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Rhinegold Education: Key Stage 3: Lesson 12

From Rhinegold Education, Key Stage 3: Lesson 12 (ages 11-14) teaches you all about Film Music!

Learning Objective: to improvise and compose; to extend and develop musical ideas by drawing on a range of musical structures, styles, genres, and traditions; to identify and use the inter-related dimensions of music expressively and with increasing sophistication; to listen with increasing discrimination to a wide range of music from great composers and musicians

Length: The first 5 steps should take around 45 minutes. The final step will take a further 45 minutes. You could do this over a few days as an extended project!

1. Watch this clip from the classic Sci-fi film, ET.

The scene comes from the end of the film, where ET (a teenage alien) says goodbye to the family who has befriended him and returns to his home in a spaceship. Whilst watching the scene, consider the following. What sounds can you hear? Is there anything missing? What is the mood of the scene?

2. Now compare what you have watched with the next clip, which is the version that people actually saw in the cinema!

How is it different from the previous clip?

Watch the clip again from 0:55 to the end, and answer these questions. You can watch the clip several times if it helps.
a. What is the mood of the scene?
b. What sounds were used (i.e. instruments, virtual instruments or sounds from other objects?).
c. What was the tempo? Did it change at any point?
d. Was the music mainly major or minor, or something else?
e. How loud was the music? Were there any changes in dynamics?
f. Were there any particular points where the music changed? How did this happen?
Listen below for the answers.

3. Watch the clip from Step 2 again.

Why do you think the composer composed music for this scene? To help your thoughts, here are some reasons for having music in films.

a. Music can create an overall mood to the scene.
b. Music can show the feelings of a character in the scene.
c. Music can show the film’s genre (e.g., electronic sounds suggest sci fi; repeated, rhythmic bass can suggest action; lush violin sections can suggest romance).
d. Music can emphasise a particular character (e.g., “Hedwig’s theme” in the Harry Potter films).
e. Music can emphasise an action (e.g., a dagger being thrown or a person being hugged).
f. Music can illustrate a time or place (e.g., Monks singing can suggest medieval times; Reggae music can suggest Jamaica, unusual electronic sounds can suggest outer space).
Listen below for the answers.

4. Music can give meaning to quite ordinary actions. Watch this clip to see how the same actions can be watched in totally different ways, depending on the music.

As you watch each section of the clip, follow the description of the music in this table. Watch each section several times until you can hear all the elements of music in the table.

Technical words are in italics. If you don’t understand a word, you might like to “google it!” You can also refer back to previous Rhinegold Education Key Stage 3 Lessons on musicroom.com to remind you of particular concepts.

0:39SinisterLong, electronic chords in a minor key (see lesson 6). The music starts very quietly and crescendos to very loud, very quickly. Sudden accented chord after the character says “I did,” followed by a large, wordless chorus of singers. The tempo is slow (Adagio).
1:10CheerfulLong chords in a major key, with short, off-beat guitar chords. All fairly loud (mf). Very light drumming, mostly on a cymbal gives a slightly jazzy feel. There is a relaxed, walking-speed tempo (Andante).
1:29HeroicA solo horn plays a melody over quiet strings. The melody has wide intervals, giving an expansive feel to the music. A cymbal roll as the character turns, then the strings crescendo into a loud, broad melody, fairly slowly (Moderato).
2:05ThreateningStrings play a single note at 3 octaves, fairly low, low, and very low. The tempo is very slow (Largo). The lower strings go up a minor third, return to the original note, then fall an augmented fourth (the “devil’s’ interval”: see “ Key Stage 3: Lesson 11”)
2:31SorrowfulThe piano plays a long minor chord, fairly high. It plays a few similar chords and a cello play bass notes. The music is slow and quiet. After he turns, the piano plays arpeggios (see “Key Stage 3: Lesson 3”) and it seems as though a melody is about to start but almost as soon as it starts, the music ends on a minor chord.
2:56CheerfulA major chord is created by a clarinet and strings. A cymbal roll makes a crescendo and the strings play a high trill with brass chords underneath. As the character rounds the corner to the bridge, the music changes to a broad, major key melody on strings. The tempo of the music is relaxed, which makes the character’s running seem purposeful rather than anxious.
3:36SinisterA long electronic chord (an augmented fourth) crescendos quickly. As the character runs, loud drums give a sense of fast movement. Very short motifs in strings, repeated many times over long, minor chords in the brass. Loud and quick. The tempo of the music is fast, which makes the character’s running seem anxious.

The final two sections in this table are blank. Can you fill them in?

5. Watch this scene from The Lord of the Rings.

It is played 7 times with different music. Can you find a suitable word to describe the mood of each playing? Some of these words might be helpful: “terrifying, fearful, peaceful, funny, cheerful, tragic, awestruck, heroic, energetic, neutral.” Can you describe the music for each mood?


6. There is so much to find out about how film composers enhance movie action through music.

To learn more, check out Film Music in Focus by Rhinegold Education, which explores music in film genres including Sci-Fi, Horror, and Romance!

7. Finally, use what you have learned about film music to create your own video clip with music.

It can be quite short (maybe 30 seconds long). Use your phone and, ideally, work with a friend or family member to film the action, which can be quite simple (e.g., you are sitting reading when you hear the door behind you gradually open. You turn around slowly).

Then compose some music that will give your video a mood. If you have a video editing app (e.g., WeVideo or iMovie) you can do this on your phone. If not, watch the clip and play the music live. Here are some questions to think about:

  1. What is the mood you want to convey?
  2. What sounds can you use (instruments, virtual instruments or sounds from other objects)?
  3. What will be the tempo of your music? Will it change at any point?
  4. Will you use mainly major or minor chords, or will you use chords that are neither major nor minor?
  5. How loud will the music be? Will there be any changes in dynamics?
  6. Is there any particular point in your video where the music will change? How will this happen?

For further examples of how music affects a scene, you can watch these clips:

The Lion King
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Batman Returns
N.B If you cannot make your own video, the first section of these clips is silent so that you can add your own music.

By Tim Cain for Rhinegold Education

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