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How Movie Soundtracks Enhance Storytelling

Movie scene with a girl in red.

Have you ever imagined watching a movie without soundtracks? Try to imagine a movie that is such a well-made masterpiece. But what if there is no music at all? Actors are just speaking while scenes are being filmed but just portrayed as if you are seeing arts. How would you feel? That is a total disaster! I know, many of you may have not paid attention to music while you are watching a movie. But if you think more closely, soundtracks play a crucial role in elevating the storytelling experience on the big screen. They provide emotional depth, set the tone, and help audiences connect with the characters and plot. But how do they work exactly? What roles do soundtracks play in movies? Let's delve into it!

1. Setting the Mood:

If you are about to watch a thriller movie, you wouldn't expect the opening scene with bright and upbeat music. It always starts with gloomy or eerie music to set the mood! One of the most crucial roles of movie soundtracks is that they set the mood for a scene or an entire film. Romantic scenes would use soft melodies that can evoke feelings of love and affection.

The suspenseful music in the "Jaws" theme by John Williams builds tension and fear as the shark approaches. It starts with slow two notes. It is almost like your heartbeat sound. As its rhythmic speed increases, it is almost like you are about to face the scary sharks! This soundtrack also hints us that the scariest part of the movie is about to start.

Then, let’s apply this soundtrack to a romantic movie, such as "Notting Hill." Will you expect any of this kind of music to appear in "Notting Hill"? Probably not! Of course, "Notting Hill" used such beautiful and sensorial music that depicts their love well. Almost at the end of the movie, when two main characters finally get bonded, this beautiful soundtrack captures the entire audience perfectly.

2. Character Development:

Soundtracks can also help in character development. A character's theme music can give insight into their personality, struggles, or transformation throughout the story. This idea of giving theme music to each character has been developed from Wagner’s idea of ‘leitmotif,’ which is giving each character its theme. Many music directors in the movie industry have adopted this idea and given it to their characters. It has various effects. The most important one is the predictability in the movie. Audiences can grapple with the movie’s story easily by predicting this scene is led by the specific character. In addition to this, audiences can understand the significant change of characters’ emotions by understanding the musical changes in the theme.

Musical Example:

When we think about a character’s music theme, there is one movie that cannot be ignored. The Imperial March in the "Star Wars" series represents the dark and menacing presence of Darth Vader. It's such an effective device all throughout the movie as it became the representative theme of Darth Vader. It has been used and taken as a great example of character’s theme. By effectively using musical themes in the movie, people can immediately relate the musical device to the character, which provides a deeper connection between the movie and audiences. If you remember "Toy Story" and the character referencing Darth Vader, you can notice that the director used the theme from “Star Wars” for audiences to easily understand the reference.

3. Emotional Connection:

If you are watching a movie scene that has music depicting the opposite mood, would you consider watching it until the end? One of the most important roles of soundtracks is that they create an emotional connection between the audience and the story. They can make viewers feel joy, sorrow, excitement, or nostalgia, enhancing the overall impact of the film.

Musical Example:

There is an extremely popular soundtrack that is well-known for capturing sadness in movies. It is the theme from the film "Schindler's List," composed by John Williams. This beautiful piece of music is performed on the violin and captures the profound sorrow and tragedy of the Holocaust.

The choice of the instrument plays an important role in music. The violin’s melancholic melody in "Schindler's List" communicates the tragic experience of the Jewish people during World War II. When this music accompanies the film's scenes depicting the horrors of the Holocaust, it enhances the emotional impact and brings tears. Interestingly, the music conveys not only the pain but also the resilience and hope. In "Schindler's List," the emotional connection of sadness is so profound that it becomes a central theme of the film itself. The music serves as a powerful reminder of the human capacity for empathy and the importance of remembering and honoring the past.

What about the example of music bringing happiness in a movie? The song "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong, featured in the film "Good Morning, Vietnam," is such a great example of it. The soulful voice of Armstrong captures the essence of happiness through its lyrics.

If you are curious to find out how to play "What a wonderful world" in the piano, grab a sheet music and play!

In the film, the song is used to contrast the beauty of life and the world with the backdrop of the Vietnam War, highlighting the stark contrast between joy and sorrow. The song's lyrics, which include lines like "I see trees of green, red roses too" and "I hear babies cry, I watch them grow," emphasize the simple yet profound pleasures of life. It’s peaceful and soulful sound brings a bigger sad ironically in the context of the Vietnam War. Essentially, the music serves as the most influential key throughout the movie in order to convey the message.


In conclusion, movie soundtracks are more than just background noise; they are a storytelling tool. Don’t forget to know that music is composed carefully in order to capture the movie’s significant stories and characters. So next time you watch a movie, pay attention to the soundtrack; it's an integral part of the storytelling process. Moreover, you will be able to enjoy the movie more in-depth!

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