[Sheet Music]

Lesson 129: Music for Theatre/ Film/ TV

Different Types of Emotions/ Feelings/ Moods/ Scenes

You have to be able to write music that expresses a variety of emotions/ feelings/ moods/ scenes:

  • action
  • adventure
  • anxiety
  • battle
  • chase
  • comedy
  • drama
  • fantasy
  • fear
  • grandeur
  • heroism
  • horror
  • joy
  • love
  • magic
  • mystery
  • panic
  • playfulness
  • romance
  • sadness/ sorrow
  • silliness
  • supernatural
  • suspense
  • tension
  • terror
  • wonder

Different Types of Music

You also have to be very versatile in:

  • different music genres/ styles
  • writing for different film and TV genres
  • ethnic music, i.e. music from different parts of the world
  • period music, i.e. music from the history of classical music - medieval, renaissance, baroque, classical, romantic, 20th century/ modern/ contemporary or music from the various periods in jazz music...

What is Different about Writing Music for Theatre/ Film/ TV

One thing that is very important to understand is that you seldom can fit music for theatre/ film/ TV into traditional musical forms:

  • ABA, ABAB, AABA, ABAC, AABC, AAB, verse - chorus - bridge and so on, you can't usually use them
  • you will have to be able to say something musically in a very short time frame - 30 seconds for a main title, 60 seconds is also very usual and even shorter than 30 seconds
  • you will have to learn to write musical phrases that aren't 4 or 8 bars long but an odd number of bars

When you compose for theatre/ film/ TV, you have to be aware that the music is not the main attraction. The music always has to complement/ support what happens in the play, the film or the TV program. This means that you, the composer, do not necessarily get to have the final word on what the music will be or sound like. So, learn to live with that - try to have as small an ego as possible, be cooperative and try to live up to your artistic standards within the given frameworks.

Other facts that you will have to learn to live with are:

  • chances are that you are hired to write original music because it will be cheaper than licensing existing music
  • not everything you write will be used - you will be asked to re-write or some of your work just will not be used

How to Get Started

So, how do you get started in writing for theatre/ film/ TV?

  • If there is a local
    • theatre group
    • TV or radio channel/ station
    • film/ visual media school
    • indie film maker
    where you live, let them know you exist and that you would be interested in working with them
  • Go to film conferences, conventions, festivals, seminars and workshops and establish contacts with people working with film and TV
  • Make a demo CD with your best tunes and give/ send it to people working with film and TV
  • Write a lot of music covering a lot of different types of feelings/ moods/ scenes and upload it to production music libraries


Listen to the following film/ TV tunes:

  • The Amityville Horror by Lalo Schifrin ( horror)
  • Blood Theme by Daniel Licht ( suspense)
  • Dexter by Rolfe Kent ( suspense)
  • Feather Theme by Alan Silvestri ( innocence)
  • The Godfaher Waltz by Nino Rota ( sadness/ sorrow)
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly by Ennio Morricone ( western)
  • James Bond by Monty Norman ( suspense)
  • Mission Impossible by Lalo Schifrin ( action)
  • The Murder by Bernard Herrmann ( horror)
  • Night Time by Alexandre Desplat and Aaron Zigman ( comedy)
  • The Pink Panther by Henry Mancini ( comedy)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean by Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer ( adventure)
  • Prelude by Bernard Herrmann ( suspense)
  • Raiders March by John Williams ( adventure)
  • Sex and the City by Thomas Findlay, Andrew Cocup and Douglas Cuomo ( indulgence/ decadence?)
  • Shifting Gears by Lalo Schifrin ( chase)
  • The Simpsons by Danny Elfman ( comedy)
  • Star Wars by John Williams ( heroism)
  • Tunnel Chase by Marco Beltrami ( suspense)

2014 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.