May 25, 2024

If you were to put on a horror movie and click the mute button, it would be much less scary. Without the eerie music to build the tension, audiences would not feel the anxiety of waiting for a jumpscare or feel the creepy atmosphere of a dark house. 

Music is used in film to influence the emotions of the viewers. But how exactly is this effect achieved? There are a few techniques that go into crafting a scorethat creates a particular feel to the movie. 

Dr. Glenn Pickett, professor of music composition, appreciates the genius of movie soundtracks, mainly because the music often goes unnoticed. 

“Film scores is an abstract art,” Pickett said. “There’s no meaning behind the music because there’s no lyrics. We read all the meaning into it. It’s this amazing phenomenon that God has created.”

One way music affects movies is by determining the pace of the film whether that be by intensifying it or relaxing it for the audience.

“Fast tempos make us feel excited,” Pickett said. “If you see the “Star Wars” throne room scene without the music, it’s torture. Without sound, you can’t hear where the music is going, and you don’t know where you are going. You’re wondering, ‘What the heck is going on? What are we going to see next?’ Whereas the phrasing of the music gives you this sense that, ‘Oh, yeah, I know where this is going to end.’”

Alexandra Stoner, senior psychology major, particularly enjoys the score behind Black Panther because of how well it intensifies the movie. 

“What actually affects people’s emotions?” Stoner said. “They can do that through specific tones. With classical music, like a really fast violin, it’s building up to a climax and it may make you feel empowered.”

Another technique used to impact viewers is leitmotif, which is a specific musical theme that appears throughout a film and is associated with a particular person. For example, “The Imperial March” is heard every time Darth Vader appears on screen in Star Wars. This is also seen with the other characters.

“Star Wars” is so unbelievable because each character in the movie has their own theme. It’s called the leitmotif. So every time you see Luke, the music says, ‘That’s him,’” Pickett said. “The song connects with the character that we hear the theme, even if they’re not on the screen. It brings unity to a film through the leitmotif.”

Even TV comedy shows use music to emotionally tie the audience to the show, creating a sense of comfort and familiarity within each episode.

“Have you ever seen a TV show where all of a sudden they’ll play a pop tune at the end of the show? It wraps up the episode, so you’re connected emotionally. This is called a song score,” Pickett said. 

Overall, music gives the film an emotional depth that it would not have otherwise. Creating this effect is so intricate that the quality and sound vary greatly based on the instruments used.

“Trumpets are triumphant. The strings are melancholy and romantic. Certain types of instruments move people emotionally in certain ways. It’s music that’s there, and it tells us how to feel,”  Pickett said. 

Lauren Stevens, junior interior design major, said she appreciates the “Interstellar” soundtrack because of how emotionally moving it is. 

“Music affects our perception of things because it targets our emotions specifically,” Stevens said. “One of our senses is hearing, and a lot of what we observe around us is through what we hear, although oftentimes it hits us subconsciously.”

The hidden genius of soundtracks is that their impact on viewers is not an obvious effect. It is easy to overlook the music that is playing in the background and to be consumed by what is on-screen. 

“It’s not like you’re watching a movie and you go, ‘Oh, here’s where they play the sad music.’ It just draws and plays on your emotions to make you feel with the characters. That’s what makes a movie good–when you really resonate with it and feel it,” Stoner explained.

Music plays with our emotions. It is a crucial aspect of the art that goes into making cinema that is impactful and moving.

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