The Multifaceted Tool That Is Music

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By Samuel Turner
Music Journalist

Music, while amazing on its own, is also used as a tool to enhance other forms of media such as film and television. Music sets the mood, builds tension, and in some cases is an element in the plot line.

Music has the ability to set the tone of a show or movie before it even begins. Consider the introduction to “The Office.” The lighthearted, upbeat music lets the viewer know that it will likely be a playful comedy rather than an intense drama. An action movie, on the other hand, would likely feature fast-paced music in order to grab your attention right from the start. Take “Indiana Jones” for example, which has a fast-paced orchestral theme with an adventurous feel to it that sets an expectation in the viewers mind of what the movie will be like.

Think about the last time you saw a horror movie. The main characters are all hiding from the villain of the movie, and what do you hear? More than likely, the music creates tension and makes you feel uncomfortable in some sort of way. The iconic shower scene from “Psycho” is a perfect example of this. The ominous sound of violin and orchestral music ominously building as you see a figure appear through the curtains makes the viewer more and more tense until the scene climaxes and the villain attacks. Without the music, this scene would just come off as awkward and lacking.

While fulfilling several other roles, music can also serve as a plot device, like in movies such as “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” The main characters are members of a band and the movie cleverly weaves in their punk-rock music throughout the film. This music is used to introduce characters, give context to the characters and to outright progress to plot.

While these are only a few examples of how movies and television use music, there are countless clever ways a director or sound designer can use music to help tell their stories. I encourage you to pay attention to the music of the next movie or show you watch and to notice how it affects or enhances what is happening on the screen.

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