Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Best Film Scores Are...


The Director and I have been listening to a bunch of great scores lately. About a week ago I had a moment of realization and I found that the greatest scores are actually the more empty ones. Not boring or plain, just empty, as in sometimes they don't have a real melody, or sometimes it's just a few little things all blended together so that the song fits right into the background.

It's easy for me to tell the work of a CIT (Composer in Training) from a professional. How?

From experience, I know that amateur composers tend to use basic, common chord progressions and one simple base melody, often comparable to the works of John Williams (as was my case, but it's understandable considering where I got most of my inspiration, *Cough* Director...)or other well-known composers. I'm not saying this is bad. After all, if it were, then why would anyone want to compose in the first place?

Another common mistake among amateurs is that they put too much into their music. Take Pendragon, for example. There was too much of a melody and so many instruments that it was distracting for me. I have to say, though, they did a pretty good job considering at least some of the instruments were fake. I understand how difficult the job is of finding the balance between too much and too little of a melody. As a composer, we want to stuff as much of ourselves into a piece of music as humanly possible. We become attached to the music, not wanting to take anything from it. I've learned over the past month that it usually sounds better once the unnecessary parts are removed. It's easier to listen to and less distracting in a movie. The problem is actually doing that.

I've found that CIT have a tendency to go overboard on our instrument parts. What we don't think of is whether something is playable or not. It helps to have a pretty solid background knowledge of the instruments you are writing for, things like instrument range, what key instrument it is, what notes can be played together for stringed instruments, or phrasing for brass and woodwinds. When I began composing, I loved drums. Last month I was listening to some of my older songs and I decided to fix the drums. They sound so much better now. professional composers only use drums where it is absolutely necessary. Drums can either sound great or horrible, depending on how they are used. They should be used as accents, not as melody, they should be used sparingly, and they should be used subtly. The drums that evoke emotion are the ones where you have to strain to hear them. The only exception might be a battle sequence where there is nothing but drumming, but that's understandable.

Speaking of battles, The Director commented that if you want to convey emotion during a battle scene you should use music, but if you just want brutality, no music. Just fighting sounds.

Finally, great scores pass the melody, if there is one, among instruments. They don't use just one main instrument the whole time. Different instruments fit different shots. If, for example, the scene switches between the good guy and the bad guy, you don't want to use a low, ominous sounding instrument for the good guy or a lighthearted, lilting sound for the bad guy. In this case, you could use one melody, but switch the instrument based on what character is in the shot. An example of this would be Veggie Tales: Dave and the Giant Pickle. Yeah. I'm serious. Look:

If you want, skip to the one-minute mark. Okay, so it's a weak example, but you get the point. When Dave was in the shot, a higher instrument was used. When Goliath was there, they used lower instruments.

I think that's all I have to say now. Bye!


  1. Wow, that was an awesome post! I am very impressed with your knowledge. EFC = most intelligent, indeed.


  2. That was great, girlfriend! Thanks :) :) :) :) :)

    I liked your example at the end there with Dave and the Giant Pickle.... now you've got me thinking.... (ha, you'll have to do an extended post on association with characters & instruments and songs w/ scenes/movies, o_O)

    You rock <3

  3. Billiot. I mean, *cough* brilliant. (seriously, though, that was genius!)

    I'm gonna go listen to Book of Days now :D


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