The theory of film scoring

Mood, mood, mood
The only purpose of music in a motion picture is to explain the moods of the scene.
The composer tells the audience what they should be feeling when they watch the movie. That's it!
Therefore, you have to learn to create moods with your music.
Most important
It is not the music which is important but only the mood which it creates.
Most of the time, your music must be kept short and simple. Musicians have very little time and space in a motion picture. Most musicians/composers find this very frustrating. Get over it.
It is not about you
Film scoring is not about your music. Film scoring is only about creating the moods that the director needs in his movie. If you can accept this, you can be a great film composer.
So keep it simple. Just create moods.

Required Software

Symphony orchestra
For this course, you should be able to create realistic sound of a symphony orchestra on your computer. Lots of programs do this. Even GarageBand with Jam Pack:Symphony Orchestra or the free Boldt packages can do this very well.
Expertise in MIDI
Before you begin these lessons, you must have already mastered your music creation software. You must be able to do midi sequencing with software instruments inside your computer.

Note: We do not use acoustic loops in this class.
A quick overview of this course

How to score a scene

What are the moods?
Go through each scene, sentence by sentence, and decide what the audience should feel.
If the audience does not automatically feel that way, you must create that mood with your music.
Dialog is more important than music
Do not put strong music on top of dialog. The exception is dialog that you do not want the audience to listen to carefully or you want the audience to strain to listen to.
What part of the story is not clear?
If any part of the story is not clear, you must explain the story to the audience using music that tells a story.
If something is happening off screen and the sound effects do not tell the whole story, you must tell the story with a melody.
Create continuity
When possible, create continuity throughout the motion picture using your music (with a motif).
Use music to transition from one scene or one action to another.

For instructions on how to set up GarageBand to do film scoring, go to How to score with GarageBand.
To your first exercise

The next page

On the next page, you create moods using simple notes with the natural sound of the musical instrument. Exercise: The sound of fear →

Contact your instructor

Your instructor for this course is Robert Elliott. You can send me a quick email by clicking here.

NOTE: To submit assignments
To submit assignments, attach your completed assignments to an email and send it to me at "r_elliott".