A Bit of Music Theory for Filmmakers

Do you love movie soundtracks? Do you know why you like the soundtracks that you do? Do you ever struggle to add music to your films that has meaning to the themes and stories of the production?

Rick Beato's YouTube channel, Everything Music, is deep. Like, really deep. I consider myself a relatively learned guy, but joining in with Beato makes me feel like I'm still working with Play-Doh. But, I love it; it's a constant state of learning for me.

Beato's most recent video helps to dissect what is termed the Lydian Mode. This essay become relevant to movie-makers when he starts to talk about some of the giants in soundtrack composition.

Beyond the discussion of notes and keys, which is mostly beyond me (though I'm stretching to understand), Beato uses the examples of Thomas Newman, Randy Newman, Junkie XL, and, of course, John Williams to explain how this particular mode gives a sense of rise or hopefulness.   

Putting together a soundtrack is clearly more complicated than selecting something you like. It should be something that helps to tell your story. The best filmmakers make use of as many senses as possible.

What do you consider when putting music together for your films? I'm open to any other suggestions to expand my musical education.

Lead image used under Creative Commons License, Steinway & Sons, jpolta

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Mark is a Toronto based commercial photographer and world traveller who gave up the glamorous life of big law to take pictures for a living.

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Love this guy, he wears a half grin like he really enjoys what he does. I've done some basic music theory but this was a bit beyond me. However I do get that the music key has a big affect on the mood in a movie.

I keep trying to think back to Shenkarian Theory from college to think of how this sounded versus the tritone and I keep coming to the thought that the use of the #4/#11 is really in a modulation here moving to a half cadence and prolonging that tension. So a I or first inversion I chord modulating through a V-(ii)-V with the ii chord maybe being in a first inversion with a sharp 3rd and land on the half cadence with the root of the V chord. It sounds like a resolution within the tension of the chord structure because of the half step between the #4 to the 5 with the resulting Perfect Cadence from V to I after the building of this tension. the other could be a modulation between a I-(vii)-I and maybe more tension if the vii is in second inversion to prolong the tonic and resolution of the passage in the music. It’s interesting because the tritone was frowned upon in the church (the sound that between the 1 and #4/b5) but if you add the third or a more complex chord over the progression it is described as celestial. I bet Alex Cooke could add or correct me in my thinking.

I'm eating this up!

I find it interesting that the church would frown upon a partial celestial progression. Like you can't be partially saved ? :)