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
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 You are here!
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!

Loud vs. soft

Soft musical sounds

In this lesson, you learn that some musical instruments will produce a different sound when played softly.
Listen to this!
As an example, listen to Loud and soft - an OGG file from Tiago Louis Zontag in Brazil. He has a Digital Piano Yamaha. First he plays the note loud (high velocity) and then he pays the note softly. (He normalized both notes so they have the same volume.)
Notice how the soft sound is different from the full velocity sound. This difference is very important when you try to make soft music. Just turning down the volume on the audio file is not the same.
What will happen to your music?

A sad but true story - "The sound mixer guy"

At the end of the movie making process, there is a sadistic guy who is called the Sound Mixer guy.
He is your enemy! Beware!
Sound mixing
When the movie is edited and your film score is finished, the sound mixer guy goes into a movie theater and listens to the motion picture and mixes the 100 tracks of audio down to just 5 tracks or less.
As he mixes the audio, he also adjusts the volume of your music tracks.
The director and the producer are also in the room. But it is the sound mixer guy who is in charge.
"Turn that volume down"
When the director of the motion picture says, "Let's listen to the words of the actors here", a red flag goes off in the mind of the sound mixer guy. He instantly grabs the dials and he turns the volume of your beautiful music down drastically (while he wears an evil grin of pleasure.)
Similarly, when the director says, "Gee, I really like that sound effect", the sound mixer guy eagerly graps the volume dial for your music and turns it way down low.
All your beautiful music is just a few dull clinks in the background. No one will ever hear your wonderful music because the sound mixer guy turned down the volume.
The solution
Don't give him that opportunity. Start with very delicate music so no one will say, "turn that volume down!!!"

Music behind the dialog

Background music

Background music is music which plays quietly in the background while dialog or other sounds play much louder in the foreground.

Requirements for background music

Background music must be all of these:
1. Low volume.
The music must be very soft before you give it to the sound mixer guy.
Don't do this by turning the volume down just before you export your music, but rather by DESIGNING your music to be played very softly. Do this by using a very low velocity when you score for the background.
2. Use nothing that goes boom
No snare drums, high hat, or anything which can interfere with listening to the dialog. If it goes bang, bump. pluck, or thump, don't use it when people are talking. That includes Pizzicato violins, too.
3. Different pitch
The musical instruments must not be the same frequency as the actor's dialog.
4. Panned left and right
The dialog always comes from the center speaker. (For stereo, the dialog comes equally from both speakers. A long time ago, this was not true. But because of television, the audience prefers that the dialog comes from the middle of the screen.)
Therefore, you must pan your musical instruments of background music to either the left or right so the music will not step on the dialog.

The music between the dialog

Foreground music

Go for it!
Foreground music can be anything you want. (There is an exception. See below about "too many notes".)
As long as there is absolutely no dialog, your music can be as loud as you want.

Think about this!

Editing for conversations
You can only place foreground music between the sentences of the dialog. But during a conversation, the actors talk continuously. That leaves no room for you to place music between the sentences.
Therefore, if you want to add more music, the scene requires special editing to create more room for your music. In this lesson, you will see an excellent example of this.
New instructions as of March 7, 2008

1a. Record two notes - Real instruments

Option 1 -- Live musical instruments
  • Record a loud note -- If you have a real musical instrument which can be played softly such as a violin or flute, record one note very loud.
  • Record a soft note -- Next, record the same note but you play the note very softly.
  • Amplify the soft note -- Finally, make the soft note as loud as the loud note so the two sounds are easy to compare.

1b. Record two notes - Computer instruments

Option 2 -- Software Instruments
  • Record a loud note -- If you have a software musical instrument which can be played softly such as a violin or flute, record one note very loud. Some software instruments (such as in Jam Pack:Symphony Orchestra) have different sounds for soft notes and loud notes. Try recording one note (like a Guitar) at full velocity (127).
  • Record a soft note -- Next, record the same note but you play the note very softly.
  • Amplify the soft note -- Finally, make the soft note as loud as the loud note so the two sounds are easy to compare.

2. Then compare

Compare high velocity/low volume with low velocity
Compare the two notes. When played at the same volume, you should hear a difference.
Which do you prefer?

3. Send me the files

Once you are finished, send me the files. Click here to send me a message that you are done. My email address is r_elliott at
Try to stay in control

Music, Dialog, Sound Effects

There are three kinds of sounds in a motion picture;

1- Dialog, 2- Sound Effects (including ambiance, Foley and actual sound effects) 3- Music.

In a typical motion picture or television drama, you will always have sound effects or dialog when your music is playing (except for opening credit, montages, and closing credits. Then you can go wild.)
Therefore, most of the time, you must learn to create BACKGROUND music, not foreground music.

Don't believe the film's producer

Bad advise from the producer
The producer of the movie will tell you to create your music at full volume. The producer will assure you that "the sound mixer guy will make minor adjustments to the sound level." He will tell you, "You don't have to worry about this."
Stand your ground
The most important element in a motion picture is your music. Yet, it will be the most abused.
Producers, directors, and film editors know nothing about music. If there is a way for them to mess it up, they will. Don't assume that a producer or a director knows what is best for your music.
Velocity is the key

How to make background music

In the future, software instruments will get better and better. Eventually, each velocity will have its own sound.
Today, with better virtual software instruments, lower velocity can have a very different sound. This sound is much more expressive and organic than simply turning down the volume.
Always get in the habit of using lower velocity rather than lower volume.

To an exercises in film scoring using real scenes

The next page

Now it is time to watch a truely great movie -- George Lucas In Love.

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".