The Magic of Musical Scores in Movies

Why is music such a strong tool that is frequently used in films? I have always found music in movies to be great, but I am starting to realize that music is found in so many different types of film and range from dramas to animated films. Disney for instance thrive off of a successful soundtrack, but then a film like Perks of Being a Wallflower also thrives off its musical choices. My question could probably be answered with one word, but I want to know some deeper reasons people think music helps create magic in movies.

  • In Music History, we actually had a class devoted to this topic! (In fact, much of our course was devoted to the psychological effects of music) Music has such an effect on our perception; it's such an emotional thing. One very basic example is that minor music is often automatically perceived as sad, major as happy, etc. It automatically creates an emotional response, and the composer's musical choices often suggest certain themes or ideas (i.e. more bombastic music is often perceived as "masculine", while more legato and lyrical music is perceived as "feminine" - certain musical instruments are often gendered, as well). Music is necessary in film because it conditions the audience to feel a certain way. It promotes an emotional and psychological response, regardless of the film. It can help us empathize with a character (perhaps it's indicative of the character's own emotional state or struggles). It can create suspense or set the mood (i.e. many movies set in Asia will have music with a Western perception of orientalism). It can also "bend" time... have you ever watched a scene without the sound? It can turn horror movies into very long, boring things. Music tells a story on its own; it naturally supports the visuals of a story. This is a HUGE topic, actually! In regards to your specific examples, think about how music is used in each of these situations. Disney movies have music that often serve as monologues; we get a peak into what each character is feeling in a moment (of course, they have instrumental music that is valuable as well). If I remember correctly, The Perks of Being a Wallflower had more mainstream music, which was appropriate to the setting of the movie. It also had themes that coincided with the movie's themes. Each musical choice in a movie is so carefully chosen; it completely impacts our reactions to characters and events (i.e. would we like a hero as much if he was accompanied by a villain's music?). These are just some examples, but I hope they give you an idea of how music can be an effective tool in films! It could be quite interesting to compare/contrast the music of two very different films (such as a Disney film and The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and look at how each impacts the viewer's perception. Alternatively, you could look at what these movies would be like without music. Would they have the same impact? – laurakej 7 years ago
  • One aspect of this question that might be worth exploring is the relationship between music in film and, say, MTV. Footloose, for example, was one of the first movies for which a soundtrack comprised of new songs was promoted on MTV before the movie's release. Prior to that, most live-action films utilized popular songs that, because of their widespread consumption, could be counted on to evoke a given emotional response. The success of Footloose as a film was largely due to its soundtrack's promotion on MTV. And sense then, the use of music in film has changed. How then, has the further evolution of the music industry (including but not limited to MTV) affected the use of soundtracks/scores in film? – arharrison 7 years ago
  • Wonderful topic for one of the most important aspects of film. A well compiled soundtrack or well-made musical score can really make or break a film. – Austin Bender 7 years ago
  • Music sets the tone, and it gives an opportunity for characters to show what is in their hearts. – Candice Evenson 7 years ago

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