5 ways in which music serves the screen

Music and cinema go hand-in-hand. Can you imagine the flying helicopters in Apocalypse Now without Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries? Or Death in Venice without Mahler’s Adagietto? The power of music is so strong that a lot of famous cinematographic moments are inseparable form the melodies heard in the background. One simply couldn’t exist without the other.

In every frame, filmmakers are looking for the perfect lighting, the perfect location, the perfect line… but even if all of those were perfect, the wrong music would still ruin the scene. Because of all the artistic tools at a filmmaker’s disposal, music is certainly the most powerful.

At this point, it should be noted the difference between a soundtrack and a score. The original score is mostly instrumental music that was composed for the film; the soundtrack is a collection of popular music that influences the film or is featured within it.

Most films often use both of them. But how does exactly music influence the tone of a film, to the point that it can even determine its success? In this video from Now You See It, video essayist Jack Nugent looks at the psychology of music in film, exploring how the human brain responds to different approaches to audio stimulation. Nugent introduces the essay called Film Music, in which film score pioneer and renowned composer  Aaron Copland covers “five ways in which music serves the screen” The five ways are:

1. Create a more convincing atmosphere of time and place

2. Underline unspoken thoughts or emotions

3. Build a sense of continuity

4. Give a sense of finality

5. Fill the silence

But why music has this effect on our emotions? Composer Neil Brand believes this has something to the with the fact that “humans beings are very good at interpreting sound. Right back to when our prehistoric selves will have heard a twig snap in a forest and thought ‘that’s it, I’m dead’. Moreover, a study suggested that the effect music produces in our brain is similar to the effects caused by food, sex and drugs. 

Results that show that music is inextricably linked with our deepest reward systems,  and that explain why, if well chosen, a particular scene of a movie, with a particular background music, can send a shiver down the spine of the viewer.

Author: Sandra Sotillo


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