A beginner film scoring lesson
This article has been written by a guest author. If you’re an educator or music industry professional who is interested in contributing an article to the Midnight Music blog, you can apply here.
This blog post has been written by guest author Mike Dimin – a music teacher at The Charlton School in Burnt Hills, New York where he has taught a technology-based music program for vulnerable and “at-risk” high school students in a residential setting since January of 1991.
A while back, Mike wrote another article for Midnight Music which was very popular – The Andrew Huang Challenge: Sampling and Composing with Found Objects which I can highly recommend.
In this article, Mik shares a unit of work that introduces the effects of music on movies and encourages students to compose their own movie trailer.
– Katie Wardrobe
Introduction: how to (and how not to) approach “mood music”
Creating a film score is a wonderful way to experience, first hand, the emotional content of music. Creating a film score allows each of us to define characters (leitmotif), enhance the emotional content of a scene or foretell of things to come. Putting music to images magnifies the images (still or moving) and is a powerful way to visualize just how music affects a character, a scene, ourselves and ultimately our audience.
In the “old days” I would give the students paper and pencils and attempt to have them draw a scene or write the story that the music might portray. I would usually play classical or modern Avant Garde, instrumental rock pieces. Ultimately, this was a bit of a failure. The best example of this failure would be the drawings and stories told when I played Orff’s “O Fortuna” from “Carmina Burana”. Students would, all too often, draw pictures of an orchestra, rather than some medieval sword fight on horseback.
Utilizing technology, specifically GarageBand, I was able to reverse the process. The students now compose music for the scene, as a film composer might, rather than create the scene from the music as was done in the Disney “Fantasia” movies.
In this lesson, students will create music for a movie trailer. Music that reflects the drama and emotions of the scene(s) or define themes based on characters..
- Students will learn the basic functions of Apple’s GarageBand, including the use of Apple’s provided loops, basic multitrack mixing, lengthening/shortening loops, editing volume/pan tracks and possible recording instruments or vocals through the GarageBand interface.
- Students will learn dynamics through matching appropriate music and volume to shots and scenes of the visuals.
- Students will learn to “compose” a complete piece of music that has a beginning, middle and end.
- Students will learn to use the Apple loops as thematic elements throughout the piece, creating leitmotifs for characters
- Students will have gain insight into the emotional content of music and how the music can be used to manipulate the emotions of our audience.
- Students will further develop Critical Thinking skills.
- Mac computers with GarageBand installed (if you have Windows computers, Mixcraft is a perfect solution for this unit of work)
- Internet connection (for teacher, at least)
Editor’s note about iPads and Chromebooks:
I’m often asked whether this type of project (combining video and audio) is possible on iPads or on Chromebooks. It’s possible, but not as straightforward. I haven’t yet found a good digital audio workstation type app or web-based software that will also allow you to import video and work with multiple music tracks in sync with the video – the way you can in GarageBand or Mixcraft. My workaround is to make a note of the timing of the video (the total length, the exact timing of any specific hit points and so on) and then create the soundtrack in the GarageBand iPad app (if you have iPads) or Soundtrap (if you have Chromebooks). Once the soundtrack is complete, you can export it and combine it with the video in a video editing app/software. Like I said – possible but not straightforward! This method works best if your lesson requires students to compose a “mood” piece for the clip. It doesn’t work well if you want them to line up specific sound effects or musical “hits” precisely with the action on the screen.
Setting Up the Project
One of the movie trailers I like using for this project is for the movie “After Earth” starring Will Smith.