The Importance of Music in Film

alex atkins bookshelf musicMost moviegoers consider cinema a visual medium; however, it is undoubtedly also an aural experience. Talk to any director and they will tell you that music is just as important as the look of a movie. In film study, the term “film aesthetic” refers to a movie’s visual and aural features that are used to create its non-narrative aspects — specifically, a film’s tone, style, mood, or look.

In a film, music serves several important functions: it can influence a viewer’s interpretation of a scene, evoke a specific emotion, foreshadow certain events, identify a specific character, or link together certain scenes or themes of a film. In some cases, a movie’s soundtrack becomes as iconic as the film — think of the themes of the following movies: Star Wars, The Godfather, Titanic, Chariots of Fire, Saturday Night Fever, The Bodyguard, and The Lion King. You can hear them in your head, right?

If you search “Importance of Music in Film” you will find a few examples of a film sequence with and without music as well as a specific film sequence that is accompanied by different types of music. The juxtapositions are clear and striking — in this manner, you can appreciate the added layers of meaning that music brings to film and how those layers subtly change your perception. That nuanced meaning is exactly what writers of captions (also referred to as “closed captions”) attempt to convey for viewers who cannot hear the audio track of a film. (Incidentally, a subtitle is not the same thing as a caption. A subtitle is simply a translation of the spoken dialogue into another language, while a caption includes dialogue and non-speech elements, like music and sound effects). The next time you watch a movie on a streaming service like Netflix or Amazon Prime, turn on the captioning feature and see how descriptive captions for music can get. Here is a sampling from several recent films and documentaries that were featured on these streaming platforms:

ambient funk music

atmospheric music

brooding music

classical choral song

dark music

dramatic music

dreamy, ethereal melody

droning music

eerie music

eerie, discordant music

emotional music

epic music

foreboding music

frightening music

frivolous music

gentle music

inquisitive music

instrumental orchestration

intense music

intense musical buildup

intriguing music

lofty classical piece

majestic music

majestic orchestration

melancholy music

mellow music

menacing theme

mid-tempo music

military music

music decreases in tempo

music ends

music increases in tempo

Muzak-style music

ominous music

pensive music

propulsive music

reflecting music

rousing music

sinister music

slow tempo music

soft dissonant soundtrack

soft dramatic music

soft melancholy music

soft music

soft music playing

soft pensive music

soft rousing music

soft tense music

solemn music

somber instrumental

somber music

somber orchestration

suspenseful music

sweeping orchestration

tense music

tense dramatic music

triumphant theme

triumphant classical music

uneasy music

upbeat music intensifies

uplifting music

uplifting orchestration

urgent menacing music

unsettling music

wailing orchestral strings

whimsical music

wistful music

What music description captions caught your attention?

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