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How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.

1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

There never was a silent film. Wed finish a picture, show it in our projection room and
come out shattered. It was awful. Then wed show it in a theatre, with a girl down in the
pit pounding away at a piano, and it would make all the difference in the world. Without
music there wouldnt have been a film industry at all

Irving Thalberg, MGM Producer, 1920s

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


1) WHAT IS MUSIC? (8,908)

This chapter addresses some of the main intellectual and practical issues surrounding the whole area
of how music is understood, rationalised, perceived and composed. The chapter looks at many
underlying issues, including academia and how the taught history of music over the years (as
opposed to the actual history of music) has shaped our understanding of music.


This chapter addresses the area of music theory; it does so firstly by running through basic theory and
then introducing a more modern way of interpreting and analysing theory and its applications and use
in context of composition. It looks at how we can use music theory, notation, chord symbols and
harmonic knowledge to develop a deeper understanding of music, particularly in film. The chapter
looks at harmonic sequences and structures, analysing commonalities and patterns, drawing
conclusions to help students understand the music they listen to and the music they compose.

Music analysed includes: Goldfinger (John Barry), Signs (James Newton Howard) Star Trek TMP
(Jerry Goldsmith)


Do composers think or do they merely do? This is one of many issues posed by this chapter. We
study the opinions and thoughts of some of the great thinkers and look at whether music can
communicate meaning, what we mean by meaning and if so, how this can be achieved. Is meaning
in music derived purely from an individuals interpretation, as many of the great composers and
musicologists have suggested in the past, or can common emotions, perceptions and, ultimately
meanings be derived and applied in a more general sense, to all? The book also examines the
power of musical conventions and how these have shaped our understanding of films and even the
telling of history through film.

Music analysed includes The Big Country (Jerome Moross), The Magnificent Seven (Elmer
Bernstein), JFK (John Williams), The Day after Tomorrow (Harald Klosser and Thomas Wander),
Independence Day (David Arnold), Back to the Future 3 (Alan Silvestri), The West Wing (WG
Walden), Jurassic Park & Star Wars (John Williams), Dallas (Jerrold Immel)


This chapter deals with modern and traditional techniques of using harmony, architecture, structure
and placement to extort specific emotions. The chapter addresses a combination of fairly simple
observations regarding how harmonies work to create mood and feeling through to more complex and
deeper types of analysis. Central to the study, as always, is how music communicates its meaning
and how that meaning works in the film.

Music analysed includes Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone - Main Theme & Diagon Ally (John
Williams) The English Patient (Gabriel Yared) Atonement (Dario Marianelli) Catch me if you can (John
Williams) Knowing (Marco Beltrami) The Village & Sixth Sense (James Newton Howard) Panic Room
(Howard Shore) The Reaping (John Frizzell) Wolf (Ennio Morricone) Passengers (Edward Shearmur)

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This chapter looks at how film music communicates, how composers define themselves and develop
a distinctive voice. The chapter addresses similarities between specific film themes and to what
degree the structure of music itself determines what works and what doesnt. Central to any serious
study about if, how and why music creates a sense of meaning within the listener is the issue of how it
communicates - how the musical characteristics can communicate, almost literally. This chapter
addresses these issues.

Music analysed: The Dark Knight & Batman Begins (music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton
Howard), The Island (Music by Steve Jablonsky), and Spiderman 2 (Music by Danny Elfmann). King
Kong (James Newton Howard).


In this chapter various approaches to film music composition are addressed, all of which share the
virtues of subtlety, intricacy and nuance. It looks at how composers make subtle shifts and manipulate
what is expected by the listener in order to illicit music which communicates emotionally. The chapter
addresses some important areas such as how and why music which is understated, subtle or blurred
communicates so vividly.

The music analysed in this chapter will be from World Trade Centre (Craig Armstrong), American
Beauty, (Thomas Newman) Road to Perdition, (Thomas Newman) The Descent and Insomnia, (David
Julyan) Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, (Ryuichi Sakamoto) 2012 (Harald Kloser & Thomas Wander)
Crimson Tide, The Rock, Pearl Harbour, The Da Vinci Code & The Ring (Hans Zimmer) Hopilola
(Sigur Ros) Unbreakable, Signs, The Village and Outbreak (James Newton Howard) A Beautiful Mind
(James Horner) The Butterfly Effect (Michael Suby) 28 Days Later (John Murphy) The Firm (Dave
Grusin) Jaws (John Williams)


This chapter looks at how we hear music what is surface level hearing and what represents a
deeper aural experience. The chapter explains that what we listen to is a combination of the music
(the notes, harmonies) the intervallic context (by which I mean what each note represents as an
interval of the chord it is part of) which we dont hear but listen to. It discusses musical devices and
structures which are so strong, so popular, so ingrained or so communicative that we all respond to

Music analysed: Gladiator (Hans Zimmer) The Day After Tomorrow (Harald Klosser & Thomas
Wander) Contact (Alan Silvestri) Aliens (James Horner) King Kong (James Newton Howard) The
Long Good Friday (Francis Monkman) Pearl Harbour and Angels & Demons (Hans Zimmer) Chaplin,
Out of Africa, Dancing with Wolves (John Barry) Defence of the Realm (Richard Harvey)

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


As a contextual and historical precursor to a later chapter on contemporary television themes and
incidental music for drama and documentary, this chapter looks back to some of the most notable
themes of the past four decades. The reason for this is to recognise structural commonalities,
harmonic tricks (which are still relevant today) and stylistic approaches which have spanned decades
and which are still in use today. We look at famous, defining themes which have become ingrained in
popular culture and are often as famous as the shows they accompany

Music Analysed: Black Beauty (Dennis King) Coronation Street (Eric Spear) The Avengers (Laurie
Johnson) Tomorrows World (1980s) (Paul Hart) Mr Benn (Don Warren) Father Ted (Neil Hannon)
The Simpsons (Danny Elfman) The Life and Times of David Lloyd George (Ennio Morricone) The
Sweeney (Harry South) Tales of the Unexpected, Man in a Suitcase & Dr. Who (Ron Grainer) The
Persuaders (John Barry) Kojak (Billy Goldenberg) Ironside (Quincy Jones) Starsky & Hutch (Tom
Scott) The Streets of San Francisco (Pat Williams) The Professionals (Laurie Johnson) Hill Street
Blues (Mike Post) Harry Game (Ciarn Brennan and Pl Brennan) Emmerdale Farm (Tony Hatch)
The X Files (Mark Snow) Soap (George Aliceson Tipton) Brookside (Dave Roylance) EastEnders
(Simon May) Bouquet of Barbed Wire (Dennis Farnon) Owen MD (Johnny Pearson) The Odd Couple
(Neil Hefti) Match of the Day (Barry Stoller) Dynasty (Bill Conti) Blakes 7(Dudley Simpson) Thriller
(Laurie Johnson) Keeping up Appearances (Nick Ingham) Red Dwarf (Howard Goodall) Poirot
(Christopher Gunning) ER (James Newton Howard) Zen (Adrian Johnston)


This chapter examines some notable and iconic music to accompany television shows, dramas and
documentaries which all possess the ability to communicate and articulate the meaning of the
narrative and images imaginatively and successfully. How the music works with the images, the story
and the narrative is discussed at length.

Music analysed includes: 24 (Sean Callery) Waking the Dead (Paul Hart) Spooks (Jennie Musket)
Torchwood (Ben Foster and Murray Gold) Survivors (Edmund Butt) Six Feet Under (Thomas
Newman) Band of Brothers (Michael Kamen) Police Squad (Ira Newborn) This Is Your Life (Laurie
Johnson) Vincent (Rob Lane) Sherlock (Michael Price and David Arnold) Rubicon (Peter Nashell)
Walking with Dinosaurs (Ben Bartlett) Batman (Neil Hefti) Click (Kevin Leavy) Who wants to be a
Millionaire? (Keith Strachan and Mathew Strachan) Frost (John Hiseman and Barbara Thompson)
Golapogas Documentary (Paul Leonard Morgan) The Onedin Line (Aram Ilyich Khachaturian) GBH
(Richard Harvey and Elvis Costello)

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This is s purely contextual chapters which address fundamental issues about how film score
composers function. Issues discussed will include:

How do we make music fit the picture?

How do film composers manage to
turn it round so quickly?

The main reason the audience knows more
than the characters is because of music.

When does drama become melodrama?

When music is overcooked

Orchestrating over the din

Scoring around dialogue

Audience concentration and the role of music

Whose point of view do you play?

How to stimulate your intuition

Music and Image

Classical Film Scoring

Featuring numerous quotes from composers and other industry professionals, the chapter deals in
part about the way composers address the issues of writing to screen and navigating the many and
varied approaches. This chapter works as a general over-arching accompaniment to most of the other
chapters in the book

Placement, Architecture and Economy

Tips and tricks

Transition between time and place

Sampled versus the real thing

Number crunching

Relying on the click

Common mistakes

Stylistic cohesion

Practicality and pragmatism

Composer as storyteller

Aural logo and sonic signature

Composing as frozen improvisation

The hand of history

How should film music be heard?

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



How does music communicate meaning?

When everything is said and done, what matters to any composer or scholar of music for
the moving image, is how does music convey the emotion of the images, the narrative,
the story? Central to any study of these fundamental issues is the need to understand how
music itself functions; how does music create feelings and emotions and convey
meaning? What kind of meaning does music convey? If we understand why music
creates emotion or evokes feeling we can find out how certain music works in certain
filmic circumstances and environments; we can learn to appreciate and understand how
the vastness of musical structure and the seemingly limitless characteristics it possesses,
actually communicate when applied to the moving image.

This book will analyse and study hundreds of transcriptions of film and TV music; it will
investigate how music interacts with the narrative structure of film and will debate and
discuss many musical, technical, aesthetic, contextual, historical and abstract issues and
areas of interest and importance. But above all, the central theme of how music
communicates in film represents the core of what this book is about. Understanding how
we listen to music and why we respond in certain ways is vitally important in learning
how to compose. Understanding how and why people respond to musics structures and
traditions and its complex labyrinth of possibilities enables us to successfully engage with
music as listeners, critics, scholars and composers.

Music for the moving image is not normal music

Music for the moving image is unique because unlike normal music, which is usually
(but not exclusively) propelled by musical, artistic, egotistical and, mostly commercial
considerations, music for the moving image does not always encompass the same
pressures. It is essentially driven by visual elements, literary considerations and narrative
structure. It does not neccasarily have to function as commercial music or even music
in the usual sense of the terms. It is not necessarily meant to be an extension of the
composers ego in that the composer does not dictate the emotional needs of the music;
he or she responds to the films needs. What a composer would like to write from a purely
musical perspective is a secondary consideration to the central need for music which
provides an identifiable and noticeable function and thereby works for the greater good of
the film experience. Brian Eno said, Film music has a very interesting identity which
makes it compositionally different from other pieces of music, which is that the main part
of it is missing... film music is there to support an action. This is an important point -
that film musics job is not supposed to be to provide an identity of its own but to support
another identity. A composer for the moving image is not primarily driven by the need
for the music to entertain but instead for the music to serve a greater endeavour whose
job is to entertain and enlighten. Indeed if music is composed primarily to entertain and
stand out, it may not always work as film music because it will undermine or diminish
the film itself or the meaning of the film.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Film music is not just listened to; it is watched

People do not just listen to film music, they listen while they watch; music for the
moving image is usually not primarily enjoyed purely as music and therefore doesnt
theoretically have the normal burden of commercial expectation. Listeners of music for
the moving image rationalise and interpret in a visual environment and context where
belief in reality is suspended temporarily. The picture therefore is part of the music.
There is, inevitably, a debate amongst film score scholars as to whether film music ought
to be able to function as stand-alone music. Certainly many directors would welcome the
further stylistic commodification of film music and the undoubted commercial
opportunities this would bring. But in some respects we have to be careful what we wish
for; if we end up with every movie spawning a stand-alone soundtrack of music which is
commercially attractive in its own right then we may risk the creation of music to film
being less about sculpturing music which weaves itself effortlessly into the films
narrative, and more about simply providing two hours worth of music whose only
redeeming feature is that it penetrates the labyrinth of dialogue and sound design enough
to be noticed. If film music happens to work as stand-alone music, fine, but if that is its
primary function then it ceases to be film music and instead simply becomes music put to
film, which is an entirely different thing.

I can remember when I first became interested in music for the moving image, listening
to film music independent of its film and thinking it sounded different to how it had
sounded when I saw the film. I can remember wondering if the soundtrack album was
recorded by a different orchestra and wondering if maybe the mix was different. It just
didnt sound the same. I eventually realised years later when I began composing for the
moving image, that the picture and sound design is such a big part of our perception of
the music that essentially in a very real sense it is part of the music. Our aural perception
and memory of the music is a product of the film experience first and foremost.

The function of film music is film music

Ultimately the way film music is rationalised is linked to how obviously the function of
the music works; in other words how well the composer reads the situation and applies
music which functions and works in a specific way to affect the viewers perception of a
scene. What the music is as music and what it sounds like is obviously important, but
what the music is doing, e.g. its function, is often what distinguishes it. If composers
decide what they want the music to achieve, this will be its function and in the final
analysis, how the music functions will be how it is remembered. What the music contains
musically is a subtly different thing. If you think back to your favourite film music
moments, what was great about the moment is how well the music worked with the scene
or how well it interpreted the narrative. John Williams famous and iconic cue from Jaws
works principally because it capitalises on your fear of what is likely to happen. Thus the
function was good; the idea of that particular approach, that decision, to play the film in
that way, is what makes us think of it as great music. The music was effective but the
underlying idea, the concept, was outstanding.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


What music brings to the narrative, to the pictures, to the movie, is subtly different to
what it actually is as music. We hear it as music but we listen to it in context of what job
it is doing; what function its providing. This is why sometimes when we listen to film
music without the film it loses some of its meaning; what it has lost when listened to
independent of the film is its function; why it exists. There is no convincing definition of
great film music just as there will never be a definition of great music. There are no
right ways or wrong ways to write music or film music. There is only history. All we
have to go on is what has been proven to work; this in turn can act as a springboard for
our own imagination and as a template through which we can begin to find our own
voice. Music is never composed in a vacuum. There is never truly a blank slate. As
composers we cannot help but be influenced. We cannot literally un-know what we
already know. Even the most original-sounding music owes some of identity to the past.
Its partial adherence to tradition or recognised structure is what creates the platform for
its elements of originality.

Does good film music have to be something people can hum?

A film score you come out of the cinema humming need not necessarily be effective film
music simply because you remember the melody. Many modern films latch on to a
specific theme or idea and reuse it time and time again to try and establish an aural
calling card; a musical thematic identity. But it can sometimes be overcooked and thus
clich. People did not come out of the cinema humming Bernard Herrmanns music to
Psycho but people remembered it and still do fifty years later. Effective film music is not
necessarily something we remember as music. We remember the experience more than
anything. Music is arguably more useful and successful when what is remembered is an
overwhelming emotion, rather than simply music. When we remember Hans Zimmers
wonderful themes from Gladiator, we do not usually remember just the music; we
remember the experience the music gave us. We do not hum Herrmanns shower scene
from Psycho, all we remember is that it terrified us.

Music for the moving image is not always written to the image

People often underestimate how much of music for the moving image is written to the
dialogue, the narration, the words and the sound design rather than simply the picture
itself. In many ways it is as much music to words and/or sound as music to picture.
Composers of documentaries with a narrated voice-over weave their music around the
voice as much as the pictures. George Fentons music for the Planet Earth, Blue Planet
and Frozen Planet documentaries is as much a triumph of his ability to carve out a path
around Attenboroughs distinctive voice and the labyrinth of other sounds as it is a
triumph of music to picture.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The film is part of your music and your music is part of the film

Most composers are open to the concept of their music bringing new colour, artistry and
emotion to film; they are generally less able to engage with the notion that moving
pictures and the existence of a story or narrative will bring emotion to their music. This is
probably because music is a much more intensely personal and solitary pursuit compared
to some creative arts. Its often difficult for us to see our music playing a side role in a
larger creative and commercial construct and its even harder to conceive of a situation
where something non-musical could be interacting with our music and changing the way
its perceived. But if the great 20
Century film composers share one common
characteristic, it is that they all write for the film, not to the film or at the film. They write
for the greater good of an artistic and commercial endeavour that represents a
consummation of various artistic and technical achievements, of which they are merely a
part. To a movie composer the images which accompany their music ought to be as much
a part of the fabric of the music as harmony, melody, instrumentation or production
because they determine the ultimate context in which it is rationalised, enjoyed and

Is music for the moving image the most natural kind of music?

When most composers conceptualise and write music, whether they be songwriters,
symphonists or exponents of experimental jazz fusion, they usually use images or
powerful memories to fire their emotion and imagination; composers picture things.
So in many ways music has always been about the image. In many ways music for the
moving image is the most natural kind of music. When we compose normal music
music purely for musics sake we are fired and inspired often by visual stimulus.
Converting our mental images or visual stimulus into actual music is a major part of the
conceptualisation and composition process. Music for the moving image simply means
that our imagination is fired at least partly by someone elses images, so in some ways at
least part of the initial conception process is done for us. Our job is no longer to conjure
up music from a self-generated mental image or picture, but to interpret an actual image
from a story. We tend to think of music and the moving image as a relatively new
phenomenon but the success of music and visuals is nothing new; music has supported
movement for hundreds of years, from dance through to plays, theatre, opera and more
recently, film.

Film music conundrums

Most directors acknowledge that music is the one component that succeeds in making a
film more real; more authentic. In most situations music makes the film more genuine,
more actual and more vivid. It heightens tensions and can create abstractions and
subtleties which make the film more dramatic and poignant and which the film alone
cannot do. Music can be what makes film appear truthful. It can be what makes a story
authentic. Why and how we are prepared to suspend belief so easily and readily is as
much to do with the music as it is the image.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


And yet real life - the ultimate truth, surely - does not come accompanied by a
soundtrack, and indeed it would be absurd if it did. Driving along an unfamiliar dark
country lane at night in a storm would be unnerving enough without Bernard Herrmanns
music coming at you. So why do we need music in a film when we dont have it or need
it in reality? Why is its inclusion in real life so obviously absurd but its inclusion in a film
depicting real life so natural and important?

The answer is simple and it is a testament not just to the important role music plays in
film but to the power music has over us emotionally: in real life you dont need a
soundtrack because youre living it; youre actually there. The inclusion of music as a
permanent soundtrack to our lives would italicise, overstate and even cheapen the living
of it: the emotion is provided by the insatiable reality of life itself; of being there. But
when you watch a film youre not there, youre watching a recording of whatever there
was when it was filmed, and youre watching it in a darkened film theatre with a load of
strangers. The film wants you to think youre there, so the music helps you live the
film. Music therefore is in many ways the ultimate emotional connector. The inclusion of
music is often the thing that succeeds in truly connecting you to the film. Music can be
the emotional bond between you and the film; it can make you understand and enjoy the
film on a much more heightened level than pictures or dialogue alone can achieve. It can
replicate and mimic the kind of vivid personal actuality you feel when you experience
something real. This is musics great power and ultimately it is its greatness. Put simply,
music helps you think the film is real.

The function of any films music is perhaps best expressed by composer Bernard
Herrmann when he suggests that music may be considered the communicating link
between the screen and the audience. Author Kathryn Kalinak goes further, claiming that
music gives the two-dimensional characters on screen their flesh-and-blood humanity:
through a kind of transference or slippage between sound and image, the depth created
by the sound is transferred to the flat surface of the image.

This book will provide hundreds of transcriptions of various film and television themes
and incidental music. Detailed expert advice, context and guidance on composing,
orchestrating and producing music for the moving image are embedded in every chapter,
discussed through the numerous examples featured. The book contains detailed guidance
on music theory and in particular how to understand and interpret harmony. But above
all, the central theme of how music communicates represents the core of what this book
is about. What the book hopes to prove is that music undoubtedly communicates in a
whole multitude of different ways. Whilst our ability to rationalise and enjoy music is
based on virtually innumerable and complex factors such as our level of emotional
intelligence, engagement, aural cognition and intellect, many ways in which music
communicates are general, consistent and predictable. This means they can be evaluated,
understood, appreciated and learned from. People listen in predictable ways because
music is structured in consistent predictable ways to accommodate our expectations.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Although, as Adorno is fond of reminding us, the very birth of film music was immersed
in formula and its evolution buried in codification, ironically, despite the continued
increasingly populist and commercial stranglehold of the industry it serves, film music is
one of the few avenues of commercial music creation in which composers are still
relatively free to explore areas, styles and approaches which would be open to hostile
interpretation if they were judged purely as commercial music.

Critics of film music

Critics of film music can be found everywhere. There are dissenters right across the
musical spectrum ranging from ancient and crusty cultural theorists like Theodore
Adorno who saw it as an adjunct to mass entertainment and therefore a debasement of
what music should be, through to songwriters and symphonists. They sometimes suggest
that the concept of writing to order or writing to picture is restrictive, as if writing
music for the sake of music somehow makes it free. Some (but by no means all)
composers of classical music and classical music academics and scholars (those for
whom the classical canon represents the ultimate arbiter of greatness in music) see film
music not as the extension and evolution of classical music that it so obviously is, but as a
troublesome distraction. The vast libraries of concert music that exist within the
repertoire of many film composers such as John Williams and James Horner, for which
they often have multi-million dollar record contracts, will rarely see the light of day in
concert programs in the UK, whose classical music repertoire is rarely progressive and
tends toward a permanent and ongoing celebration of long-dead classical composers and
a tiny minority of largely unknown 20
century classical composers who write music and
definitely not film music.

At the other end of the spectrum many supposedly progressive electroacoustic composers
resent their music being cheapened by its immersion in film and therefore, ultimately,
commercialism. Electroacoustic music represents and important and valid extension of
what music and sound can be, but it is an acquired taste and understandably doesnt have
a large enough popular appeal for it to be commercial; its existence is, at least partly, a
product of the closeted world of academia. This protection of electroacoustic music by
academia is worthwhile and laudable because it encourages and supports music which
might otherwise be open to hostile interpretation; but it does tend to forge an attitude of
elitism and superiority in some electroacoustic composers, hence the ridiculous reticence
in some parts to see their music as an accompaniment to film.

The elephant in the room in all these cases is that film music is often seen as being
unworthy because it does not exist for its own sake but merely as part of a greater
construct. Another important thing to remember when challenging the belief that film
composers are somehow less free than other composers is that ironically music for film,
despite the restrictions created by the pictures and the narrative, can actually be a good
deal harmonically freer than normal music; the restrictions placed on commercial music
by the record industry that controls it have become increasingly absurd and an inhibitor to
the discovery of new talent, which is why in some respects genuinely new and innovative
artists have a problem breaking through.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Music and meaning

This books centre of gravity is the issue of how and why music suggests and implies
meanings, emotions and feelings and how these can be applied to film. Hopefully it will
show that music does create common and predictable emotions within the listener and
that emotions can be generated by the use of specific chord sequences and other harmonic
and instrumental devices. I say this because centuries ago composers and musicologists
were largely of the opinion that music was incapable of imparting a kind of general
meaning which could be understood. They were adamant that if music seemed to impart
meaning, it just seemed that way. This is discussed at length in the chapter entitled Music
and Meaning. According to many classical composers, musicologists and academics
centuries ago, any meaning that music imparted had to be specific and peculiar to the
individual and was not something which could be seen to be in any way universal or

Composers were at pains to suggest that how they wrote music was a process beyond
rationalisation. They were often incapable of articulating how they thought it all up. This
fuelled the other prevailing idea; the absurd myth of the lone genius. If composers,
musicologists and academics couldnt figure out how people wrote music, then how they
did it was beyond our understanding. If something is beyond our understanding we
generally tend to either ridicule it or revere it. Luckily for composers we decided not to
lock them up or burn them at the stake but instead to revere and worship; to admire and
venerate. Composers would talk of inspiration and of music being from the heart.
They would talk about musical ideas coming from nowhere; about conceptualization
being an ethereal almost spiritual event, beyond understanding. Whether composers
actually believed this or whether it was simply good PR is unclear, but these sentiments
continue to this day to foster a fundamentally flawed perspective of how music is
conceived and created; it affected for an eternity how listeners and music lovers
rationalise music. Hundreds of years of music history tended to faithfully and happily
restate the same views as fact and so the great lie continued. This is not to denigrate or
malign the work of the so-called great composers; merely to re-contextualise it with
modern perspective and more honest context.

History gives us a long list of composers from centuries ago right up to now, whose work
is brilliantly imaginative. The creativity involved and the sheer level of skill, dedication
and incredible ability is staggering. But it is not beyond belief because it happened. The
great problem with history, or rather the telling of it, is that it is mired in sentimentality.
Is every notable or historically famous act of musical composition to be seen as
awesome? And if some are and some arent, who decides what is good and what is bad?
Who decides who the geniuses are? Good and bad do not exist; they are merely opinions,
not fact. Genius does not exist and as a means of evaluating the worth of a composer, it is
a meaningless accolade which simply means that the person giving the accolade is unable
to articulate their thoughts and opinions coherently and rationally and instead opts for the
safe haven of a term nobody understands but everyone agrees must surely be fantastic.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Looking at how and why society places such high accolades on music from the so-called
great composers, we need only look to how society reacts nowadays to any artist or
composer who achieves commercial success. Almost all are universally paraded as being
brilliant or superb or awesome or genius, as if anyone who succeeds commercially
is also by definition excellent. There is a societal tendency to overcook the importance,
relevance or ability of artists. Partly this is the result of ignorance and partly it comes out
of our need for winners and heroes. This is just as present now as it was two or three
hundred years ago, and ultimately it is just as pervasive because it frames the debate and
debases the work of creative artists. It distills their work through the distorted prism of a
media obsessed with celebrity, not ability, and in so doing determines how society
interacts with its musicians and composers.

In concluding this introduction we need to return to the theme of meaning in music;
music suggests and infers emotional meaning and such meaning is the subject of intense
discussion in most of the chapters in this book. To be clear, such meaning is not actually
physically contained in the music itself, it is contained in our reaction and response to the
music, just as words possess meaning not because of what they look like or sound like
but because of the collective consciousness and common beliefs of those who interpret
them. The meaning music imparts is rarely apparent to just one individual. It is frequently
general and obvious to most listeners, albeit to varying levels of accuracy depending on
someones aural cognitive abilities, emotional intelligence and intellect. True, the
meaning harmony imparts does not translate to most people with the immediacy and
succinctness inherent in the written or spoken word or the image, but that is simply
because the meanings in words and images have evolved in more of an absolute,
complete and unequivocal way; we can all convert words into meaning relatively quickly
and concisely. But there are meanings, moods, emotions and feelings created within us
by music which are ultimately governed by our unified and collective reactions and
responses to specific harmonies, chords, intervals and other devices and situations. This
means we can deduce how, why and in what circumstances certain harmonies, intervals,
instrumental combinations or melodies continue to affect us in fairly consistent,
predictable and reasonably uniform ways.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol. 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



Some people come by the nature of genius in the same way an insect comes by the
name of a centipede not because it has a hundred feet, but because most people
cant count above fourteen

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg 1742 1799
German scientist & satirist

Anyone trying to figure out what music is, and therefore what composing is, is caught
between the past, the present and the future. Music, like popular culture, is a moving
target, forever evolving. Analysing composing, one is forever comparing and
contrasting between the past and the present, uncovering commonalities, traditions
and precedents, attempting to offer insights into the future. Teaching composition is
not about whether this chord sequence is good, or whether this melody works, its
about embracing traditions, styles, approaches and using them as a blank canvass for
your own new ideas, interpretation, imagination and vision. No one ever literally
teaches composition, for in many ways it is both unteachable and unknowable; its
about intensely personal decisions which are peculiar and specific to one writer. Its
about the emotional intelligence, creative abilities and intellect of one person and how
they manipulate music structure to offer something which has enough elements of
originality to make it theirs. Budding composers can be sensitively guided through a
labyrinth of stylistic possibilities and opportunities in order to uncover their
preferences and inclinations, from which, with advice and guidance, they can grow
their own distinctive voice. Composers will deduce their own strengths and
weaknesses, and will inject their own personal style. A good composition tutor is
someone who can open the minds of composers to new ideas and possibilities; not
overtly but in a way which makes it almost appear as if it had never happened.

There are rules of logic, science, engineering and science which underline the whole
creative side of music. Why we make the creative decisions we do is down to our
perception of architecture, placement, craft, precision and understanding about how to
harness and manipulate what music offers us, e.g. the almost limitless abundance of
possibilities, permutations and potential music contains and is already there. By
already there I mean that every path we carve out through music, every road we
navigate from the beginning of a piece to the end was already there in theory. We did
not invent the chords or the individual notes and do not own copyright on them
individually. What we own is the architecture; the precise method of construction;
what we own is the journey.

The one thing we bring to music is the one thing it cant do and doesnt already
possess - the ability to choose; to make selections. Every chord trick in the book
already exists in principal but they never exist in fact until somebody chooses them.
Music itself is not a conscious thing; it does not have a mind of its own. We are its
mind. We bring the one thing it never had: humanity. So in essence composers are,
principally and foremost, arrangers; they assemble.
Chapter 1
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol. 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Composing is about choice; ultimately composers choose where to put stuff. A
composer is not responsible for the fact that one chord might work well with the next;
he or she is responsible for deciding to use such chords; for realising the chords work
as they do.

Has music been damaged by its historians?

History is real but the retelling and interpretation of it is someone elses version; the
telling of history nearly always, and to an extent naturally, has a particular viewpoint.
History, or at least the telling of it, is dripping in the kind of sentimentality which can
and does make it prone to being unreliable. History is not usually written by the
people who live it; it is written by people who observe and report from afar. Similarly
the nightly news is not generated by the people who report it, but they frame it and
determine its context. In many respects there are rarely any truths, only opinion and
interpretation. Truth is frequently something we create, not always something that
just is. I say all this because, arguably, no other art form has been more damaged by
its historians and academics than music. The history of music is prone to being
manifestly misunderstood, misreported and misinterpreted by its scholars.

The myth of genius

Over and above the obvious need for heroes and the fact that holding individuals in
great esteem helps and inspires us to succeed, there are other reasons society reveres
the great composers: because we are taught to. As I alluded to in the introduction to
this book, people love music but for the most part they do not understand the method
by which it is achieved, much less the process of conceptualisation and composition.
Because few people can conceive of how music is created and built by composers,
music has always suffered from a kind of emotional isolation and insulation. People
love music but they do not understand it. In one foul swoop most listeners are both in
their element and out of their depth; they revere something they dont understand and
presume is the result of greatness because thats the way society (history books, the
media, etc) frames composers. Anything which is not understood or rationalised is
generally either demonised or revered. Society refers to the great romantic composers
as geniuses simply because it has no other terms of reference: theyre so good its
unbelievable. And if its unbelievable it must be genius.

You could read most books on Beethoven and still be none the wiser about how he
created music. You might read about what drove him but about his process or how
his music communicated or created meaning you would find comparatively little. You
would no doubt read a lot of reverential speculative context about why he wrote what
he did, and when, and in what condition he was. Few people appreciate or understand
how composers compose and so the telling of their life and work become addled with
speculation and supposition. Books often tell us what was written (which notes,
harmonies and instrumentation) and they convey the brilliance of the structure and
organisation of music, but little is written in terms of deducing how and why his
music affects us.

In music there is no such thing as good or bad; there is only opinion and
interpretation. There is no such thing as good music; no such thing as bad music.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol. 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Opinion is prone to being a societal concept in which the wisdom of the crowd is
king. Therefore Beethoven is a genius; and so is Elton John and Stevie Wonder and
anybody else who does something wonderful. Most people dont understand how or
why music communicates, so they shroud it in words like art and genius
concepts which have no meaning, only conjecture, guesswork, opinion, supposition,
presumption. Let us examine the words which normally shroud supposedly great
composers; genius, art and inspiration.


Art is a name we give to the result, the conclusion. We cannot define it. To call a
creative process art is meaningless. It is not a definable process we can rationalise or
understand. The result might, in some peoples estimation, qualify as art but the
process is about intelligence, understanding, perception, placement, architecture,
decision and profound judgment and awareness. Im not saying we should avoid using
any words which dont have a concrete unassailable meaning; simply that we should
remember that such words are, quite literally, meaningless.


Genius is more about revealing our own opinions and imposing them on others.
Saying someone is a genius is like saying look at me, this is what I think. It is a
platform for your own opinions. Genius is a manifestation of our inability to
understand a process - a process which only appears to defy explanation and only
seems to be amazing and therefore genius. Our desire to believe in genius is not
entirely unlike our desire to believe in God: it says more about the believer. Genius is
more of a concept than a reality; it is a nice idea. The concept of genius hasnt always
been here; it evolved as people became more attuned to the concept of personal
greatness and eventually became the prism through which society rationalised the
work of the great thinkers and artists. This is a shame because the growth of the
concept of genius is tantamount to society admitting that it has no proper tangible
explanation for people who achieve great things. I say again, this is not an attempt to
discredit or dispute the fact that immensely talented people exist, simply a desire to
understand ability in a sensible way that can be understood properly.

The concept of genius fulfils our need for heroes. All this is perfectly understandable
but stands as testament to the level to which the history of music has been seen
through a reverential and distorted prism. People do not rationalise music in the same
way they might interpret visual art because for most people music lacks a visual
dimension; we interpret it using only our ears. People can understand visual art better
because they can see it; most have some kind of idea how the art is physically
constructed because they can see it. Phrases such as seeing is believing do not
happen by accident. Because people lack an understanding of how music is conceived
and created, and because most people cannot see it (i.e. read it) the lack of
understanding creates a vacuum which is sometimes filled by endless mystique and

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol. 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



The phenomenon of musical ideas arriving full-blown in the mind is called
inspiration. The concept of inspiration is just as much a myth as genius and the two
concepts tend to fuel each other. Let us consider some statements from the great
composers, when referring to how their ideas came to them. Handel said I thought I
saw all heaven before me. Mozart said Whence and how they come I do not know;
nor can I force them. The music of this opera was dictated to me by God, so said
Puccini. Brahms said I felt like I was in tune with the infinite. All the statements
above share three common characteristics: they cant be understood, they cant be
explained and they cant be challenged. Let us instead turn to what is known; to what
can be proved fairly conclusively.

Beethovens sketches, like Mozarts (many of which have been carbon dated and
subjected to other scientific tests) reveal that both had a habit of writing different
sections of a piece at different times, after which they would place them in sequential
order. Beethoven often worked on several pieces at the same time. He produced
numerous drafts, often spanning years, and would mix and match different ideas from
different pieces. Mozart regularly ran out of ink and used several different kinds in the
composition process. By studying ink patterns scientists and musicologists have
deduced that Mozart rarely wrote fully formed compositions; he sometimes mapped
out the melody and bass first, adding chords and voicing later. He sometimes started
pieces in the middle (or at the point at which he wanted the piece to achieve its grand
statement) and then simply worked back to provide a proper delivery for the great
moment. This is frequently how composers of the moving image often work.

Neither Beethoven nor Mozart would have worked this way if theyd copied perfectly
formed pieces from mental images in their heads, but without this context we have the
perfect illusion; the illusion of immediate linear composing, of inspired genius.

So, what is inspiration? Inspiration is sometimes referred to as the one aspect of
composition which defies explanation. It defies explanation largely because it is not
entirely true. When composers compose, what they are doing is converting the
process of speculative conceptualisation into actual hard truths. When people listen to
music they tap into unconscious or conscious memories of existing structures in order
to understand, classify and rationalise what it is theyre listening to. But this is also
how composers write music. Its the same process but undertaken by someone who
has the mental and emotional faculties to convert their knowledge into the creation of
musical ideas. They invoke tradition and custom; they explore and utilise different
templates, habits and behaviours. They distil all this into structural blocks. They
impose their own changes and alterations using craft, architecture, placement,
common sense, incredible expertise and intellectual ability to fine-tune the product
into a unit for consumption. Granted, this doesnt sound as exciting as being in tune
with the infinite, or as thrilling as seeing all of heaven before me. Nor does it
sound as exhilarating as being dictated by God, but it has the single virtue of being
more plausible. When composers compose they impose their own changes and
alterations on an existing structure. If theyre lucky they impose enough changes to
develop their own style and find their own voice.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol. 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


When people hear music they listen through mental processes which are governed by
a myriad of assumptions and probabilities the brain creates for us, based on previous
listening experiences. We are creatures of habit. The employment of routine and
convention is what prevents us inhabiting a world of permanent chaos and confusion.
Music is rationalised according to how it fits with our preconceptions and our
prejudices; how it rates alongside the thousands of other musical experiences weve
had. The problem is that composers are guided in much the same way; they add a
distinctive voice to the process and so claim moral authority and legal ownership of it
but most composers are essentially involved in the same journey; they are arrangers
first and foremost, deciding where, and how to use what music structure offers us. If
composers were not essentially involved in the same journey, different composers
would sound less alike than they do. We pick different apples from the same tree. The
tree replenishes itself with apples which may have fractionally different dimensions,
but its still the same tree. Composers who really did change things - composers who
fundamentally altered or genuinely evolved music succeeded in plucking apples
from a section of the tree no one else could see or reach.

In some cases they succeeded in taking a cutting from the original tree and growing
an entirely different tree. Another fundamental reason that composers write in
homogenised styles is because theyre fine tuning a product into a unit fit for
commercial consumption. Listeners respond quicker to something they can
understand and composers fulfil their part of the bargain by writing in a way which is
accessible. And so the cycle of commodification continues.

Many composers do not always fully understand, appreciate or respect the process by
which they achieve a creative work. Some dont understand the process by which they
suddenly arrive at a conclusion; a finished musical product. Some dont realise that
their journey has been done before, which makes it easier for them to see the path
before them. Chord sequences have a habit of becoming clearer as they progress,
because as writers we are seduced by the safety and comfort of something we know
and understand. When some composers try and explain their process they tend to
either talk in bland generalities which could theoretically mean anything, or focus on
the distinct and new areas of the piece which are personal and peculiar to them, or
they drench the whole process in abstraction and mystery. This doesnt mean that
composers are dishonest; merely that most of them simply dont sit and ponder or
analyse how and why ideas come to them. Some that do are seduced by the romantic
notion that ideas come from somewhere unknown and are beyond rationale -
something which further fuels the myth of genius.

Paul McCartney, one of the 20
centurys most prolific composers, along with
numerous other popular composers, said he didnt know where his ideas come from.
This is a familiar mantra but the idea that ideas literally come from nowhere is absurd.
Everything comes from somewhere and the idea that musical ideas are somehow
immune from this procedure or separated from this process is an example of how we
romanticise what we dont understand. For example, we are perfectly attuned to
thinking that the great inventions are the product of a perfectly rational mental process
which involves science, engineering and ingenuity. We believe that the person who
invented the Hovercraft or the cyclonic vacuum cleaner is a great engineer, planner
and builder but we dont accord such relatively normal plaudits to composers.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol. 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Instead many accept without a moments hesitation the laughable concept that when
composers conceptualise, their ideas come from nowhere. We suspend our normal
healthy judgment and even scepticism and embrace, without reservation, concepts
which have more to do with magic than anything rational. Composing is not done by
magic. Nor is it done by genius, because the two concepts are unprovable and without
merit. One is ridiculous; the other is a description without meaning or logic.

Listening with prejudice

Despite the rich tapestry of harmonic possibilities music offers us; despite the almost
limitless potential we have access to, the type of harmony that is used is usually
simple and fairly predictable. This is because we compose the same way as we listen;
with prejudice. The notion that we sit down at a piano and compose whatever comes
into our heart is nonsense. Its good PR but it is essentially a lie. The notion that ideas
come from nowhere and are therefore the work of genius or God or some other
implausible or metaphysical concept is a myth. Composing is a series of neural events
governed by biological and intellectual factors, culminating in the creation of
something which has an element of our own sculpturing.

If every piece of music ever written was literally from the heart or the result of a
baffling and utterly personal piece of inspiration unique to every individual, the music
written by one person would sound radically different to the music written by the next
person. Music would not sound as alike as it does. Music is not composed in an empty
emotional or intellectual vacuum. It is the some of your parts; the culmination of your
knowledge and understanding, distilled into music. Every piece of music you ever
listen to plays a part in shaping your musical tastes, habits and routines. This is not
meant to challenge what music is or how clever the individuals who craft it are; but it
does shine a light on the essentially fanciful notion that some innate and utterly
unique and unfathomable greatness of the individual is solely responsible for the
music we listen to.


Composition is often referred to as frozen improvisation and improvisation is often
called spontaneous composition. Improvisation is often labelled extraordinary, but
looked at dispassionately and from a non-reverential and non-musical perspective
there is nothing neccasarily extraordinary about the basic concept of improvisation.
We all do it, all the time. We improvise not in tones but in words. We do not stop
talking in order to conceive our next word or sentence. We just keep talking, reaching
for the best idea and stating it in the most eloquent words possible. Musical
improvisers do the same with harmony and melody. What is fantastic about
improvisation is the considerable skill and dexterity involved in the conversion of
ideas into physical delivery. Improvisers have a way of articulating their vast musical
knowledge in exactly the same way others articulate memory and words. But
improvisation is not as truly random as some would have us believe. Certainly it is no
more random than speaking. Most of us do not randomly speak gibberish for no
reason at all. Most of us articulate our thoughts through speech. Analysed properly
most improvisations are a collection of compacted ideas, strung together and
articulated. Often jazz improvisations are a collection of licks and phrases at least
partly based on training, practice and rehearsal.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol. 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


What mesmerises us is that people can do this with music rather than words. What is
truly exceptional about improvisation is the link between memory, imagination and
performance technique which allows such perfect synergy between the mind, the body
and instrumental technique. We must separate the concept from the practicality to
highlight where the true expertise in improvisation lies.

Our endless preoccupation with greatness and genius and what people perceive to
be the work of one person blurs our knowledge and understanding about how music is
created. John Williams is arguably the most successful living film composer. He
possesses an innate sense of artistry, creativity, judgement, economy and purpose and
a truly fabulous imagination. His music works on an emotional level because it is
articulated brilliantly and communicated so well. But people talk about the John
William sound and this encompasses the work of many people. Indeed one of the
reasons some of his film music is said to be so immediately identifiable is precisely
due to the skills of his orchestrators, notably in the past, Herbert Spencer. Also people
like Shaun Murphy (music engineer) and Ken Wannaberg (music editor) are partly

Absolute Pitch

Absolute Pitch is highly revered, but speaking as someone who enjoys both the
benefits and drawbacks of what used to be called Perfect Pitch (the ability to
recognise the pitch of a note on hearing it), there are important lessons to be learned
about this area which tie-in to aforementioned notions of greatness and genius.
Before we come to AP, let us analyse some fundamental preconceptions about a
number of music related areas and issues. We enjoy what we assume is instantaneous
sight and sound. We are under the illusion that we simply open our eyes and see.
Something makes a sound, so we hear. But sights and sounds actually come to us as
partial and fragmentary information. Our perception systems restore the missing
information with speculation, probability; what we assume is there to see and what we
expect to hear.

Sensory perception makes mental images of the world in our mind representations
of the world outside our heads. It is so quick were not aware of this procedure. So we
presume there isnt one. People often presume that things they cant see or hear or
understand simply arent there. Whilst this is understandable to an extent, it also
compromises our understanding of fundamental mental functions. The concept of
absolutely instantaneous sight or hearing is a complete illusion. Our perceptions are at
the end of a long chain of neural events that give us the appearance, quite literally, of
instant vision. We have a problem acknowledging processes. We have no problem
acknowledging events, because we know theyre real. But the process by which
something happens can be abstract, theoretical and conceptual. So we ignore it. We
ignore the process by which something happens and look only at the outcome, the

There are many areas in which our strongest beliefs mislead us. The appearance of a
flat earth is one. The presumption that our senses give us an undistorted view of the
world is another. Everything we see we presume is exactly as it actually is in reality,
but our perceptions are at least partly guided by best guess.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol. 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Perception involves an analysis of probabilities; the brains task is to determine what
the most likely arrangement of objects in the physical world is. We dont look at
every branch but we know its a tree. Colour is a psychophysical fiction; it is the
imposition of a categorical structure we impose on what we see. Similarly but not as
obviously, pitch is a psychophysical fiction; a direct consequence of our brains
imposing structure on the world of frequency. Frequency exists; pitch is something
we invented to explain it. To go a little further, key is also a fiction; it is a construct,
a method by which we understand and categorise sound - in particular, pitch. It
creates a hierarchy of importance; a pecking order. It exists only in our mind and on
paper. It is something we imposed on music to make sense of it; it is how we
humanised and dominated music.

Our perception fills in the bits that arent there.

Brain categorisation simplifies musical memory as well as musical perception.
Without categorisation the world would be confusing. A dog with a long tail would be
totally different from a dog with a short tail. The same is true of our interpretation of
melody. When music is performed several times, or a piece covered by different
artists, we dont hear them as separate songs. We seldom notice individual
characteristics. We seldom notice tunings. Categorisation disables us from listening to
different pitch. What key something is in is irrelevant to our brains. People can easily
remember songs without the burden of knowing exactly what key somethings in.

So, returning back to absolute pitch, we can instantly name a colour by looking at it,
but why cant we name a pitch by listening to it? In other words, why dont more
people (in fact everybody) have absolute pitch? The answer is, quite simply, because
there was never a need for it. Thousands of years ago our lives depended on our
ability to distinguish colour, but our lives never depended on our ability to distinguish
pitch. If we ate a certain coloured berry we might die.
Because seeing is believing, people are more ready to
accept visual illusions as the most notable proof of sensory
distortion. The Ponzo illusion (left) is an optical illusion
that was first demonstrated by the Italian psychologist
Mario Ponzo (1882-1960) in 1913. He suggested that the
human mind judges an objects size based on its
background. He showed this by drawing two identical lines
across a pair of converging lines, similar to railway tracks.

In the Kaniza illusion (fig 2) there appears to be a white
triangle over a black outlined triangle. Once again this is an

Most of the time the information we receive is ambiguous
or incomplete, but our brains ability to make
identifications based on partial, incomplete or fragmentary
information is brilliant. When we hear music our
preceptors are unconsciously working hard to try and
rationalise it based on simple determining factors

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol. 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


If different berries had sung at specific pitches instead of possessing specific and
identifiable colour, wed probably all have absolute pitch.

Perhaps more people have AP than we think

Imagine you knew the colour red but didnt know its name; you knew what it was but
not what it was called. You could recognise but not classify. Now imagine you know
what the pitch of the note of A sounds like - what it feels like - but because of a lack
of any training in music theory, particularly harmonic categorisation, you dont know
what its called. You can hear it, recognise it, but not classify it; and therefore you
cant prove it. Worse still, if youre not a musician youre probably not even aware
that you can recognise a pitch. People might know you as being particularly good at
Karaoke without anyone realising you have absolute pitch. Absolute Pitch is thought
to be rare but we dont even know that for sure, because AP requires musical
knowledge to even realise youve got it. Remember, musical knowledge is required to
prove you have AP and is probably required to even know you have AP. But its
probably not necessary to have AP.

There are probably many more people with AP than we currently know about. In
order for us to develop it we need to exist in an intensely musical environment,
preferably from an early age. Many of the great composers had it. Many arrangers
and orchestrators have it.

The question as to whether AP makes you a better composer is a tricky one. It means
you can hear your conceptualisations in your head clearly, so the creative process can
be quicker and more intense. Whether that neccasarily makes you better begs the
question, what is better? Often people who possess AP have it because they have
developed a susceptibility to it based on close constant exposure to music. Composers
who write from an early age can develop an innate emotional relationship with music;
this can foster and generate AP. People with AP are simply accessing an ability we all
have the potential for but few have. AP is behind a door that usually remains closed.
AP has never been needed, unlike absolute colour. Therefore comparatively fewer
people appear to have it.

To visit the phrase seeing is believing, consider this: if the ear as an organ was only
as sensitive as the eye, we would hear less than an octave. The ear (in particular the
brains interaction with it) is capable of so much more than it actually does. When we
listen to music, just like the illusion of instantaneous sight, much of what we think
we hear was coming whether we liked it or not. We subconsciously fill in missing
gaps with our knowledge and understanding of tradition and precedent; what we
expected to hear. This continues to be how we rationalise music. The brain has a
strange relationship with music. When conductor Clive Wearing lost large parts of his
memory after an illness, the only bits which survived were memories of music and of
his wife. What a wonderful world that must have been. When Ravels brain
deteriorated he lost his sense of pitch but not timbre. Hence the Bolero was often
said to be orchestration without music.

Plato said: The music masters familiarise childrens minds with rhythms and
melodies, thus making them more civilised, more balanced and better adjusted.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol. 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


He didnt say the music masters made children more controlled but he might as well
have done, for in reality this can be the net result. In the book On the Track Rayburn
Wright and Fred Karlin, referencing recent cognitive studies, said By four months
old babies already prefer major and minor 3rds to the more dissonant minor 2nds.
In the same book David Hutton, head of the Cognitive and Systematic Music
Laboratory, was quoted: Through constant exposure, synapses are trained to respond
to the tones and characteristics of western music. So there we have it; our brains
have adapted to the narrow margins of what music is and are less receptive to what
music might be or is capable of.

In order to completely kill off the myth that to be a great composer you need AP, I
will simply state that excellent relative pitch is sufficient. This is something we can
generate and nurture. This will benefit your own music and your ability to understand
and enjoy the music of others. Most people with AP can also name pitches of non-
musical sounds, such as tills, car horns, bottles clinking, cats meowing, engine noise,
etc. This makes life very interesting and also makes the world very musical but in
itself it is not a great benefit to being a composer.

Music through the looking-glass of its industry

One of the primary battles any teacher of composition has, whether they acknowledge
it or not, is to decide whether musical composition is taught within the reality of the
industry which controls it, or whether it is taught as an autonomous art. Should music
be defined by the current music industry, or do teachers have a broader responsibility
to contextualise the past and offer possibilities for the future? I say this because whilst
this book aims to contextualise the past and learn from elements of its history and
practice, I want to encourage young composers to avoid being defined purely by the
industry and working practices that currently control music. We must endeavour to
ensure the survival of the spirit of adventure and the notion of daring. Almost every
famous and successful film composer has brought something to the table around
which he or she sits. Otherwise film music would be permanently drowning in a sea
of pastiche. Despite an industry desires to commodify and commercialise film music
and turn it into a type of music they can easily market, composers have nevertheless
managed to evolve and advance film music.

What do you call music?

Over the years I have occasionally asked people what they think music is; what
defines it. Someone once said that Bob Dylan represented what music was, until he
dared to play an electric guitar at Newport Folk Festival in 1965 when hundreds
walked out. A jazz enthusiast told me that anything made before 1940 or after 1960
isnt really jazz. Whenever you try and uncover and unpick what music is, you
encounter a world of pride and prejudice, bias and intolerance, misunderstanding and
even bigotry. I even asked a Catholic Priest what he thought music was. He joked
anything as long as its not polyphonic. He was referring of course to the Catholic
Churchs famous banning of polyphonic music (more than one part playing at a time)
because they thought it would cause people to doubt the unity of God. We snigger at
such intolerance in complete denial that exactly the same kinds of intolerances exist
today, exacted by the current custodians of music; the music industry.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol. 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The Church was famous for protecting and nurturing music but also for interfering
with it. The Church banned the augmented 4
(also known as a tri-tone) it was so
awful that it must have been the work of Lucifer. I mention this because the Church
was the Music Industry centuries ago. People often look back with horror to a time
when music was controlled to such a perverse degree without, for even a moment,
seeing the irony that the modern music industry, controlled as it is by corporate
interests and business and commerce, does exactly the same thing. Educators are often
no better; one Degree tutor told her students to avoid 1
inversions simply on the
basis of personal preference. I could name a dozen pieces right now where a 1

inversion was crucial, critical and essential to the success of the music. Most teachers
of composition make the fatal mistake of imposing their views, choices and
preferences on others; teaching becomes merely a vehicle for their own opinions.

The music industrys grip on music is perhaps the latest incarnation of societys
desperate and eternal bid to control music. The classification and categorisation of
music is probably essential in order to make a coherent industry out of it but it is
control nonetheless. Categorisation creates hierarchy; a pecking order of importance.
As an example, most composers readily work on the blissful assumption of melody
being the prism through which music is heard. In fact harmony is probably the
ultimate musical prism. Close analysis of music reveals harmony to be completely
pivotal in almost every way. We assume melody is more important because this is the
bit we can understand. People do not walk down the street humming chord sequences
or singing harmonic extensions or chord voicings. Humanity presumes that the most
important aspect of music is the thing it can rationalise. If we hear unaccompanied
melody we instantly but usually unwittingly rationalise it harmonically. Melody will
always be suggestive of harmony. It will nearly always suggest a chord. We hear it in
context of that chord. Melody thus exists as horizontal harmony. In some ways it
could be said that there is no such thing as unaccompanied melody. When we hear it
we subconsciously attempt to make sense of it, and the way we choose to try and
make sense of it is to hear the harmony it implies.

Another example of how we accept unquestioningly what history has delivered us in
musical terms is summed up in John Cages famous statement that Beethoven was
wrong. According to Cage and other pioneers of the new and bold, melody and
harmony in particular were far too goal orientated. He blamed Beethoven, probably
unfairly, for fostering what he saw as a narrow attitude and approach to composing.
Cage meant that goal orientated music (music which went on a journey and had a
series of junctions before arriving at its destination) pandered to our expectations and
effectively closed us off to other possibilities. It was, he said, all about the goal, the
result, the culmination, and the melody was simply a crude device for delivering the
journey. I say all this because one of the many things we will find through studying
film composers in particular is that they, more than most and because of the unique
nature of what they do and the kind of music they have to produce, are able to
challenge some of the traditions and tolerances that have defined music through the
ages. They are able to refuse to be bullied into pandering to musical expectation
because they are not governed by purely musical or commercial concerns.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol. 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


In general composers either bow to the weight of expectation and use it as a platform
for fumbling around in the dark searching for a new way to say something thats been
said a thousand times, or they subtly distort or dislocate our expectations to try and
create something which, whilst not qualifying as ground breaking, is nevertheless
new or original in its application or context. We find the latter approach a lot in
film music. For ages we have assumed that the only viable alternative to normal
music is to produce something wild, innovative and subversive, such as electro-
acoustic music. The prevailing myth is that tonality has had its day; it is broken,

This is simply not the case. We are nowhere even remotely near exhausting the
wonderful and almost limitless tapestry tonality offers. We do not have to jump off
the deep end in order to be original. Tonality is not as shallow as people think. What
we do with tonality is shallow most of the time, but thats our fault, not its. Tonality,
due to the almost limitless and subtle choices it offers, is much more than the sum of
its parts. A major sobering thought is that most of the real changes in music in the last
100 years have been largely stylistic. The biggest genetically lasting influence on
popular music has been the structure and form given to us by Bach, and that was
hundreds of years ago. Real musical changes to structure and form have been few, and
have been largely ridiculed and ignored. There have been many changes of stylisation,
genre, approach & method, but these are not changes to the idea of what tonality has
to offer. We make think that songwriting has progressed because of the radical and
varied stylistic changes it has gone through, but the fact remains that the industry is
still besotted and dominated by the four-minute song, or as Cole Porter called them,
little symphonies. More than a hundred years after the birth of modern popular
music we are still beholden to the concept of a commercial entity which contains
almost the same harmonic patterns and devices it did a hundred years ago. Styles have
changed but not the concept.

Taking it one stage further, the song itself is simply a crude commercial abbreviation
of the Symphony. Its all based on an adherence to structure, simplicity and
entertainment. Film musics great strength is that although it doesnt have to function
as stand-alone music for entertainment and therefore pander to the normal
requirements of popular music, it is plentiful, abundant, commercially successful,
greatly appreciated and listened to by the public. It is a great area of opportunity for
expressive composers who dont want to be buried up to their ears in commercial
expectation and convention but want to be heard in a commercial context
nevertheless. I do not mean to moralise about popular music and its tendency to
adhere to simplistic and aged styles, methods and approaches; simplicity and tradition
have delivered some of the worlds most endearing and emotionally communicative
music. My point is that surely there must be more? The industrialisation of popular
culture and popular music has been the prism through which music is rationalised,
studied and enjoyed. Why are convention and simplicity such potent and powerful
constructs in music? As we discussed earlier, we look at art. This helps us rationalise
and digest. We listen to music. The extremes of art play better on the eyes than the
ears for most, but to repeat the earlier stated fact, if the ear as an organ was only as
sensitive as the eye, we would hear less than an octave; the brains ability to interpret
sound is so much more advanced and sensitive than its ability to interpret sight, and
yet, ironically, it is this sensitivity which disables us from understanding and
appreciating weird music.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol. 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


People will happily walk around the Tate Gallery and enjoy a wide variety of strange,
bizarre, outlandish, eccentric, peculiar and subversive images. But the same people
would not usually enjoy a concert of equally or comparably weird music. We are
more sensitive to the aurally bold than we are to the visually bold. Perhaps if we could
see music and not just hear it, this synergy of information would allow it to be more
understood and thus allow us to be more open. Another uncomfortable truth is that we
have become punch-drunk and stupefied by the diet of simplicity and mediocrity
weve been fed for a hundred years. This has made us immune to the musically bold.

Film music, more than ever before, remains one of the few areas where composers
can explore styles and approaches which would otherwise not see the light of day.
This book will hopefully enlighten and inform about the many and varied styles
employed in film music; what they are, how they work and why they communicate.

How many illiterate authors do you know?

Large portions of this book require a good understanding of music theory, particularly
notation; not the razor-sharp sight-reading skills needed for performance, just an
ability to understand notation enough to be able to see the structure of music as well
as hear it. Notation is the language of music; if we want to truly understand music we
need to be able to not just hear through our ears but interpret through our eyes. A
combination of listening to and reading music is the ultimate way of understanding
how music works and why it sounds like it does. Aural and visual cognition is a heady
mixture which will enlighten, educate and entertain.

Happily, more and more musicians and composers want to compose for film, but
unfortunately fewer musicians and composers than ever before seem to want to read
music or feel that it is necessary. This area needs to be addressed in order to
contextualise why so much emphasis in this book is placed on the importance of
analysing musical notation. Music is not scored out in this book simply to offer a
visual reference or to allow you to play along; it plays a crucial role in how we
analyse and understand music.

The role of music in society

Until relatively recently written music has always enjoyed a special place within
education. In ancient times music was studied alongside mathematics and astronomy.
To the ancient Greeks music was a byword for intellectual culture and high art. The
old association between music theory, maths and astronomy was maintained in
medieval educational life. During the renaissance period the ability to play or sing
was a massive social advantage and every artist and thinker had a working knowledge
of musical theory. Music was central to the thinking of educational reformers of the
and 19
centuries. Many of them took their cue from the French philosopher
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who suggested that young children should learn music by ear
as they learn to talk, and later learn music theory, as they would language.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol. 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


But what damaged music tuition and eventually all-but banished music theory from
the narrative of modern music education in Britain was the way education failed to
react to changes in popular culture and popular music in the 20
century. Throughout
the 20
century British music teachers were, in the main, classically-trained amateurs,
many of whom feared and resented the evolution of popular music, which seemed at
odds with what theyd been taught to teach. For decades prior to the latter part of the
century, music was taught even in schools, in fact especially in schools in an
imperialist and elitist way which simply pretended popular music hadnt happened
and wasnt there. I myself can remember music classes in the mid-1970s consisting of
children singing hymns. Later when I did my O levels and A levels, the only music
discussed was classical music. I learned lots about Benjamin Britten and Dvorak and
then went home and listened to other music.

This kind of life tainted the way a generation of youngsters viewed music. In a
musical sense at least, school didnt reflect society or normality. The teaching of rigid
classically oriented music theory became associated with the restrictive practice of
only teaching classical music. Modern theory (chord symbols, lead lines, modern
chord voicings the kind of thing you might encounter on most gigs) was not
addressed at all. The only music theory addressed was the kind which might prepare
you to work in a symphony orchestra. For any youngster wanting to be involved in
pop music, school music lessons were the last place to be. If you scour the history of
pop music of the 60s and beyond, youll find many of the artists who went on to be
amongst Britains top performers and composers (Mick Jaggar, David Bowie, John
Lennon, to name but three) went not to Music College but to Art College.

Nowadays pop music is acknowledged and taught in schools. Schools finally
acknowledged the 20
century just in time to catch the end of it. Just as classical
music was the singular prism through which music was taught in schools, now
technology is the central dominating ethos, with most young students deposited in
front of computer screens, able to construct music from samples. Music theory has
been largely jettisoned and is considered by many educators as irrelevant and elitist.
Music must, at all costs, be fun. Students must be able to create their own music and
enjoy the sounds music makes without hardly any meaningful reference to what the
music looks like. The unassailable message is that creativity must be effortless,
enjoyable and never difficult. Theory is difficult and thus doesnt fit into the fun

In a modern world it is perfectly understandable for people to want to understand and
contextualise music in different ways. Technology has been massively beneficial to
music. It has democratised, enhanced and liberated music, freeing it from the
restrictions of its past; but this is no reason for the wholesale abandonment of the use
of our eyes in understanding music. Some say that reading music is irrelevant to a
younger generation. Music theory may be irrelevant to a handful of genres which are
unable to be articulated through notation, but this has always been the case. Some of
the most interesting, effective and ground-breaking music of the 20
Century couldnt
be notated. But most mainstream music could, and still can. Musical notation, one of
the most profoundly beneficial forms of musical enlightenment, is hardly ever
referenced in the teaching of composition in schools.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol. 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


It means in most cases that students never learn about the beauty, the structure, the
abstractions, the similarities, the traditions, the tolerances, the tricks, the methods, the
techniques and the systems with the essential benefit of seeing what they look like.
How, for example, would you teach orchestration without referencing musical
notation? You wouldnt, and yet some think you can teach composition (which is
inherently and inextricably associated with arrangement) without reference to
notation. To read many composition books one would be forgiven for thinking that all
we need to do to understand composing is to simply and endlessly talk about it. In
some respects the study of music, and in particular composition, is its own nemesis. It
has become shrouded in pointless discussion, undue reverence and academic
gobbledegook. It has become immersed in supposition, assumption, guesswork and
hypothesis. It has remained amateur.

This attitude goes on in colleges and universities in Britain too. A majority of colleges
of further education contain music courses where the teaching of theory is almost
non-existent and where teachers themselves are musically illiterate. It happens in
universities too, where you can encounter PhD lecturers teaching composition and/or
songwriting without any knowledge of what music looks like. Worse still, they try
and justify their ignorance by claiming that musicians and composers dont need to
read. They cite the many pop stars who dont read music. Obviously it is true that
many pop artists dont read, but what people fail to realise is two things: firstly, the
vast majority of popular music would never see the light of day were it not for a vast
army of professional session musicians who participate in the recordings. Secondly, if
you teach someone music without teaching them to read music, one or two might be
able to become world famous pop stars but the rest will be relegated to the role of
amateurs. They wont be able to participate in the numerous professional careers
musicians can enjoy which involve reading music. A whole range of careers in music
will be snuffed out simply because their music teacher thought it was okay to be
musically illiterate simply because he was.

To understand how important music theory (particularly notation) is, you have to
understand how theory is used in the practice of composing and in the process of
analysing composition. If there is no use for theory knowledge no practical outlet -
music theory remains precisely that; a theory. Musical notation represents the visual
link between the composer and what they have created. It represents absolute proof
that the student understands what he or she has created, and can therefore replicate it,
enhance it and learn from it to progress. It can be analysed, investigated, scrutinised,
explored and dissected. Composers who can read and interpret and analyse their
structure and craft by looking at it have the means to analyse; to progress. They have
two means of interpreting what theyve done visual and aural. Your ears alone will
rarely be able to fully analyse every aspect of your music or someone elses music.
Those who cannot read their own music might never properly progress; they will
simply become caricatures of themselves; different versions of the same thing,
existing in an eternal present. An ability to understand and analyse music is how and
why arrangers, orchestrators, classical composers and film score writers were and are
able to turn projects around so quickly. What is often mistaken for greatness, genius
or an unfathomable ability to produce music at breakneck speed is actually merely a
deep and profound understanding of what music is and how to capture it.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol. 1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This is one of the reasons the great composers produced so much imaginative and
vividly communicative music; because they could hear it and see it and understand it
to such a fine degree. This is also one of the reasons how and why so many film score
writers are able to distil the vastness of music structure and capture their thoughts so
succinctly and quickly; they understand music aurally and visually. The breadth of
understanding is complete. Composition for these people is not some romantic chance
event accompanied by a flash of lightening. The degree to which they understand how
music communicates has become ingrained in who they are. To be able to see rather
than only hear is crucial. Writing freezes music, and in so doing gives birth to the
grammarian, the logician, the historian, the scientist. The written note or chord or
voicing is far more important than simply a visual reminder; it recreates the past in the

It has often been said that some elements of music technology offer the quick solution
but sometimes lack context. It has been said, for example, that composers, producers
and engineers need the context of the original equipment on which the plug-in is
based in order to properly understand its usage. I would argue against this as a
general rule. The leap forward that technology has brought for music has been
profound and fantastic. It is not necessarily relevant to understand what came before
or what lead to a certain technology in order to respect it. We are where we are and
technology represents the latest instalment of the evolution of music. Some use this
logic as a reason to jettison musical notation completely from the landscape of music.

The reason for retaining musical notation is not out of blind reverential respect for the
past or to try and maintain the past in the present; it is to ensure the continuing role of
our eyes as well as our ears in understanding music. Music notation is simply music,
visualised. It is not technology. I would argue that only using our ears offers the
quick solution but lacks the context. This is nothing to do with technology or
reverence or the past or the future, its to do with human interaction how we
understand, appreciate, identify, empathise, realise, comprehend; in short, how we
know music.

These are the reasons music notation plays such an important role in this book.
A composer who doesnt understand music theory is someone whos full creative
potential might never be fully realised. For any beginners wanting to know precisely
which branch of music theory to work on to get started, I would suggest any of the
Pop or Jazz theory books. When confronted with the hugely dominating classical
music theory books (ones which invariably contain the world Royal), I would turn and
run hard and fast in the opposite direction. Only a small portion of information
contained in classical music theory books is of any interest or relevance. There are no
chord symbols, there are no modern voicings, most of the terminology is ancient and
the music is too. You will drown in a sea of Schubert and appoggiaturas.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


How do we uncover the secrets of music structure?

Musical structure is simpler to understand than most people think. Decisions composers
make are frequently dictated not by the idiosyncrasies, characteristics and eccentricities
of the individual mind, but by the hugely powerful tolerances and traditions which bind
musical structure together. These tolerances, structures, customs, rituals and conventions
are quite narrow given that they respond to a public desire for relative uniformity and
conformity. People dont like having to think hard when they listen and most people
dont listen critically. Why would they? Music is primarily supposed to be entertaining.
As a testament to the consistency of music structure and how relatively quickly it takes
shape during the composition process, its interesting to note that many composers
concede that the further they get into a piece, the easier it becomes. This is because the
journey becomes more and more obvious, predictable and knowable as the process goes
on. We are enticed into making decisions based on what we already know, tolerances we
understand and the safe seductive territory of familiarity. Were reluctant, unwilling or
perhaps genuinely incapable of thinking outside the safe confines of simple music

Given the simplicity of music structure and the ease with which it has been appropriated
knowingly or unknowingly from composer to composer over the centuries, its easy to
form the opinion that writers often get disproportionate credit for things they merely
decided to use - rather than created from scratch. In reality composing is usually more
about arranging, architecture, placement and assembly than it is about truly ground-
breaking original thinking. Most successful composers have two people living
permanently inside their heads. One is the pragmatist, the realist, the logician, the
closer; the voice which stops you endlessly pontificating to a point where you never
finish. The other person living inside your head is an arranger. A good composer is one
who understands the instrumental complexion of their creation and doesnt leave such
vast considerations to chance.

Ideas we sometimes think are original to us are frequently a result of the construct of
musical structure itself. Therefore the degree to which we are prepared to slightly subvert
musical structure often determines how original we can claim to be and also how
successful we might become. There is still considerable scope for enormous creativity
and originality even within the constraints of regular tonality, tradition and structure. If
you examine every successful piece of music which appeals to you personally, invariably
the reason for its success, its appeal and its emotionally communicative qualities are the
result of something within it which is subtly different; something we didnt expect and
are mildly surprised by; our expectations have been quietly confounded. People refer to
pieces having an individual and specific style or character but the reason these moments
communicate so strongly is usually because in some small way they confound our
expectation; they engage us. This is where the composer did something different.
Chapter 2
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Having analysed thousands of examples of film music as well as popular songs and
classical music, in almost every example of a piece which was effective, successful and
remembered, the reason was probably that in some small or subtle way something in the
piece subtly challenged the listening experience, skewing what we expected. If the piece
had been full of such strangeness it would have been difficult to listen to; so the basic
skill appears to be to create something which has enough tradition and regularity to
ensnare us but also enough of something new to engage us without disorientating us too

Even the successful composers (the ones who offer something that challenges our
expectation) seem to fall into two categories; those who lead and those who follow. Such
categories are usually not acknowledged; they dont appear as categories in record shops,
but in every generation of composers there will be those who genuinely break new
ground - those who skew what we expect to such a degree that it slightly redefines what
normal is - and those who, although undoubtedly producing music which communicates
emotionally, are essentially treading an existing path. Given that this second category
represents most of the music well ever listen to, there is significant untapped scope for
vast stylistic, structural and organisational variation. Composers chip away lightly at the
structural blocks but not many manage to fundamentally change the context of music. I
do not beat a moral drum here; ultimately a slow, cumbersome evolution is better than
none at all.

Why is it so hard for composers to create genuinely new music? If you ask most
composers this question they tend to interpret new as bold or brave or weird. There
is a tendency to live within what we perceive to be normal and become victims of
commercial expectation. Many composers think that in terms of normal music there is
nothing left to discover; that the only roads left to explore without going off the deep end
centre around style, sound, arrangement and production. But even within the shackles of
rational harmony there are millions of possibilities, avenues, subtleties and shades which
are rarely explored.

Music shares similarities and characteristics because inherently most of it is very similar
in makeup and design. How do we tap into that hidden structure of music and learn how
to capture, develop and subvert it? Will standard traditional notation reveal musical
structure, or do we have to rely on our aural judgement? Will our ears tell us everything?
Standard musical notation, harmonic groupings (chords) allow you to view music in its
proper sequential order i.e. left to right - the manner in which you listen to it.

Music notation is not really used or taught to be used to analyse, only to follow and
reproduce. The written version therefore seemingly conveys no artistic merit; it suggests
no pecking order of creative importance and it usually conveys no obvious structural
secrets. The assumption is that it shows you a finished product, not the means by which it
was achieved and not the manner of its conception. It shows you the destination, not the
journey. You read music to play and reproduce, not to interpret the secrets of its

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


But these assumptions are misleading; music notation not only offers ways and means of
identifying musics structures and secrets, it is one of the principal means of identifying
how and why music is the way it is. We just have to know what to look for and how to
identify and interpret.

Although chord symbols can only be interpreted by those who understand music theory,
they succeed in giving a name and a description to the precise way in which simultaneous
groups of notes are communicated, rationalised and understood by everyone, not just
people who understand them. In this way, everybody understands chords to a degree; its
just that most people dont realise they do. In many ways a chord name is a name we can
give to an emotion or a feeling. If I was talking to a bunch of film music students it could
take ages to explain something I was trying to articulate, or I could just say #4 and
everybody who knew what emotions a #4 interval was capable of producing, would be
there in an instant.

Everybody hears chords, not just people who understand them. Everyone is a beneficiary
of the effect of a how a certain, specific chord is constructed, not just those who read or
who understand how and why theyre being emotionally affected. We all understand, but
only people who can read music can properly analyse and interpret why. I say all this
because to understand chords and harmony is not just to understand and appreciate what
music looks like; it is to understand why music sounds the way it does. When you look at
a chord, youre looking at music theory, but more than anything else youre looking at
music. To give a name to specific chords or types of chords is the same as giving a name
to the way you feel or a name to a colour or a person. Knowing chords isnt just about
being able to communicate; its a means of expression and understanding. To describe
and interpret is to understand and to know.

Back to the beginning

To be able to glean anything from musical notation which allows us to be an analyst as
well as a reader, we have to briefly go back to the very beginning. We start with the
chromatic scale of C (below) and then we dispense with the chromatic notes to produce
the all-powerful and world-dominating major scale on the stave underneath. As we can
see from the spacing, the major scale may sound normal but it is far from
straightforward. It is the result of intervention.
If you played the chord in fig.1 to almost
anyone, they would instantly name a popular
film character. In this respect, the chord
symbol is more than a mere name or a
description; it communicates a feeling, an
emotion, which we have come to associate
with a specific context.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Classical theory tells us that notes in a major scale equate to specific chords. This helps
us rationalise how music theory itself rationalizes frequency into pitch and turns it into

The template is probably responsible for about 75% of the worlds popular music.
Obviously all music isnt in the key of C the key of C is representational. The chords
used in relation to the key centre are transferable to all keys, but the science is the same

The chords used in fig.5 also have the same key
centre, around which other chords exist.

Unfortunately this template is gibberish because
it shows the chords randomly displayed, not in
their harmonic order or placement in relation to
the key centre.

And yet it is our reliance on the traditional
scalic order of this sequence (fig.4) which
makes it so profoundly unable to articulate the
structures of music.

The chords in fig.4, displayed in
scalic order, evolve from the key
of C. Most music in the key of C
would feature a combination of
these chords

C Dm Em F G Am

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


To the left we have chords down a 4
each time, from sharp keys (G, D, A etc). To the
right we have chords up a 4
from flat keys (F, Bb, Eb etc).

In the example below (fig.8) the key centre is still C but we have dispensed with the
duplicative enharmonic crossovers, choosing the chords which are more appropriate and
easy to rationalise, not all possible enharmonic alternatives.

The figure to the right is the
familiar cycle of 5ths

C# F# B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb
B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
Imagine instead if keys / chords
were displayed as below (fig.7).

In this particular example the key
centre is C. The enharmonic
crossover points are displayed in
boxes at either end of the sequence
of chords. This is a major defining
style of harmonic analysis I will
use numerous times within the text
of the book for the purposes of
understanding film music chord

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


In the example below the key centre is F. The centre of gravity of the key centre has
shifted to the right but in order to retain the integrity of the display and methodology, F
has now visually shifted virtually centre stage.

In the example below the key centre is A. The centre of gravity of the key centre has
shifted again but, again, in order to retain the integrity of the display, A has now shifted
centre stage

In the graph below (fig 11), which is back in the safe key centre territory of C, complete
with an enharmonic overlap, I have added the relative minor chords underneath the major
ones. Chords are contained in bubbles but empty bubbles lie above and below the
chords displayed. Also I have added perforated lines to display the level to which the
chords in this territory lie outside the key centre

B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
Eb Ab Db F# B E A D G C F Bb

The inner perforated circle
represents the chords we find in
75% of most popular music ever
written. This represents the narrow
key centre. Outside this key centre
we see chords laid out in the order
of their harmonic proximity to the
key centre.

The major and relative minor
chords cannot be altered. These
exist with the presumption of a key
centre existing at all. The empty
bubbles above and below can be
used to chronicle any kind of
altered chord (extensions, slash
chords, inversions based on the
chord they lay on top of or
underneath) and are therefore
almost limitless.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


In the version below I have added some examples of chords underneath and above the
primary chords, which would simply be a selection of possible types of extension chords
which might be used. They exist in their correct harmonic context, lying above or below
their host or primary chord.

In the example below (fig.13) the chords underneath and above the primary chords are
simply an alternative selection of possible types of extension chords which might be
used; this time including slash chords and inversions. Again, they exist in their correct
harmonic context, lying above or below their primary chord.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This type of analysis enables composers to study the work of other writers, looking at
choices made, avenues explored. If we design a chord grid for a favourite composition we
can see how composers used the chords available to them. This type of analysis of chords
also enables musicians to contextualise the vast possibilities harmony offers. Using this
system of displaying abbreviated harmony (chord symbols), we can potentially spot other
important structural similarities or peculiarities. If you select songs from a whole host of
famous artists over the past thirty years, take the chord symbols from their songs and
place them over a grid, it can be quite interesting to see what a harmonic analysis looks
like. When we see a chord chart we look at the chords in sequence and so we tend to
analyse bit by bit. When we extract a chord sequence and place it over a chord grid we
tend to see all the song in one hit. Characteristics tend to become more obvious in terms
of how music navigates round a key centre. This kind of analysis of arguably of more use
in songs but it is still useful when analysing chord sequences from film music.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


From major to minor

By displaying harmonic possibilities using a grid of chords we see straight away that
harmony offers a much richer abundance of major chord extensions, inversions and slash
chords than minor. The make-up and harmonic complexities of major chords offer more
possible variation; minor chords less so. This is why grids have more major chord
possibilities. Nevertheless when composing we choose a fairly even variety of major,
minor and non-defined chords which means that actually we choose a disproportionately
higher number of minor chords in relation to how many there are available. This simple
example below represents this. The black box represents minor chords and their
possibilities and extensions. The white box represents major chords and their possibilities
and extensions. The circle represents what we actually use. A simple fact is that most
music makes equal use of major and minor chords.

The major chords are ripe for use because there are so many available extensions. The
ones below represent a few extension types

maj 7
maj 9
6/9 add2 add9 11
Aug 5
(+) Dim (o) b9 b10 13(#11)

In addition there are then a vast array of inversions and slash chords. Minor chords are
harmonically less able to be altered. Below are pretty much the main extensions used.

m7 m9 m6 m11

With minor chords less slash chords are available because there are fewer chords on
which to base such chords.


Whats available Whats available
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Now I want to look at some fairly obvious chord relationships; chord sequences that work
because of obvious proximity.

Its worth pausing here for a moment to consider how these simple chord exchanges
work. On a crude level they work, quite simply, because they share a common note.
There is a common relationship, which, as listeners, we respond to.

But on a deeper level we respond to something else; a different context and meaning.
This different context and meaning is featured in many of the analysis contained in this

B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb

Chords of C & Ab connected by the note of C
Chords of G & Eb connected by the note of G
Chords of A & F connected by the note of A
Chords of D and Bb connected by the note of D
Chords of E and C connected by the note of E
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The issue is that, as musical notes they remain the same, but what they represent as
intervals has changed. The C and E on the treble clef stave represent root and major 3

but in bar 2 the same two sounds and notes now represent 5
and maj7
because they
have been recontextualised by new notes underneath. Most people are happily oblivious
to this fact but it still affects their listening experience. They are beneficiaries of the
change in intervallic context without being aware of it. When we hear notes move in
chord sequences we respond to two realities, not one. There are two types of movement
taking place, not one.

Taking the relationship between the chords of D and Bb and their common note of D,
during the transition we hear the note of D once and then again as part of its new
surroundings. We hear the same note (this is the musical context) but we hear another
relationship (how the note relates in terms of its interval in the new chord) too. As a note
it doesnt move; it goes from D to D. As an interval it moves from the root of the D chord
to the 3
of the Bb chord. As listeners this is the intervallic manoeuvre we respond to.
This is part of what music is. Each and every melody note and each and every note in
each and every chord have two possible meanings; two realities: the musical and the
intervallic. This, more than almost any other aspect of harmony, defines how we respond
to what we hear. This central point will appear regularly in this book in varying degrees
of complexity.

Below are some more filmic examples of chord sequences with common notes but
different contexts.

If we look at the two simple chords to the left,
we presume the only movements we are aware
of are the bottom two notes (from C and G to F
and A). We assume that this alone dictates how
we perceive the chord changing. The top two
notes are physically unchanged so we assume
they are unchanged.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


I have given these chord changes names to contextualize them a little better. In real
terms James Newton Howard does not own the chord change attributed to him and nor
was he the first or the only composer to use this device.

He has, however, exemplified its usage perhaps more than most modern film composers,
as we will see in numerous examples of his work featured in this book. The strength and
beauty of the sequence and therefore the reason it transports so emphatically and
emotionally lies in the peculiar usage of the 3
. The example above shows the chord of E
moving to Fm. The sequence is equally effective whether its forwards or backwards. The
G# (3
of the E chord) becomes the Ab (min 3
of the Fm chord), and therein lay its
uniqueness. The major or minor 3
are what we sometimes call defining intervals. They
literally define the basic character and colour of a chord and they transport emotionally
more than most intervals. The existence of the 3
is the reason for most of the obvious
colour in a chord; without a minor or major 3
a chord possess a stark and suspended
B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
G#m C#m F#m Bm Em Am Dm Gm Cm Fm Bbm Ebm

The James Newton Howard
chord change
The Goldfinger
chord change
The Sci-fi chord change
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


In these two chords in the JNH chord change we have the major 3
becoming the minor
of an entirely different chord but with the sound of the note staying the same. We call
it an Ab or a G# depending on which chord the sound happens. The sound of the Ab/G#
represents min or maj 3

respectively. The listener therefore hears a kind of musical
version of an optical illusion. The note remains the same but seems to change. It therefore
seems to do the impossible. The major 3
becomes the minor 3
and it does not move an
inch. What moves is the context, the surroundings, the interpretation.

This book will diversify in later chapters into complex detail about how such chord
exchanges work in a filmic environment and how they transport emotionally and even
visually. For now I have displayed several versions of the same chord shift, in different

The James Newton Howard chord change in a few different keys. The top note of each
first chord in every bar represents the min 3
with the top note of the second chord
(which makes the same sound) representing the maj 3

The sequence below is an abbreviated section from the score to the film Signs, music by
James Newton Howard. The piece starts by fluctuating between C and Cm. These two
dont belong in the same key centre so create a slight emotional tension. This is then
capitalized on by the famous chord trick in bars 8-9 (Cm to B), where what was the Eb
(min 3
of the Cm chord becomes the D# (maj 3
of the B chord) by merely changing its
name, context and function; not what it is but what it is perceived to be.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



In order to simplify and contextualise the issue of musical context of a note versus
intervallic context, the stave below features several chords all voiced on bass clef. The
line at the top of both staves is a musical representation of the top note, the E.

Audio First Crop Circles (from Signs) James Newton Howard
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This time the line which runs over the top of each stave is a visual representation of the
note of E (top of each voicing) in context of what it represents as an interval within the

The note of E therefore has two qualities, two characteristics, two contexts, two realities:
the musical context and the representational intervallic context.

Another example below helps to contextualise this issue. Below we have a succession of
chords, all of which are in root position. This makes the journey from one to the next
chord clinical and parallel sounding, as displayed by the notation and the somewhat
exaggerated perforated contour lines underneath, displaying the note names.








b 10

As we can see from the graph below, the intervallic movement (the intervals in relation to
overall chord they create) show a predictably virtually identical pattern of movement
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The same chords below are now revoiced to allow more consolidated and variable
movement. Underneath we can now see the contours of the notes have variation.

Perhaps the best way of displaying the magnitude of the difference between the note and
the interval it represents relative to the chord created, is by placing both contexts side by
side (below, fig.11). Before you look at this have a glance back at fig.22 and 23 which
contain the musical and intervallic context of the root-positioned version.

Top note of the chord
note down
note down
note down
Bottom note

If we now look at the revoiced notes as intervals we can see that they too are now
variable and not identical like they were in fig.8
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This is what the chord sequence looks like in terms of notes (top) and intervals (bottom).
This is what we listen to when we hear these chords this way, voiced appropriately to
ensure movement and variation. This is why harmony is much more than simply a bunch
of notes. Perhaps this is like looking at music in 3D.

How many notes change in this
How many notes change in this
Physically only one note changes in each sequence but in reality all notes change. One
changes physically but some change intervallically, as shown below.


How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


One of the most effective ways of using harmony is to create the feeling of a lot of
movement but without the actuality of as much physical note movement. The interval
context changes but not the notes. As listeners we are in two worlds at once. The crucial
thing here is that when a note changes intervallically but not actually, the listener is much
more involved in the reinterpretation of that event, which is why sometimes such chord
changes can create a strange feeling.

Another example is below, where, solely because of the movement of two notes on the
lower stave, what the chord is changes profoundly. It could be said that the chord symbol
name is simply a name and bears no resemblance to what people hear. But people hear in
much more complex ways than we assume. They are able to detect and respond to the
changing context of the top notes. They hear the same notes but are emotional
beneficiaries of the evolving intervallic context. The changes in chord symbol name,
therefore, represent an accurate example of the scale and magnitude of the change

Am G F
(add2) (2/6) (b5)

The chords to the left are more
examples of the same issue. The
context of the top three notes of the
three chords changes purely because of
movement in the lower stave. The
other interesting thing is that the notes
on the bottom stave go physically
down; the notes on the top stave stay
physically static but the intervallic
context of the notes on the top stave
moves up.

Cadd2 Dm7 Eb6/maj7 Em7 F6/9
(omit 3) (omit 3/add 11) (m6) (omit 3)















How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Below G notes are notated onto a stave. The chords which accompany this passage
ensure that the intervallic context of the G notes change. Underneath the stave I have
annotated a contour that matches the different intervals that the G notes represent as the
sequence evolves

The notion that the G note remains the same is an illusion. In the sequence above, as in
most music, notes do not exist unilaterally, in a vacuum; they are part of a larger
harmonic context. They exist as intervals of an accompanying chord. We hear the
intervallic manouvre happen, simultaneous to the static note. The same G note is score
below in a light-hearted attempt to merge both contexts.

The chord sequence below we will call the Sci-fi chord sequence (which I alluded to
briefly on page 12). It could belong to Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, John Williams,
any other sci-fi composer and truthfully any other composer, but of course it belongs to
no one. The sci-fi genre in general has perhaps used this chord maneuver more than most
so to call it the Sci-fi chord sequence is simply a means of identification.

Why does C to Gm work so well? To answer the question see what C to G sounds like. It
sounds obvious, classical and traditional. Using the grid system we can see straight away
that C to Gm sounds far away because the Gm literally is outside the key centre of C.
The Sci-fi chord-change therefore changes the predictability of the C to G exchange by
turning the G major into a minor chord. We will discuss this and other more complex
chord changes during this book but for now below I have notated the chord sequence in
all its keys.









How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Em Am Dm Gm
C F Bb
Am Dm Gm Cm
F Bb Eb
Dm Gm Cm Fm
Eb Ab Db
Cm Fm Bbm Ebm
Bb Eb Ab
Gm Cm Fm Bbm
Ab Db Gb
Fm Bbm Ebm Abm
C# F# B
A#m D#m G#m C#m
F# B E
D#m G#m C#m F#m
G#m C#m F#m Bm
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This chord exchange is simple and effective. It exists in pop music but is at its most
effective when used in context with orchestra in a film environment. Many of the
numerous filmic melodic and harmonic ideas we will analyse are created not as pure
musical ideas but as ideas which require film to play its part in bringing them to life.

The Goldfinger chord change is arguably tied more emphatically the source of its use
than most chord changes, principally because it is so iconic and well-remembered and
because it is rarely used as a chord sequence outside of that context. The dramatic context
of its use in John Barrys famous Bond score delivers the sequence in its most dramatic
form. So, why do these chords transport so well? Why do they sound odd but dramatic?
Once again the sequence shares a common note; the chord of F and the chord of Db share
the common note of F. Below we see chord maps of both key centres, side by side.

C#m F#m Bm Em
F#m Bm Em Am
Bm Em Am Dm
F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb C

To the right we have
the sci-fi chord used
in Jerry Goldsmiths
iconic and much-used
Star Trek theme
F Bb Eb

Dm Gm Cm Fm
Audio - Main title theme from Star Trek - The Motion Picture
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


They two chords are miles apart in terms of key centres, as the chord grid above shows.
Whoevers key centre you take as the first, whether its F or Db, the maneuver between
the two is odd. Below I have displayed the same F to Db chord sequence in each of the
three bars, but have voiced them differently, because the voicing here is crucial. The one
in bar three is the most accurate in terms of being a simplified version of the orchestration
and voicing employed in the song and film. Why was this voicing chosen and why is the
voicing at the centre of the success of this sequence in the film Goldfinger?

The answer is simple; in bar 3 the voicing of the two chords (F and Db) has the major 3

on top. The 3
, whether its a major or minor, as weve discussed already, is what we call
a defining interval. Having the 3
on top of a voicing will expose the interval. This -
combined with such an odd out of key centre chord exchange - completes the exercise.

In the next couple of pages Ive filled the grids with various chord relationships created
by notes common to both chords; this time less obvious chords, links and relationships
but the kind of links film score composers might think of. I have contextualised them
with the grid so readers can see where the chords lie in terms of their harmonic closeness
or detachment to each other. Often chords which work well are rarely thought of if
composers are simply thinking in terms of key centres or the way traditional harmony
operates; thats why its good to look at them in this context.

As before, the two lines of primary chords (major and relative minor) are preset.
The rest are a collection of regular extensions, slash chords, inversions and other types of
chord embellishments. There are, as always, many more major chord variations than
minor chord variations, which makes the grid appear top heavy.
















As this reduced score shows, the
drama is increased by the wah-wah
muted trumpet figure which
essentially repeats the original motif
but over the Db chord. What had
been the 3
-to-root figure now
becomes a discordant clashing #5-to-
Plunger- muted trumpet
Audio Goldfinger (John Barry/Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley)
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
G#m C#m F#m Bm Em Am Dm Gm Cm Fm Bbm Ebm
B6 E6 A6 D6 G6 C6 F6 Bb6 Eb6 Ab6 Db6 Gb6
B7 E7 A7 D7 G7 C7 F7 Bb7 Eb7 Ab7 Db7 Gb7
Bmaj7 Emaj7 Amaj7 Dmaj7 Gmaj7 Cmaj7 Fmaj7 Bbmaj7 Ebmaj7 Abmaj7 Dbmaj7 Gbmaj7
Bmaj9 Emaj9 Amaj9 Dmaj9 Gmaj9 Cmaj9 Fmaj9 Bbmaj9 Ebmaj9 Abmaj9 Dbmaj9 Gbmaj9
B9 E9 A9 D9 G9 C9 F9 Bb9 Eb9 Ab9 Db9 Gb9
B9 E9 A9 D9 G9 C9 F9 Bb9 Eb9 Ab9 Db9 Gb9
(#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11)

B13 E13 A13 D13 G13 C13 F13 Bb13 Eb13 Ab13 Db13 Gb13
B E A7 D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
(sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4)

B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
o o o o o o o o o o o o

+ + + + + + + + + + + +

B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
D# G# C# F# B E A D G C F Bb
B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb Fb
G#m7 C#m7 F#m7 Bm7 Em7 Am7 Dm7 Gm7 Cm7 Fm7 Bbm7 Ebm7
G#m6 C#m6 F#m6 Bm6 Em6 Am6 Dm6 Gm6 Cm6 Fm6 Bbm6 Ebm6
(b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10)

B7 E7 A7 D7 G7 C7 F7 Bb7 Eb7 Ab7 Db7 Gb7
G#m6 C#m6 F#m6 Bm6 Em6 Am6 Dm6 Gm6 Cm6 Fm6 Bbm6 Ebm6
C# F# B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab
(b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10)

Obscure relations. The D and E (sus4
and 5
) become the 3
& #11

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
G#m C#m F#m Bm Em Am Dm Gm Cm Fm Bbm Ebm
B6 E6 A6 D6 G6 C6 F6 Bb6 Eb6 Ab6 Db6 Gb6
B7 E7 A7 D7 G7 C7 F7 Bb7 Eb7 Ab7 Db7 Gb7
Bmaj7 Emaj7 Amaj7 Dmaj7 Gmaj7 Cmaj7 Fmaj7 Bbmaj7 Ebmaj7 Abmaj7 Dbmaj7 Gbmaj7
Bmaj9 Emaj9 Amaj9 Dmaj9 Gmaj9 Cmaj9 Fmaj9 Bbmaj9 Ebmaj9 Abmaj9 Dbmaj9 Gbmaj9
B9 E9 A9 D9 G9 C9 F9 Bb9 Eb9 Ab9 Db9 Gb9
B9 E9 A9 D9 G9 C9 F9 Bb9 Eb9 Ab9 Db9 Gb9
(#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11)

B13 E13 A13 D13 G13 C13 F13 Bb13 Eb13 Ab13 Db13 Gb13
B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
(sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4)

B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
o o o o o o o o o o o o

+ + + + + + + + + + + +

B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
D# G# C# F# B E A D G C F Bb
B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb Fb
G#m7 C#m7 F#m7 Bm7 Em7 Am7 Dm7 Gm7 Cm7 Fm7 Bbm7 Ebm7
G#m6 C#m6 F#m6 Bm6 Em6 Am6 Dm6 Gm6 Cm6 Fm6/9 Bbm6 Ebm6
B7 E7 A7 D7 G7 C7 F7 Bb7 Eb7 Ab7 Db7 Gb7
G#m6 C#m6 F#m6 Bm6 Em6 Am6 Dm6 Gm6 Cm6 Fm6 Bbm6 Ebm6
C# F# B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab
Obscure relations: The A (3
) becomes the 6
. Because of the multitude
of possible representations each note has depending on its surrounding
context, we only have to change notes in the first chord subtly to arrive
at a completely different one

Obscure relations: The
only note that changes
out of the entire chord
is the bass note, from
an E to F.

G of chord 1 (b10 of E
chord) becomes 9

D of chord 1 (7 of E
chord) becomes 6

G# of chord 1 (maj3
E chord) becomes
of Fm

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
G#m C#m F#m Bm Em Am Dm Gm Cm Fm Bbm Ebm
B6 E6 A6 D6 G6 C6 F6 Bb6 Eb6 Ab6 Db6 Gb6
B7 E7 A7 D7 G7 C7 F7 Bb7 Eb7 Ab7 Db7 Gb7
Bmaj7 Emaj7 Amaj7 Dmaj7 Gmaj7 Cmaj7 Fmaj7 Bbmaj7 Ebmaj7 Abmaj7 Dbmaj7 Gbmaj7
Bmaj9 Emaj9 Amaj9 Dmaj9 Gmaj9 Cmaj9 Fmaj9 Bbmaj9 Ebmaj9 Abmaj9 Dbmaj9 Gbmaj9
B9 E9 A9 D9 G9 C9 F9 Bb9 Eb9 Ab9 Db9 Gb9
B9 E9 A9 D9 G9 C9 F9 Bb9 Eb9 Ab9 Db9 Gb9
(#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11) (#11)

B13 E13 A13 D13 G13 C13 F13 Bb13 Eb13 Ab13 Db13 Gb13
B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
(sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4) (sus4)

B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
o o o o o o o o o o o o

+ + + + + + + + + + + +

B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
D# G# C# F# B E A D G C F Bb
B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb Fb
G#m7 C#m7 F#m7 Bm7 Em7 Am7 Dm7 Gm7 Cm7 Fm7 Bbm7 Ebm7
G#m6 C#m6 F#m6 Bm6 Em6 Am6 Dm6 Gm6 Cm6 Fm6 Bbm6 Ebm6
B7 E7 A7 D7 G7 C7 F7 Bb7 Eb7 Ab7 Db7 Gb7
G#m6 C#m6 F#m6 Bm6 Em6 Am6 Dm6 Gm6 Cm6 Fm6 Bbm6 Ebm6
C# F# B E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab
(b10/b13) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10) (b10)

Obscure relations. All three top voiced notes remain static but the chord
changes completely. Ab (flat 13
of first chord) becomes min3
second chord. Eb (flat 10
of first chord) becomes min 7
of second
chord. Bb (7
of first chord) becomes mid-voiced 11
of second chord

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


When the same notes mean different things in different contexts, we can sometimes
change chords completely by only actually changing one note.

In order to change chords we dont need to always change all the notes. We need to
simply change one note which will recontextualise what the remaining notes represent.
Bars 1 and 2 feature a treble stave of identical notes but which have different names due
to their context within the chord which they represent. The same applies to bars 3 and 4.
The defining context in the chords in bars 1 and 2 is a singular bass note; this changes
everything. It changes the context of the notes above without moving what they are,
merely what they represent intervallically.

This is an important issue; film score writers have to acquire subtlety and refinement,
sensitivity and delicacy. These are often not found in obvious chord changes or harmonic
devices. An ability to identify and codify musical relationships and structures should be
at the heart of any film composers talent, whether its a conscious or an unconscious
skill. Without wishing to sound disingenuous, whether or not composers necessarily
know what theyre doing all the time doesnt alter the fact that theyre doing it. The fact
that so many composers buy into the same tried and trusted structural templates and
patterns that film music offers is a testament to how well such structures and constructs
and harmonic assemblies work. It is also a testament to how easily they are found and
appropriated. None of this lessens what a film composer does or the level of their
ingenuity, initiative, resourcefulness, skill, cunning or cleverness. But it does place it in a
proper, more enlightened and arguably more honest perspective.

Opening our minds to different ways of viewing music can help unlock doors that remain
closed simply because of how we rationalize music. Traditional theory is essential but
one of the pitfalls is that it is designed not to analyse and discover new ideas, but to
chronicle, annotate, interpret and perform existing music. That is the context of its
existence. In order to use what music theory offers, try to use it to analyse and identify
patterns and characteristics in film music.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The chord chart below shows a few examples of chord changes which are less obvious.
Each bar begins with a chord, the context of which evolves into something else.
Sometimes composers can gain mileage from making one chord fit into an entirely new
chord by manipulation and the creation of new extensions. Composers normally change
from one chord to another in rather more obvious ways; occasionally they add extensions,
embellishments or inversions but the basic design of music means most chord changes
are a little italicized. Underneath is what can happen when you evolve a chord by
retaining as much of it as you can but adding other notes to reshape existing notes.

Below we have the harmonic movement of each of the bars above contained in a graph,
in which the musical note movement of the treble clef voicing is displayed, along with
its representational movement.

















Top stave notes


Top stave notes


































How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Also composers all-too rarely benefit even from what a more enlightened and artistic use
of an inversion might bring. Most use inversions as stepping stone chords, transitory in
nature. Remember, chords are defined by two things: what they are but more importantly
how theyre used. A chord is only as good as the way you use it. There is, for example, as
I have stated elsewhere, no such thing as a great chord. A great chord in isolation is
robbed of the context which makes it great.

Film composers tend to work more closely with subtlety, intimation, suggestion and
innuendo and so tend to use more varied devices for extorting colour and emotion from
music. Sometimes the more distant the link, the more tenuous the relationship is, and the
more oblique the change is - the better the end result.

One way to use chords you might not otherwise have thought of, is to take the root note
of your key centre chord (Eb in the example above) and apply it to chords outside the key
centre itself, forcing different and unorthodox extensions as you do so

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



Distinguished screenwriter Hanif Kuresishi describes popular music as a form crying
out not to be written about in his introduction to The Faber Book of Pop. (Thompson,
2001: 57). To an extent he has a point; many of the traditional critical theories which
apply to music are from a different generation and some no longer apply to
contemporary circumstances. That said, there are critical frameworks which, despite
their age, context and circumstance, succeed in highlighting and exposing current
issues in music composition, commission and usage.

This chapter will attempt to unravel and highlight whether, and to what degree, music
contains meaning. I will examine theories from some of musics biggest critical
thinkers and analyse how traditional beliefs translate in a modern context. I will
attempt to address various issues, traditions, precedents and realities which continue
to affect the role of todays composer.

Music analysed includes The Big Country (Jerome Moross), The Magnificent Seven (Elmer Bernstein),
JFK (John Williams), The Day after Tomorrow (Harald Klosser and Thomas Wander), Independence
Day (David Arnold), Back to the Future 3 (Alan Silvestri), The West Wing (WG Walden), Jurassic Park
& Star Wars (John Williams), Dallas (Jerrold Immel)

Conceptualisation: Do composers think or do they simply do?

When we examine issues concerning originality, freedom, authenticity and
conceptualisation, a rhetorical question appears: are composers free to think, or is
their purpose simply to do? Some have argued that films, particularly the Hollywood
variety, and therefore the mainstream, have overused or in some way misused music
consistently for almost the entire history of film itself. The argument traditionally
centres on the degree to which music has been standardised and immersed in formula.
There are, however, conundrums and contradictions at the highest level of debate.
Whenever musics meaning and its use commercially are debated, the omnipresent
dominating influence of cultural and musical theorist Theodor Adorno appears.

Adorno calls music a language without concepts. He and
Eisler dismiss standardisation with the film music industry as if
languages of any sort were not sets of conventions. By
understanding music as an art rather than as meaning-making
practice, Eisler and Adorno contain it within the realm of the
universal and the aesthetic and remove perceivers even as part
of the evaluative process of film music.
(Kassabian, 2001: 39)

The quote from Kassabians book Hearing Film is useful because it highlights
Adornos legendary reluctance to see music in anything other than its purest form.
This is laudable but perhaps limiting, especially when analysing film music, the
primary function of which is as part of a greater, commercially-driven entity: film.
Adorno refuses to conceive of music as in any sense subservient or even equal to a
concurrent but separate commercial art.

Chapter 3
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This belief is, of course, a 20
century manifestation of the post-Enlightenment view
that music is, first and foremost, an autonomous art.

Baroque and pre-Baroque notions that, for example, specific
scales or phrases might have specific meanings have been
denounced since the enlightenment.
.Communication of meaning came to be considered outside
the realm of musics tasks
(Kassabian, 2001: 15)

The useful quote again displays the restrictions imposed on thinkers who adopt the
purist theory that music is devoid of meaning. One of the central themes of my book
is that not only does music convey and create meaning - there is structure and method
to the way in which such meaning communicates emotionally. There are ways we can
rationalise and understand specifically how certain musical devices create emotion
and meaning. This is why I feel duty bound to encompass traditional beliefs which
disagree with this theory at the outset. One of the central criticisms levelled at film
music by Adorno is the level to which it has become immersed into, and subservient
to, film and the level to which it has been sucked into commodification and
standardisation. But this sits uncomfortably with his other theory, namely the idea of
rationalising music as an art rather than as a meaning-making practice. If music is
unable to convey a sense of meaning within its listeners how does it manage to
become standardised? This collision and contradiction of theories displays the perils
of trying to impose a specific dictum on the meaning of music.

In his book Composing for the Films Adorno argues that it is musics ideological
function that has caused it to become institutionalised. (Kalinak, 1992: 34).
Certainly in the early days of accompanied silent films, music was improvised and
often wildly inappropriate. It lacked the institutional conventions which would later
identify it and lead to its standardisation. When film shifted from cottage industry to
big business, the improvisatory ethic was lost forever and replaced with structure and
inevitably codification. This codification worked, but it was codification nonetheless.
So we are left with the conundrum that the standardisation needed to make music
function as part of a film is precisely the restriction that has lead to its

Adorno, obsessed as ever with the hierarchical relationship between film and music,
suggested that music can radically critique and even undercut a films dominant
ideology. This is true to an extent but to suggest this as the main premise for musics
inclusion in film is questionable.

It is not just the great 20
century intellectuals and the thinkers who promote the
notion of music as meaningless.

I consider that music is, by its very nature, powerless to
express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind,
a psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature. If music
appears to express something, this is an illusion and not
reality Stravinsky (1936:91)
(Kassabian, 2001: 15)
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One remains baffled as to whether composers such as Stravinsky said such things
because they perceived them as fact or because they come from a subconscious and
unintentional delight in promoting the concept of music as a kind of magic, devoid of
the ability to convey meaning and therefore any kind of rational explanation. More
honest composers might venture to suggest how comparatively easy it is to construct
music; how effortlessly it falls into shape and how easily it creates meaning in its
listeners. But to acknowledge this not only pits one against the 20
Centurys great
intellectuals and thinkers, it also robs music of the eternal myth of the greatness that
so defines it.

To be clear, as I state elsewhere in this book, I do not suggest that music, unilaterally
and by itself has intrinsic contained meaning: people listen to music based on their
previous experiences. Our listening ability and aural cognition is largely based on
how compares and contrasts to previous listening experiences. Indeed many of our
cognitive abilities are based on our ability to classify and categorise the world around
us. We do not listen each time with a fresh perspective, just as when we open our eyes
we do not freshly reinterpret everything we see. Specific chord types and even chord
sequences appear regularly, and because we interpret these emotionally, they establish
a characteristic, a kind of meaning, within us. On a basic level this is the ability to
associate major from minor and consonance from dissonance, but on an advanced
level there are specific harmonic events which can create more specific meanings.
When we hear fragmented or fractured harmony, where essential elements of chords
are missing or skewed, we can interpret this in ways which cause excitement or
anxiety. Because of the regularity with which some harmonic events appear, or the
consistency of the context in which they appear, the emotions and meanings they
create within us can become common to many people, not just one person. They take
on a collective identity, or meaning.

Play the distinctive Em9 and most people will hear James Bond, or at least hear a
chord which creates within us a furtive, clandestine feeling or meaning. Even people
who have never watched James Bond will gain a similar meaning from the chord
because of how specifically different it is to normal chords. Such meaning can
then be tied specifically to how the chord is constructed and the tensions it creates.

We do not listen with a blank slate; we listen with prejudice. We therefore recognise
and respond to consistencies and similarities. Because most music is constructed from
the same basic harmonic and textural DNA, we develop an understanding of basic
types of harmony and when we hear different harmony we sometimes respond in a
specific and predictable way. Because music is constructed from such narrow
harmonic DNA, such meanings are not exclusive to one person but exist in a more
general, more social form.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The infantilising of the audience

In his book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls respected film historian Peter Biskind refers to
an apparent infantilising of the audience.

They were infantilising the audience, reconstituting the
spectator as child then overwhelming him or her with
spectacle, obliterating irony, aesthetic and self conscious
and critical reflection
Biskind, 1998: 344

His target is not necessarily music, but since music is such a large part of the era of
film to which he referred, it is implicitly included. He referred to the gradual
diminution of the art of film itself. The explosion of money fed into the film
industry in the 1980s, thanks largely to profits made from American films by theatres
in the 1970s, led to growth in the number screens and of films being shown. This
brings with it an illusion of choice and diversity, but some have said that actually a
simultaneous opposite effect in terms of the styles and genres available, has taken

The choices available are smaller than ever, but they are greater in number. In fact we
are more likely than ever before to see an American film, and less likely than ever
before to see art-house films receiving national theatrical distribution. This is not an
argument about arts funding; moreover it is an example of the bloated nature of the
film industry; a comment on the gradual morphing of the industry into a perfect
commercial entity, one in which the wisdom of the crowd reigns supreme and the
lowest common denominator is king.

It is a fair assumption that this is one of the many factors which has led music to be
formulaic, derivative and commodified. When any cultural force, business model or
stylistic approach dominates an arts industry, the results are inevitable. Once again we
are in Adornos hallowed territory; the first section of his book Composing for the
Films contains some of his theories, principally his dismissal of popular culture as a
product of an oppressive culture industry. (Kassabian, 2001: 38). If this is true it
would explain the downward slide into predictable scoring clichs to which he
alludes. He suggests that film music is too closely wedded to the commercial music
industry. Not only is this certainly the case over the past twenty to thirty years, but
this collision of mentalities which has merged commercial music with film music
became extremely evident at exactly the same time in history as the infamous
infantilising of the audience. These facts to an extent prove Adornos points; a
sideways glance at the film industry since the 1970s and in particular much of film
music since the 1970s act is a testament to Adornos worst fears.

As we have established, the infantilising of the audience to which Biskind refers did
not only affect film, and it did not only affect the audience; its effects on music and on
the choices and decisions made by an entire generation of film makers and composers
are profound. The merging of different types of culture industries and the desperate
fabrication of culture into a brand which can exported in film and music has had
major influences on society.
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The fact that much of society seems to remain blissfully unaware is largely irrelevant.
Society seems always to be unaware. This is a testament to the degree to which it is
managed by structures and conventions, formerly the state variety, nowadays mostly
private commercial entities.

The formulas of Franz Waxman, Max Steiner and Alfred Newman

Film music perhaps underwent its primary and most enduring era of codification
during the reigns of composers such as Franz Waxman, Max Steiner and Alfred
Newman. Steiner defined what became the classic film music model, and the notion
of correspondence and relationship between music and the implied content of the
narrative is perhaps the most enduring and endearing characteristic. The remainder of
the model was a little obvious and restrictive (a high degree of correspondence
between music and action and the use of leitmotifs). Nonetheless we are left with this
dominant legacy. It is hard to think of any other art-form which has been dominated
so wholly by a practice which was first used seventy years ago in the 1930s and 1940s
and was itself borrowed from a musical stylisation which predated that by two
hundred years. Indeed one reason why genuinely talented young composers who have
fused elements of the rock genre and classical romanticism find it hard to achieve
escape velocity from the stranglehold of classical romanticism is firstly because of
its historical dominance, and secondly because it was, and continues to be, so
effective in transmitting emotion in music and film. Much though film music has
undoubtedly evolved and progressed, stylistically and harmonically, the symphonic
orchestra is still the dominant texture through which it is articulated.

Just as special effects have dominated moving pictures to the extent where visually
almost anything can be achieved through illusion and CGI, and where therefore, in
some ways nothing is new, some have suggested that there has been a comparative
and simultaneous drop in the quality of film narratives; the ability to do has to some
extent replaced the ability to think. Shallow and dumbed-down narrative goes largely
unchallenged because it is shrouded in overwhelming visual effects. Seeing is
believing, so essentially the need for narratives that questions, cajole and stimulate is
in many cases less important than it was.

Given that Star Wars has that rare distinction of being both commercially successful
and critically acclaimed, and given that films such as this effectively paid for the
continued existence, expansion and survival of the film industry for thirty years after
they were made, it is perhaps a little disingenuous to criticise John Williams iconic
music. But serious critical analysis often has to address difficult questions. Annette
Davison, in her book Hollywood Theory, Non-Hollywood Practice, argues that since
the mid-1970's the model of the classical Hollywood film score has functioned as a
form of dominant ideology. Kalinak makes a similar point in her book.

One would think that faced with the limitless of space and
multiplicity of life forms Williams would explode with ideas. But in
composing the sound to go with the future, Williams doesnt look to
any of the avant-garde composers Instead Williams looks to the
major key flourishes of Wagner and Tchaikovsky and the
swashbuckling Captain Blood and Adventures of Robin Hood
soundtracks of Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Greg Oatis, Cinemafantastique,
quoted by Kathryn Kalinak
(Kalinak, 1992: 34).

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The quote above addresses some fundamental issues; how is the future to be
represented musically in a fictional sense? Do we score by invoking the image of
now, from what we perceive as the future, or, as Williams has done, by using the
past as the template? 1960s composers who tried to emulate a vision of the future
through music via instruments such as the Theremin were often ridiculed because the
instrument sounded not just unsettling and mysterious, but more than a little odd.

When the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey is evaluated, at least it can be said that
sections try to address the fundamental question about the future, and more
specifically, how the future is to be represented musically in a fictional sense.
Kubrick utilises some dark and difficult music in trying to address these fundamental
issues; he helps shape the audiences perceptions ultimately by questioning their
reliance on formulaic music and the past. Over and above the eternal issue of his
crude dismissal of Alex Norths soundtrack in favour of his favoured temp track, the
great irony is that in trying to depict the future Kubrick used music written by
composers from the past.

Star Wars is a wholly different film, arguably for a different audience, but still it is
telling that Williams regurgitated the past by using a sure-fire, well-known
combination of late classical romanticism and swashbuckling fantasy in order to tell a
story set in the future. Williams appropriation of existing formulas, formulas usually
reserved for fairytales and traditional Westerns, effectively set the standard for
science-fiction space movie music scoring. This is why Star Wars is such a pivotal
moment not just in screen history, as Biskind has informed us, but also in the history
of film music.

The function of music

Kalinak again, this time quoting Claudia Gorbman:

The restricted number of possible film/music relationships as
discussed by most scholars seems curiously primitive, limited
largely to the concepts of parallelism and counterpoint; either
the music resembles or it contradicts.

This is an important point because it divorces the link between music and what the
function of the music is. No matter how diverse the music is in itself, as music, if its
function is merely parallel or counter then its scope for communication will
sometimes be limited.

Sitting comfortably alongside a propensity to score using traditions and approaches
which are seventy years old at least, is the increasing use of music as special effects.
Shock and awe scoring has seen a revival not just because it sits so well with
traditional orchestral template, but because musically it is the only approach that
penetrates sound effects and it is one of the few approaches that, in the eyes of many
directors, can match the visual spectacle that film has become. But is music supposed
to match special effects? Is that its purpose? Is it a competition?

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Two of the hundreds of films analysed in this book are Batman Begins and The Dark
Knight, and one of the refreshing aspects of these scores is that, although they
compete in terms of visual spectacle versus aural spectacle, the music contains much
subtlety and reflective sensitivity which actually contextualises the films and the
vastness of their narrative and history.

Shock and awe scoring technique at its most basic can be a combination of brash
romanticism, heavy-brush orchestration and piercing high and extreme low
frequencies. It has penetrated the area of musical decision-making but it may be in
danger of artistically compromising not just the finished product, but the idea of
conceptualisation in music. The comparative lack of conceptualisation is not
something we can assume is initially the composers fault, but it is something they are
forced into. One of the first concepts to grasp as a film composer is the need to avoid
excessive scoring around sounds which occupy the same sonic range as the music. A
great number of films today have increasingly realistic, constant and loud special
effects; effects which often span the spectrum of sound. This limits the ability of a
composer to score freely and can limit their ability to conceptualise.

Referencing his film Alien, director Ridley Scott refers to the challenge of how far
we can cock the pistol before firing the gun. Given Alfred Hitchcocks famous
observation that a film viewers apprehension is not the bang, but the fear of the
bang, the point Scott is making is an important one; the difference between what a
film shows, what it implies and what is understood is essentially down to audience
interpretation. This is where music can be so effective and this is why Hitchcock and
Scott are such great users of music. One of musics primary idealistic and indeed
moral functions therefore is not always to think along such narrow lines as duplication
or counterpoint; it is to draw out the emotion, often emotion which is not present
visually. It is to create a relationship between the image and the audience.

Composers need to be free to conceptualise and hypothesise, with the director, about
what the function of the music can be. What is its purpose? Whose point of view does
it play? Does it play the story or the fiction? Does it play the pictures or the narrative?
Is it surface level or does it play what the film is often really about? Composers must
have access to a multitude of styles and conventions, traditional and modern, but also
employ the use of conceptualisation. One only has to remember that Bernard
Herrmann was famous not just because he was an effective film score composer, but
because he received much critical acclaim for employing radically different styles and
approaches. He utilised modernistic orchestration techniques, sometimes against the
wishes of directors. Even visionary directors as Hitchcock showed startling lack of
imagination when it came to music. We all know the story of Hitchcock instructing
Herrman to leave the shower scene alone in Psycho, but a less well-known story
took place while Hitchcock was filming a scene at sea, during which, clearly
questioning the need for music in a scene set in a lifeboat, he was heard to say to
Herrmann, where exactly would the orchestra be?. Herrmanns uncompromising
and watertight response was the same place as the camera.

In his work with Hitchcock, Herrmann created new sound textures, making modern
harmonies accepted in film. In many ways he predated minimalism by twenty years.
His musical style was bold and direct and not typical of the day.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Rather than actual themes or leitmotifs, his knack was to select and develop simple
mottos such as high-pitched violins in Psycho or augmented chord arpeggios in

Just as reading a book allows for and is dependent on the personal interpretation of
the reader, so films which leave more to the imagination of the viewer are sometimes
more effective and intelligent films; but they are frequently more dependent on music.
Therefore, if there is a notable diminution of integrity in terms of the artistic freedom
accorded to artistic interpretation and conceptualisation in music, it is to the detriment
of the art forms of film, music and a combination of both. As an example, it is hard to
imagine that the off-screen monologues in Gattaca would have been as effective had
they not been accompanied by Michael Nymans deep and reflective score.

Also, somewhat curiously and ironically, diminution of integrity and reduction in
musical conceptualisation in composing for film can have a damaging effect on the
bloated film industry itself, as surely there is a limit to the number of films which can
be made using predictable, duplicative and formulaic music. If film is so beholden to
the concept of shock and awe and delivers this by using predictable narratives and
music, one has to ask two rhetorical questions: how much is enough, and when will
that point be reached? This is an important point because stylistically and artistically
there is no clear path forward from this approach. Bernard Herrmann was a modernist
and so was Jerry Goldsmith. Goldsmith famously said that one day the orchestra
would consist not of four sections, but five. The fifth would be the electronics
section and would be full of people playing keyboards and triggering samples. He
believed this; many of his works fused the orchestra with rock instruments not in a
tired clichd way but in a way which did indeed feature electronics as a section of the

In Ridely Scotts Alien, Goldsmith spent large portions of the film deliberately
avoiding the predictable bombastic scoring which had so commodified space films
of the previous two years, notably Star Wars. The darkness of Ridley Scotts film is
due at least in part to the haunting nature of the music. The opening segment to the
films music seems to extort various emotions from the listener, not just the expected
ones of trepidation and anxiety. The orchestration is standard Hollywood, but the use
is slightly skewed and distorted. Ridley Scott uses several excerpts of classical source
music during the film, but none to better effect than the final sequence which uses
Howard Hansons Romantic Symphony No.3 in Eb. Once again a director uses
romantically inclined music, but at least it is authentic 20
Century romantic music.

Another reason the issue of artistic freedom of expression in film music is important
is this: Given that statistically most people do not visit theatres or concert halls to
listen to music, for most the only time they will hear an orchestra is as the
accompaniment to film, in a movie theatre on in their homes on DVD. To take this
argument to its natural conclusion, the only time most people would ever hear serial
music is by watching a film. Films such as 2001, The Exorcist and Planet of the Apes
are important milestones in the use of serial music. The problem is that they are old

Several of his films, notably Star Trek The Motion Picture, treated heavily distorted guitars as
orchestral instruments, not as tokenistic gimmicks
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Progress in music has no template to follow. There are no rules or observations, only
history, tradition and the spirit of adventure and evolution to guide us and shape the
future. But surely progress is not supposed to be a wholesale rampage through the
past anymore than it is meant to be a complete negation of it. If music is a product of
its genes and its experiences, and if the future is created by people and circumstance,
it is important that we maintain a healthy, stimulated and varied approach to scoring
for film, not just to whet the appetite of the few that might enjoy listening to strange
music, but to maintain balance, equilibrium and choice, or as Adorno might put it, to
give the people what they dont want.

An example of two composers standing back from predictability, convention and
formula to deliver music which goes against the grain of a genre is Michael Nyman
and Philip Glass. In particular Nymans score for the film Gattaca stands as testament
to what can be achieved when composers are free to conceptualise and are not forced
by directors or ignorance to buy into existing formulas. Although critics of Nyman
normally assess the music as romantic but unduly tedious, dull and mournful, they
perhaps miss the point that his music, particularly in Gattaca, elevated the film into
more of an art film than it actually was. In other words critics analyse the music first
and then film, in a sequential preferential order which denies the music a coherent and
contextual analysis. Gattacas abstract narrative, devoid as it was of time and
location, was so much a creation of the score. Nymans score, which is analysed at
length in this book, didnt so much accompany the movie, as immerse itself in it.
The two are inseparable.

The film Notes on a Scandal was scored with similar and predictable detachment
from formula by Philip Glass. Here the music sometimes creates an alternate narrative
to the one we watch. The music tells the same story as the film, but in a different way.
This qualifies as deep conceptual thinking, where the composer is not merely an
extension of, and an interpreter of, the directors psyche, but a conceptual thinker who
envisages drama in different and non-formulaic ways.

Back to the question; do composers think anymore, or do they merely do: Do
composers create and craft music which functions as an artistic dimension to the
pictures they accompany, or does the modern composer function as a provider a
humble functionary whose primary role is to entertain? We have technology in the
arts in abundance; technology to aid creative film-making, to open the minds of film
makers and to revolutionise what is on offer to composers. Much though the argument
amongst some tends towards a suggestion that technology can sometimes stifle art by
immersing it in a multitude of infinite possibilities and baffling its users with choices
they dont know how to respond to, the more probable theory is not that art is stifled,
more that we simply dont know what to do with technology, so we simply do what
was done before, but quicker, faster and, arguably, with less respect. Music spent a
long time craving the opportunities that technology finally brought, to the point where
its usage sometimes simply serves to caricature and exaggerate music, not make it
more interesting.

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Can Music Communicate?

So, we return to the issue of whether music has meaning, a debate which has focussed
the attention of great minds, some of which weve analysed already. Art music since
the 18
century has tended towards the instrumental. Instrumental music, because of
its lack of words and therefore traditional context, flutters on the edge of something
which would be considered comprehendible. Such issues have haunted most of the
critical writings and theories about what music is. Music and language are dependent
on the articulation of sound into discernable units a kind of grammar. In the case of
music this grammar is generally thought to be largely metaphorical. Philosopher
Ludvig Wittgenstein claimed that to understand a verbal sentence was to be able to
replace the sentence with another that means the same thing. If we can do the same
thing with music then music is indeed a language capable of creating meaning within
the minds of listeners. The mechanism of how (and if) music creates meaning within
listeners has been written about by musicologists, sociologists, psychologists,
anthropologists and psychoanalysts. But we are no further forward for all of the lofty
debate. At the centre of the debate is the assumption that music doesnt generate
meaning because we are at a loss to suggest how, why or when such meaning
manifests itself.

Music is said to be closed off. Few people understand it because its primary means
of communication, as I have discussed at length elsewhere in this book, is by aural
means. People often dont understand what they cant see. The meanings music
imparts are therefore different than those contained in literature or visual art. But
nevertheless music conveys emotion to people who simply dont understand how its
happening. Musics most endearing characteristic is most probably the fact that it
communicates such emotion despite not being understood. It is precisely this nebulous
impreciseness that makes music able to communicate often quite precise emotion in
such a warm, gentle way.

One of film musics roles is to distort and heighten reality musically and in this
respect it is perhaps one of the few remaining areas of music where one is expected to
dance on the edge of what is acceptable, stylistically, texturally and harmonically.
Even early film score composers, some of whom were so much victims of the
hangover from Vaudeville, created most of the nervous reaction of early filmgoers by
intricately and subtly displacing the point of rhythmical, melodic and harmonic
emphasis. Film composers have made a virtue out of bending musical structure almost
to breaking point, protected always by the simple fact that what theyre writing is not
real music, but music driven by literary means. This book is firmly built on the
theory that not only can music create meaning within listeners, its methods of
emotional communication can be identified, rationalised and understood.

Film music conventions, styles and misinformation

I want to touch briefly on perhaps one of the best examples of musical communication
the use of and manipulation by musical conventions. Film music styles and
approaches (known as conventions) are not created by accident. People craft such
things in order to illicit specific emotions from a film viewer, often by the power of
suggestion or association.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Conventions are ingrained in a cultural sense and create a universal, shared, collective
perception. Conventions activate and stimulate our responses and our prejudices.
Many harmonic and rhythmic devices summon up thoughts of specific geographic
locations; not because in all cases these are accurate, but they are what a composer
deemed to be appropriate and fitting and what listeners therefore thought was
accurate. Thus we have grown up with an occasionally distorted view on what kinds
of music come from which locations.

Music taps into a collective power of association to attempt to create the time and
place represented in the image. Nowadays this is wholly more accurate but half a
century ago it wasnt; open fourths and fifths, played by massed armies of brass
instruments were often used to represent ancient Rome. Such assumptions are and
were wildly speculative. This does not mean composers were deliberately falsifying
our interpretation of culture and ethnicity through a distorted prism. Composers try to
establish a musical identity with a certain place, geographically or in time. At best
their efforts were often horrendously caricatured and exaggerated versions of reality.

Composers were under the twin pressures of ridiculous time schedules and the need to
offer music which used sufficiently western harmonies. Composers often created
their own version of what a countrys ethnic music might be. Thus a kind of quasi
authenticity developed. Directors and composers often worked on the flawed
assumption that even if they were to sensitively locate, decipher and rationalise an
authentic ethnic sound, such is the ignorance of most filmgoers, the audience
wouldnt recognise it anyway. Film music aside, this is a big issue in todays global
homogenised culture where it is becoming increasingly difficult to hear authentic
indigenous music in many places. Here modern film music comes to the rescue, albeit
minimally. Just as for decades the only time most people would hear an orchestra
would be through film music, nowadays film is one of the few prisms through which
people can experience reasonably accurate ethnic music.

The Cowboy chord sequence

Elmer Bernstein, who scored The Magnificent Seven, was at the forefront of early film
score stylisation, but more importantly he is the co-creator/discoverer of one of the
most enduring film music conventions. Bernstein said: Id wanted to do an American
type of theme for a long time because of my interest in folk music and Copeland, who
invented American music. If Copeland invented American music, then arguably
Bernstein must have been one of the two great users of cowboy music, along with
Jerome Moross, who composed The Big Country.

To give a little historical, cultural and political context, with a few notable exceptions,
westerns tended to be idealistic. Cowboy films displayed little genuine real dirt or
squalor; heroes were universally heroic, Native Americans were universally brutal
and Cowboy sharp-shooters could hit their target from a mile away with a hand-gun.
Also, curiously, there were few black characters. The subversion of history for the
benefit of a largely white western audience is nothing new in film and indeed it is not
exclusive to America. Most English period TV dramas portray a fundamentally
distorted view of the period they seek to dramatise. Most Victorian dramas do not
aptly portray the squalor, depravation and class inequities which plagued the era.
Instead we receive what could arguably be termed the Disney version.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The interesting thing is that the enduring iconic image of the cowboy, with all its
inherent absurdities and historical airbrushing, did not begin or end with traditional
cowboy films. Captain Kirk essentially functioned as John Wayne in space. Indiana
Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark series), John McClane (Die Hard series), Ethan Hawke
(Mission Impossible series), are all reinvented cowboys. Historically the most
successful reinvention of the cowboy was when it crossed over from film into the real
world and became Ronald Reagan and eventually George Bush. Politics aside, and
crucially to the issue of whether and how music conveys meaning, the cowboy
aesthetic is kept alive by the longevity of Jerome Moross and Elmer Bernsteins
treatment of it via chord sequences which show up time after time in different films.
Bernstein and Moross cannot claim ownership on two or three chords especially a
group so relatively ordinary, used thousands of times in classical music. What they
created is the context; the way the music was used in a filmic context.

Hollywood film music standardisation and codification, to which Adorno and others
refer, is used in this context to retain the feeling of the heroism contained in the old
Westerns and successfully graft it onto newer films wanting to exploit hero
connotations and emotions in the mind of the viewer/listener. In order to explain and
contextualise this issue, below the original Cowboy theme which contained the
distinctive chord sequence is notated, followed by several films which used the same
convention. The chord shift is explained musically in order to contextualise how
codification actually works

The Big Country Jerome Moross

Given that this iconic chord change has been grafted onto other film music sequences
and arguably converts to an almost literal meaning within listeners, it is worth trying
to figure out how and why this worked to well in the early Westerns and still instils
sentiments of heroism and grandeur within us.

The chord sequence, which returns the phrase back to the key centre - in the case of
The Big Country, the key of C - would read Bb, G then back to C. Thus it retains the
convention, stability, tradition and commerciality of the famous and all-powerful V-I
(G to C) chord shift, but adds a slightly unexpected prefix chord, the Bb, which
contextually sits a tone below the tonic and outside the key centre of Bb. Thus in the
key of C, a sequence of Bb to G to C is the Cowboy chord sequence.
Fig. 1
Audio Main Titles

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Below is a chord grid (the chord maps are explained in detail in the chapter entitled
Music Theory in Action) displaying chords in their harmonically literate order, using
C as the key centre. Underneath the chord map is the original cowboy chord
sequence in transcribed form. As stated earlier, the Bb chord is crucial here; it is the
only one outside the immediate key centre of C and it is therefore this, especially
coming before the G and then C, which gives the sequence its distinctive colour.

Below (fig.4) we have Elmer Bernsteins take on the same chord shift, used in his
famous and enduring theme from The Magnificent Seven, with the relevant
highlighted chord sequence.

The Magnificent Seven Elmer Bernstein

E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab
C#m F#m Bm Em Am Dm Gm Cm Fm

Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Audio Main Titles 00.27
Fig. 2

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


How to retain the musical cultural longevity of the Cowboy and graft it onto new films
wanting to exploit similar emotions in the audience via the power of association

In figure 5 (below) the opening bars of the movie JFK, by John Williams, is
transcribed. This time the cowboy sequence appears twice; once in the middle of the
phrase, as an edited reference and once at the end in its full three-chord mode. Power,
greatness and heroism are referenced well in this theme, using a romantic template,
melodically and in terms of orchestration. So the sudden appearance of the cowboy
chord sequence is therefore quite deliberate and strategic. The piece would function
quite well without it but Williams inserts it to reference what the audience remembers
as heroic times. The crucial point here is that the music doesnt have to bother with
the moral fallout: whether the audience buys the cowboy myth is irrelevant; they
buy the musical equivalent without realising, and thats the power of music and the
meaning it creates within us.

JFK John Williams

Composers Harald Kloser and Thomas Wander wrote a beautiful, simplistic but
haunting section to the introduction credit-roll on the film Day after Tomorrow. The
middle 8 prior to a return to the main theme features the cowboy chord sequence.

Audio, Main Title, JFK - 00.19
Fig. 5
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Placement of the cowboy chord sequence is harder this time because the piece as a
whole is in a minor key. Therefore the euphoric, uplifting climactic sense the
sequence provide is slightly lost since it resolves to a minor chord, not a major.

The Day after Tomorrow Harald Klosser & Thomas Wander

The final theme of the film Independence Day featured the iconic Cowboy chord
sequence too.

Independence Day David Arnold

Audio - Main Title: Independence Day

Below (fig.8) the main theme from Back to the Future III is transcribed. The film, the
third and final in the successful trilogy, goes back to the Wild West. Alan Silvestris
iconic theme features the Cowboy chord sequence.

Audio - Main Theme: The Day After Tomorrow 02.04
Fig. 7
Fig. 6
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Back to the Future III Alan Silvestri

Audio End Credits - Back to the Future 3

The example of the Cowboy chord sequence in fig.9 below is from the successful
American TV drama The West Wing

The West Wing WG Walden

Intro titles The West Wing

The cowboy chord sequence is used to reinforce notions of tradition, history and

The next example is from the pen of John Williams. A more subtle, innocuous and
hardly detectable example of the same chord sequence this time appears during a cue
from Jurassic Park.

The section as it appears in the cue occurs during a transition from the key of G to Bb,
as we can see from this slightly more contextualised example below (below, fig.11).


Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10

Firstly lets look at the chord sequence
itself in isolation (fig.10). This time the
first chord is an inversion, which subtly
alters the harmonic centre of gravity,
distorting the sequence and making it
more subtle.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Jurassic Park John Williams

Audio 03.19 Welcome to Jurassic Park

George Lucas said of Star Wars, I saw that kids didnt have any fantasy life the way
we had they didnt have Westerns, they didnt have pirate movies. It therefore no
surprise that Williams invoked the cowboy chord sequence in Star Wars; proof if
proof were needed that some of the lure of Star Wars was in fact that, like Star Trek
and others, it was a Western in space.

Star Wars John Williams

Audio - Main Theme from Star Wars

Fig. 11
Fig. 12
Fig. 12

The section in its entirety is
below (fi.12), and is buried
deep within what is an
extremely effective and
emotional section, featuring
the string section alone.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Perhaps the last example of the Cowboy chord sequence ought to come from an
actual contemporary example of a Western; the phenomenally successful TV series
Dallas. This time the sequence itself is abbreviated; it appears just before a key
change so the E chord in bar ten (fig.13) drops to the D in bar eleven but does not go
to the B chord which would have brought it back to the E chord.

Dallas Jerrold Immel

Dallas Main Title theme

As we can see from the few examples given, the audience can listen to the music and
subconsciously benefit from the obvious referencing by the composer without really
being aware of it. All we know is that it reminds us. Indeed some composers arent
aware of the various references and conventions they use either, but the fact that
similar chord sequences are chosen time and time again proves that structure is not
always created but is frequently appropriated by composers who often do so
unknowingly. For most, music has no tangible reality over and above its aural
qualities; the audience are in the uniquely emotional but simultaneously baffling
position of being at the same time both in their element and out of their depth as
listeners. Few art forms deliver this kind of endearing experience. As I have said
before, the fact that music is not understood by listeners is most probably part of its
great charm. For many it is a kind of magic, where its composers and creators are
magicians. But simply knowing and understanding how to do something that few
others can comprehend does not make you a magician; it simply makes you rare.

Academics have traditionally exalted the theory that music has no meaning. Their
conclusions are reinforced by a supporting cast of great composers and cultural
thinkers. Nevertheless they are wrong. Music creates meaning within us through our
emotional reactions to it, which are alike and in some cases identical to that of
everyone else, such is the specific power and identity of chord shapes and sequences.

Fig. 13

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


If, as composers, we want to progress and evolve the commercial art-form of film
music and stop it dipping head-first into bland homogenised commodification we
must first understand how it communicates specific identity and thus creates specific

Despite film musics apparent dense, impenetrable shell, which maroons it, for the
most part, to a lifetime of surface-level, mundane and reverential analysis, when we
break it down and unpick the harmonies and dense orchestration, the secrets behind
the success is that there are no secrets it is simply the application of great skill,
judgement, deliberate adherence to, or avoidance of, structure. Its also about
observation, economy and method. It is about understanding how music contains
identity to which we respond, creating meaning within us.

The aim of this book, therefore, is to show how film music communicates; to analyse
film music and place the reader and composer in a position to understand how it is
created, why decisions are taken and how music takes shape, so that they might
become film score writers or educators, and in so doing might progress the art form.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



This chapter deals with modern and traditional techniques of using harmony and chord
voicing to extort specific emotions. The chapter addresses a combination of fairly simple
observations regarding how harmonies speak to create a feeling of mood and feeling,
through to more complex and deeper types of analysis. Central to the study, as always, is
the issue of how music communicates meaning and how that meaning works in the film.

The films and music analysed in this chapter are: Harry Potter and the Philosophers
Stone - Main Theme & Diagon Ally (John Williams) The English Patient (Gabriel Yared)
Atonement (Dario Marianelli) Catch me if you can (John Williams) Knowing (Marco
Beltrami) Sixth Sense & The Village (James Newton Howard) Wolf (Ennio Morricone)
Panic Room (Howard Shore) The Reaping (John Frizzell) Passengers (Edward


Let us first turn to one of the more recent and iconic movie franchises - Harry Potter. The
first film was scored by John Williams and one of the most enduring motifs was
Hedwigs Theme which is referenced numerous times in all the films in the series. The
piece contains a heady mixture of childlike innocence and charm, together with slightly
intimidating, frightening and menacing characteristics.

Chapter 4
Audio Hedwigs Theme (Harry Potter)

What unique
does this music
contain and how
do they create
exactly the right
emotion within
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The first thing I have highlighted in the transcribed score is the 11
and 9
in bar three.
Because of the lack of any contextual harmony between the melody and what is, in effect,
the counter melody underneath, the listener is deprived of the normal chordal filler
which guides their listening. But the melody in bar two contains all the usual harmonic
signposts (root, minor 3
and 5
) which help us rationalise the bar as Em. There is, in
most circumstances, no such thing as unaccompanied melody; the concept is a myth.
When we listen to solos which are unaccompanied, we simply fill in the harmony
according to what the melodic notes suggest, using intuition, knowledge and intellect. An
infant child hearing this tune would probably listen to it completely without context but
anyone whos listened to music for any amount of time builds up a database of
information which guides their listening; thus we listen according to previous listening
experiences. If the harmonies arent there, we subconsciously fill them in. We are usually
blissfully unaware of this process. Therefore bar two gives us the information we want
but bar three only contains the 11
and the 9
. Because we heard the bar before we know
in what context were hearing the A and the F# but because theyre not normal intervals
this tests our aural cognition, causing brief surprise, which engages us because of the
extent to which it differs from normal music. The notes are not dissonant but are
sufficiently off the beaten track.

The second surprising element, which I have highlighted below are the D# and F
natural, which in context of Em function as maj7 and flattened 9
. This is enough to
throw us but if we go a step further and look at how those two notes might function
taken out of this context, we get this:

Of course we are effectively prevented from rationalising the two notes like this due to
the accompaniment, which alludes to the Em presumption. But regardless there is a slight
duality of aural perception which is what offers us the polytonal characteristic. Perhaps
the bar which communicates the most in terms of its mesmeric and enticing appeal is bar
seven (the second bar of the abbreviated transcription below) which features a melody of
D (5
of the Gm), Db (b5
of the Gm) and C (5
of the Fm). The absolutely key thing
here is the 2
inversions of the Gm chord and the Fm chord; building the Gm chord over
the D shines a light on the melodic line, also a D. Inversions always dramatise chords, but
when the inversion is copied in the melody, producing an octave line, it can be more
effective. The same happens with the Fm chord (melody on a C; chord inverted over a C

Root, 2

The Harry Potter context of the two notes
places them as maj7 and flattened 9

A more rational interpretation, on face value
would be root and 2
of an Eb chord
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Put simply, when a chord is inverted the harmonic dynamic is subtly altered. This is like
placing an object a different way up. Its the same object but it looks different and causes
a slightly different reaction. In this case an inversion alters our perception by distorting
the harmonic balance. This makes this listening experience slightly more acute. Try
playing the bar over root-positioned chords and again with the inversions. There is a
difference. With John Williams everything is deliberate. Nothing is accidental. Perhaps
more than any other film composer he has the ability to extort any emotion he chooses by
the skilful harnessing and manipulation of the virtually limitless possibilities music
offers. He knows which specific harmonic or textural alterations cause tiny, almost
imperceptibly different emotional reactions in listeners. Turning now to a scene in the
film where Harry Potter is taken to Diagon Alley we examine again how Williams
manipulates our perceptions. In the films Diagon Alley is reached on foot by passing
through The Leaky Cauldron, a pub visible to Muggles which lies somewhere along
Londons Charring Cross Road. Diagon Alley is only accessible by Wizards and Witches.
Therefore when Harry is taken from the real world and into the magical world which
will occupy the rest of the film, the moment represents the start of a whole new life. It is
also a major turning point in the movie. None of the buildings are straight; the
dimensions seem a little odd and skewed. This important part of the film is scored
brilliantly by Williams. Below I have transcribed a reduced version of the piece which
displays all the salient harmonies which play such an enormous part in crafting the
musical version of Diagon Alley. Williams skill here is making the musically complex,
intricate and multifarious sound completely plausible, rational and effortless.

If we are looking for harmonic or rhythmic elements which skew a listeners reality
then the two opening bars do just this; once again we have no harmonic context offered
no chords. The counterpoint offers two lines which are a 9

Movie, 00.20.54 Cue: Harry, welcome to Diagon Alley

Low strings / woodwind / brass
Strings / woodwind / brass
Fig.4 Db
F Db Eb Db C
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This is virtually impossible to rationalise because thats precisely the point it should be
beyond rational comprehension. If we rationalise we normalise and then we zone-out.
What Williams has written in bars one and two isnt absolute dissonance but it functions
by politely displacing our expectations. If we look below we can see that there is an
abrupt time change from 6/8 to 4/4. This time change might not have worked as well had
the first two bars not been so difficult to rationalise harmonically. Given the lack of
harmony we concentrate instead on the rhythm, which we can rationalise. This piece may
sound and look confusing but the crucial thing is that it isnt cluttered. There is great
economy here.

Easily the most infectious and mesmerising section of this piece is where it breaks out
into what at first seems like a tune. On closer scrutiny however were aware once again
that the piece is skewed harmonically. If we simply isolate the rhythm of the melody we
realise it is perfectly rational. The harmony, however, features bitonality. The last two
beats of bar four and six feature notes which belong over a C chord but which are
actually played over a Db chord. Williams has done what hes done a thousand times
before and always to great effect; hes placed a nice tune in a bizarre harmonic
surrounding. We therefore experience a duality of perception; its a nice tune but
somethings wrong. Its a nice tune but somethings weird

Low strings / woodwind / brass
Strings / woodwind / brass Trumpets
Abrupt time change; no perceived
key centre
Bi-tonal; notes imply a
chord of C (over Db)
F Db Eb Db C
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



Turning now to something wholly more sedate, we examine one of the main themes from
the movie The English Patient, a grand and complex tale of love, loss and tragedy. Set in
North Africa and Italy it is an epic drama of two haunting love stories that unfolds against
a background of WWII. Through the prism of war, love and friendship, themes of
adultery, nationality and betrayal are explored.

A track entitled Rupert Bear, by Gabriel Yared is one of the most effective pieces in the
film. Given that this piece is the most popular music cue from the film and has been
performed in its own right, what are its communicative qualities, and how does it reflect
the sense of sadness, loss and emotion?

Audio Rupert Bear

Lets first start with a simple observation; that the piece is slow and languid; there is
room for the harmonies and subtleties to breathe. One of the main reasons that music is
often prevented from reaching its emotional potential is that often it simply goes to fast or
tries to fit too much music into itself. This is something Thomas Newman has often said.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Music which is open, transparent, languid and plodding but which contains a selection of
attractive harmonies and suitable and subtle orchestration can often create more emotion
than music which is fuller, busier or more intense; listeners are given much more of an
opportunity to engage and interpret. They become part of the process, not merely the
object of it. Another basic observation is that the Harp figure penetrates better because it
starts on a 3
(circled) one of the most descriptive intervals because it immediately
colours the chord and determines whether its major or minor. To start a melody or
countermelody on the 3
will expose it and draw our attention.

A more subtle observation would be that the melody, when it comes, is anticipatory; it
arrives early (highlighted by a rectangular box fig.7). This subtly wrong-foots the
listener and faintly confounds what they might have expected, given that few melody
lines do this.

Another observation is that the piece is built on inversions. There are more inverted
chords in the piece than not. However, so far we have discussed inversions in terms of
how they displace and redistill the harmonic weighting. Though most of the inversions in
this piece do precisely that, there is one inversion used where, although technically an
inversion, the harmonic flavour created does not sound as if it has redistributed the

The chord in the second bar sounds like a
Bb6; it possesses the warmth you would
normally associate with the 6
interval. And
yet it is not a Bb6 but a Gm 1
inversion. If it
actually was a Bb6 it would contain an F
note, which would make it sound slightly
more jazzy. The reason we perceive it to
be a Bb6 is because it is preceded by a Bb
chord; our perception of one chord is nearly
always influenced, guided and informed by
what comes before. The chord in bar two
therefore sounds like a sophisticated Bb6.
If a Gm 1
inversion is preceded by a
Gm root position chords, the 1

inversion will sound dramatic and
classical. If it is preceded by a Bb
chord it will sound like a subtle Bb6
(without the F note). To the right the
piece does a similar thing; an Eb/Bb
chord is succeeded by a Cm/Bb chord.

The second chord sounds like a
Eb6/Bb with the C note being the 6
but again, because the Eb chord itself
has no Bb in it, it is actually a Cm/Bb.
Eb Cm
Bb Bb
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The point here is not to discuss what chords are called and how one note can alter the
name of the chord; the point is that the success of these sequences is because in both
cases the chord in the second bar has a specific effect; we think were listening to a subtle
major 6
chord but what were actually listening to a chord which is designed to illicit
that reaction. It could be said that if we were to describe the chords in bars two and five
of the original transcription phonically they might be called Bb6(no F). That would,
after all, be a literal explanation of what we think we hear. This also underpins the fact
that a chord symbol is much more than simply a name we give a group of notes. In many
cases the name is associated with a particular feel or emotion; when we say the Gm/Bb
sounds like a softer Bb6, we are referencing the style and emotion associated with a
chord name.

ATONEMENT Dario Marianelli

I would like to turn now to the film Atonement, music by Dario Marianelli. Below is a
reduced transcription of the main theme.

When we listen to this we are drawn initially to its unusual characteristics; the piece starts
with the sound of a typewriter forming the rhythmic element. Then perhaps we are drawn
to monotonous and mesmeric repeated Bb in the first few bars, followed by the equally
captivating quaver triplets which follow in bar 5.

Audio - Briony - Movie, 00.00.01
Bb Gb Bb
Gb Bb Gb
Bb Bb
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


There is a constant unsettling harmonic manoeuvre between the Bb and Gb/Bb chords
(boxed) but what makes that transition work is actually the much-travelled Bb. In the
transcription below I have highlighted the sections in question and have placed the Bb in
context of its intervallic meaning, i.e. what the Bb is in context of the chord that
accompanies it or the harmony being implied.

The shifting sands of what the Bb represents Intervallically in this chord sequence is
actually a major reason for the mesmerising, skewed feeling it conveys when listening.


Disorientation and the subtle subversion of expectation

I would like to turn briefly to the opening titles music for the film Catch me if you Can,
by John Williams. On a surface level this is a true story of Frank Abagnale, one of the
greatest conmen of the 20
century. Essentially it is a cat-and-mouse chase between
forger Abagnale and his FBI Nemesis Carl Hanratty, played by Tom Hanks. The two
rarely share screen time, but their relationship is almost one of mutual respect and
grudging admiration. Like other Spielberg films Catch Me if You Can deals with themes
of broken homes and troubled childhoods. Spielberg creates a film that sympathizes with
the crook and his pursuer equally.

Bb Bb









How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


John Williams, like James Horner, is just as familiar with jazz as he is with the Concert
Hall and Classical repertoire. In this score, particularly in the opening theme, he creates
an effortless feeling of 60s / 70s sophisticated orchestral jazz. The orchestration leans
toward the style of Neil Hefti and Sammy Nestico, but with harmonic touches of
abstraction thrown in. The eye-grabbing opening title sequence with a cartoon figure of
Hanratty in pursuit of Abagnale, set to John Williams jazz score is perhaps one of the
most vivid and effective movie openings in recent years. Spielberg wanted a visual
sequence in the spirit of the 60s era, in the style of Saul Bass (Pyscho, Vertigo), which
offers a visual overture, which was once a staple in Hollywood film-making. The
question for us is how does the music interact with the visuals? What extra emotion does
the music betray? Lets look at the first few bars of the opening of the film

When listening and following the transcription in fig.12 its virtually impossible to feel
the piece because the opening bars have no audible pulse. The point is that youre not
supposed to feel it; these are bite-sized chunks of harmony and rhythm, delivered
melodically fast and loose, ala Bernard Herrmann. Lets take a closer look at the
harmonies, because this is really how and why the piece manages to distort and challenge
our expectations and transport a distinct emotional feel.

Above (fig.13) we have two chords in bar one (Dm and Gm). In bar two I have merged
them, which make for a challenging, but not too dissonant, listening experience. As
listeners our primary preoccupation is to rationalise, to categorise, to classify; to
understand. Although on a surface level we enjoy, in order to enjoy we must attempt to
understand, scrutinize and rationalise. Simply put, we have difficulty dealing with a
polychord because it throws up groups of intervals we dont normally have to deal with.

Audio - Catch me if you can - Movie, 00.00.01


How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Because weve taken the 3rd out of the Dm, technically its a D, but the combined effect
is still fairly odd. It is this precise version of harmonic distortion that is so successful in
the opening credits, specifically bar nine, two bars into the abbreviated transcription

Over and above the jazz instrumentation, the success of the film intro music can be
distilled into one musical trick which creates the subtle subversion of expectation





D (no 3
Gm (no 5


On the version to the left (fig.14) we have again merged
the two chords (the Gm over the Dm) but have missed the
minor 3
out of the Dm, leaving just the A and D, and
missed out the 5
of the Gm (the D note). Whats left is
enough of the characteristics of each chord for the
combination to sound strange.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


KNOWING Marco Beltrami

This film contains a blend of the kind of paranoia found in vintage sci-fi movies and new-
age spirituality. Like many science fiction movies, it is a film about the fallibility of
humanity and the frailty of the human condition. The music serves to highlight and
heighten these aspects more than it plays the science fiction, especially during key scenes
displaying the introspection, paranoia and suspicion of the main adult character. The
transcription below plays during the intro credit roll.

The interesting things in this section are the varying levels of emotional intensity and
corresponding harmonic complexity. The piece essentially is split up into four sections,
each 4 bars long. Each section begins with a normal chord and slowly progresses
through a progression featuring varying degrees of weirder chords. In the first two 4-bar
sections, the peak is reached in bar 3 before returning to a normal chord in bar 4 to tie-
up the phrase.

Movie, 00.07.43 Audio Main Titles 00.30

Strings /
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The third 4-bar entry features an emotional contour that simply keeps growing whereas
the final 4-bar phrase reaches a peak in bar two and gradually ascends to the absolute
normality of a major chord. The example below contextualizes the emotional contour
created by the relative intensity or dissonance of the harmonies.

When attempting to deduce and rationalise human emotional response to any given chord
(how it creates a sense of meaning within us) we must never forget that the type of
reaction to a specific chord is created and achieved partly by the preparation we receive.
The first Bbm6 we hear wouldnt have exactly the same impact if it simply appeared
from nowhere without any preamble; the fact that it comes on tha back of a Gm(add9)
chord is partly responsible for how out of the blue it sounds.

One reason the piece works so well is because the harmonic weirdness is dealt with in a
slow, cumbersome, plodding manner with the rising emotional tension of each entry
bleeding through slowly and in most cases dissipating. No one sequence in this piece
begins on a strange chord; the sequence graduates toward it. What comes first therefore is
crucial. The strange chords are a reaction; this is why they work so well. If they were the
norm we would acclimatize to them and the effect would be lost. In a piece like this
where the music plays to graphics and not dialogue, ultimately its about delivering a
journey which maps across the introduction with several stop-off points where the
emotion created within the listener has chance to take a breath.

When chords become Polychords

As alluded to numerous times in this book, one of the many compositional methods that
differentiates film composers from normal composers is that they dont always think of
complete chord changes; instead they sometimes think in terms of evolving an existing
chord, subverting harmonies and making use of the subtle interplay between different
intervallic tensions.

The first chord in the example below is an F. The second chord adds a maj7. If we think
of how we might evolve this chord further still, perhaps adding some mild dissonance, we
might sharpen the 5
. The changing of this one note fundamentally alters the harmonic
perception and complexion of this chord because it opens up the concept of polyphony.

Gm Gm Bbm6 Bbm
Eb Eb7 A A Gm Gm Bm6 Bbm Eb Eb7 Dsus4 D


(add9) (maj7)

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The chord in bar 3 is still an Fmaj7 but the top 3/5
of it unilaterally function as an A
chord. In fact the top four notes constitute an inverted A chord. The note that changes
everything is the bass note the F. There is a subtle duality of perception which affects
our listening experience. The original F chord has been altered, not by simply applying
absolute chord changes but by adding extensions which give the chord two personalities.

The section below, again from Marco Beltramis score to Knowing, shows how basic
chords can be subverted, altered and evolved to offer new harmonic colours. The first
chord is an F

Looking at, listening to and focusing on the top three notes, they represent most of an
inverted A chord. The low F note creates a tussle between what harmonic flavour will
dominate our perception of the chord. The voicings are mid/low and the orchestrations
feature low dense brass, which adds to the abstraction.

The next chord is an E/F, an abstract chord which features most of the notes from one
chord (E) with a dissonant bass note (F).

What this analysis seeks to do is shine a light onto the multitude of different harmonic
possibilities and reveal and expose the different and complex harmonic relationships that
govern how we listen to music.

Fmaj7 chord
A chord


Movie - 00.22.33 - Audio 00.21 Numerology
00.22.33 00.22.39 00.22.49 00.23.07 00.23.13

Inside the bracketed second bar chord of fig.20 is
the same chord as in bar one but spelled
enharmonically different. This reveals that the
bottom and third note (going bottom to top) could
be described as the root and minor 3
of an Fm



( )
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


If a group of notes can theoretically be given two names this leaks over from theory to
practice; arguably it can have two simultaneous aural identities. This mild confusion is
what baffles the listener and creates anxiety. The vast majority of listeners will be
unaware of the chords types and characteristics involved and how they relate but it
doesnt matter because in their own way they are the beneficiaries of the outcome. I am
not even saying that the composer himself looks at the chords used in this way or has the
time to analyse the vastness of harmonic relationships that exist; I am simply stating that,
regardless of compositional methodology or aural perception, these are part of the reason
the chords work so well and part of the reason we respond to them.

I will momentarily place this sequence in different, easier keys to rationalise in order to
better understand the harmonic dynamics at work. The first two chords of each group of
four chords shows a transition between a minor chord and a major chord a tone above.
This dramatic, euphoric chord sequence is used often in film and even song. Bar three
and four of each four bar sequence shows a remake of the same sequence, this time
keeping the original pedal note. This is less-emphatic and euphoric but it is dramatic and
is much used in films. One of the reasons for the drama this chord creates and the success
of this type of sequence is the changing context of the root note, evolving as it does from
root to 7
whilst remaining the same note. There is also obvious drama when one group
of notes all change but the root note remains. If it was one of the notes in the middle of
the chord which had remained, this wouldnt have been so obvious. The top or bottom
note remaining static but changing context is much more dramatic, exposed and obvious.

Dbm Eb
Movie, 00.23.24 - Audio01.10 Numerology
The last section in this film that I want to analyse
comes twenty three and a half minutes into the
film, leading on from the last section we analysed.
The two chords (Dbm and Eb/Db) work well
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The track below is from the movie The Village by James Newton Howard. He makes a
virtue out of the same approach in bars one-four. In bars five-eight the top line stays loyal
to the same idea (but in a different key) whereas the accompanying harmony becomes
more abstract and dissonant.

PANIC ROOM Howard Shore

This brilliantly claustrophobic film is made by David Fincher, one of the foremost
filmmakers at using digital effects to enhance his stories. Most of the camera movements
would not be physically possible without digital tricks and yet one never you never get
the feeling that youre watching CGI. Virtually the entire film takes place within the
walls of one house. Fincher is great at creating dark moods in his films, something which,
in this film, is greatly supported and enhanced by the Howard Shore score.

Gm A Dm Gm A
Dm E Ebmaj7 Dm C#m
Eb E E
Audio - The Forbidden Line, 00.01
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Shores music builds the tension of the narrative without ever compromising it or unduly
italicising it. Shore never turns drama into melodrama. When you allow bass instruments
to take the tune you would normally orchestrate very carefully around the sound, the
register and the notes. There is obviously a very good reason why most melodic figures
are on top of, or immersed in, the accompanying harmonies and not underneath them; it
would cause sonic ambiguity and lumpy voicings. However, composers can often get
great results when placing melody at the bottom. It can add gravity and drama to a piece,
as long as you orchestrate sensitively.

Howard Shore makes even more dramatic use of placing the melody in the lower register
because the opening to Panic Room is more abstract than tuneful. On the top two staves
of fig.25 we have a consistent harmonic approach the Bsus4. Piano/Harp and strings
provide a constant, steady harmonic base. The lower notes cause the precise intervallic
complexion of the harmonies to change by virtue a fluctuating bass and how it impacts on
the chord above. The beauty and power of the bass register notes is that they penetrate
much more than a mid-register melody and therefore fundamentally affect the context of
how we hear the passage. Below I have transcribed the opening and have notated the
subtle differences in harmonic context with chord symbols. The differences in harmonic
complexion and context are subtle which makes them all the more effective in this dark,
dramatic setting.

Movie, 00.00.18
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This introduction sequence is visually stunning but dark, threatening and ominous. The
music has a palpable portentous and fateful air to it. This is arguably mainly down to the
exquisitely and subtly changing harmonic context caused by the use of the dark,
cumbersome and plodding melody in bass register.

On the transcription in fig.25 I have also added grey perforated lines which display the
rises in harmonic complexity caused by the evolving bass-register melody re-
contextualising the harmonies. This functions as a kind of emotional contour. Its
interesting to note that the chords grow from being simple to complex before returning
again to simple.

PASSENGERS Edward Shearmur

Passengers is a film about a young psychologist who is assigned to deal with the
survivors of a jet liner crash. The film is largely quiet, subdued and pedestrian, but it
manages to invite in the subtext, which relates to how we deal with death; with loss.
Some narrative elements of the movie lull you into a kind of trance state, not entirely
unlike the Sixth Sense. The intro music and main theme plays several times throughout
the movie and betrays a heady mixture of feelings; it feels passive and restrained but also
possesses a kind of luminous freshness. As is always the case, the music itself does not
possess such characteristics and qualities; our interpretation of the music is what creates
the feelings we enjoy, and the relative uniformity of our aural cognition and perception
manages to create a similar feeling in most listeners.

Audio, The Wreckage - Movie, 00.00.37
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Earlier on in the book we dealt with the sci-fi chord change, which, because of the
nature of the change, can often create feelings of wonderment in the mind of the listener.
By way a reminder, in the key of C the transition was from C to Gm, as below (fig.27).

In the intro to Passengers the sci-fi chord change (fig.28) is from the key centre of E and
the change is therefore between E and Bm. This is one the main reasons the piece has
feelings of luminous freshness and wonderment.

The harmonies are serviced by soft dreamy-textured layered samples and strings with the
lead instrument being quite a bright, sharp almost crystal-like sampled sound. There are
some other harmonic issues which are worth mentioning because the regularity of their
use makes them function as harmonic identifiers something without which the piece
would not be as effective. I am principally referring to the 9
(C#) and the 11
(E) in bars
two-seven. Bars eight-eleven also feature the 9
but this time it appears as the F#. These
slight subtleties help the piece communicate a consistent identity.

What also helps is that the F# which begins the phrase on bar two falling on the 5
of the
Bm chord - becomes the 9
when the phrase changes on bar 8, creating a consistent
sound but different intervallic context. The G# (the all-powerful maj3
) appearing as the
second note of the phrase in bar eight and nine reinforces the chord change from Bm to E.

D G C F Bb

Bm Em Am Dm Gm
F# B E A D

D#m G#m C#m F#m Bm

Fig.27 Fig.28
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


THE REAPING John Frizzell

In The Reaping actor Hilary Swank plays a former missionary who, having lost her faith
after her family was tragically killed, became a world expert in debunking religious
phenomena. But she investigates what appear to be the Biblical plagues and realizes that
science cannot explain what is happening. There are similarities between this film and
Signs in that they both question the notions of science, God and belief. The score was
originally composed by Philip Glass, who went as far as recording. Producers were not
satisfied, however, and decided to give John Frizzell chance to write the music. The intro
to the movie features an extremely atmospheric and distinctive, dark and moody piece
performed using a Fender Rhodes keyboard sample. Transcribed below is a small section
of the music which has some key areas of importance and interest.

The most important aspect of this piece aside from its distinct Fender Rhodes texture lays
in the way the intervals cascade into place. No chord is stated as one but rather they fall
in and out of form. This is a good example of what is often meant by horizontal
harmony chords that reveal rather than state.

The D on the treble clef stave has two contexts; it functions as the root of the first D
chord and then becomes the major 3
of the Bb/F chord. Looking at the top line and
chords if we focus on the D note and look at the perforated line underneath we can see its
evolution from root to 3
without changing the way it sounds; it simply changes what it
is; what it means.

Movie, 00.00.03
D Bb D Bb D Bb D Bb
omit3 omit3 omit3 omit3
1 1 1 1
3 3
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The voicing of the second chord in each bar (Bb/F) is effective too. The spacing of the
three notes is ear-catching featuring an 11
between the bottom F and the Bb above and a
between the Bb and the top D. The root of the chord is in the middle with the 5
the bottom and the 3
at the top. This odd delivery of notes and what they constitute as
intervals goes beyond being of merely theoretical interest; what interval a note speaks is
part of its character. Listeners may be oblivious to how and why music communicates
identity, character and meaning but this doesnt mean it doesnt happen.

When bar one starts we dont know if the D will suggest or imply minor or major.
Because the second chord (Bb) is more akin to a key centre of Dm and in any case
contains the F (which would function as a minor 3
in a Dm chord), every subsequent D
is heard as a Dm despite containing no 3
. Ultimately parts of this piece are great
examples of music which doesnt necessarily state but suggests, implies and hints. This
is often such an effective way of writing because it involves the listeners interpretative
skills more. The listener is not passive; their interpretation has a higher level of
involvement than is the case in most music.

Finally we have the leaking A: the A note in chord 1 (the 5
of the D chord) stops
before the second chord comes in but its ghost functions as a distant major 7
in the
Bb/F chord. This subtle interplay with harmonies being created by innuendo and
suggestion is impressive enough, but managing this with so few notes and one
instrumental texture is especially effective. The music seems to work with the style of
credit roll at the beginning, which is modern, abstract and edgy.

THE SIXTH SENSE James Newton Howard

The Sixth Sense is a landmark movie which has a thoughtful and meaningful narrative. A
film of subtlety and refinement, intricacy and detail, the movie needed an equally
sensitive film score. One of the most important aspects of this score is that Night asked
me to start composing music before he started shooting. I went to Philadelphia and sat
with him in his office while he storyboarded the entire movie for me, which is something
I've never done before. So said James Newton Howard, composer of the music for Sixth
Sense. This is an important point and one we will return to again in this book; the notion
of the composer sat down looking at the film and composing to picture is the way we
envisage a film score composer working. But it is only one way of writing film music.

Some composers such as Newton Howard and Zimmer occasionally provide initial
material based on their emotional commentary of the directors concept. In some
situations directors then use the pre-score as a temp-track for the film, which in turn
affects the way they make the film. This means music really is an integral part of the
process of the film, not simply something which is added afterwards.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This situation turns the whole composer-director relationship on its head but represents a
progressive evolution of the art of film-making and film composing. Wedded as we are to
the notion of music being something that is added to a film after it is made, we have to
acknowledge that the idea of a composer providing a musical emotional commentary
based on an idea or concept from a director or writer, which then informs the making of
the film itself, is an evolution of the art of film scoring and an acknowledgement of the
power of music. This book deals with conceptualisation and the vexed issue of whether
composers think or simply do at various points but certainly directors allowing
composers to think before they see; to compose based merely on a concept and a
conversation, can do nothing but progress the art form of film composing. It suggests the
notion that composing for picture is much more than simply the interpretation of pictures
by a composer.

Christopher Nolan asked Hans Zimmer to write the music for Inception without seeing
the film itself. For a film which includes the concept of dreams within dreams it would
seem entirely fitting that the composer is allowed to conceptualise without the hindrance
of the actual reality of the pictures.

The personality of the score to Sixth Sense lies in the subtleties of precise instrumentation
and key shifts, as the following examples shows.

Audio - Run to the Church - Movie,
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The rhythmic dissonance and interplay between 6/8 and 7/8 dont sound as difficult or
disorientating as they look on paper. The constant quavers create a slightly mesmeric and
captivating feeling. The ascending quaver line (E, C, G) at the end of each bar offers a
feeling of similarity and familiarity which bridges the differing time signatures well.

The section below is a continuation of the same piece (on single stave format) and shows
once again how overlapping one note from the bar before helps the music communicate.
The C# at the top of bar one (maj 3
) becomes the 4
at the start of bar two. The
overhanging C# also ensures than not all the parts move down.

As we can see from the evolution of the harmony from consonance, through
suspension to resolution (fig.34) the C# hangover from bar one to two helps the piece
have a sense of purpose and direction.

JNH uses the same methodology again in the next excerpt from the same film. He mixes
the two unrelated key centres G#m and G via the linking note of B - which in both cases
represents the 3
(minor then major). The 3
(whether minor or major) is a defining and
exposed interval, as weve establish elsewhere in the book. Italicizing its use in this way
is extremely effective.

The two chords on the left (fig.33) represent the chords at
the end of bar nine and the beginning of bar ten. As is
common with JNW the concept of a note trading more on
its intervallic context is always present; the E note functions
firstly as the 9
of the Dm9 chord and secondly as the m3

) of the C#m chord. The addition of the 9
stops the
transition between Dm and C#m sounding too symmetrical.

Audio, Run to the Church 00.40 - Movie,

C# (3
) C# (4



How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The other reason this particular piece works is because it merges two distinctly different
areas: firstly we have the delicate chord maneuvers of G#m to G, softened up by the deft
orchestration, but secondly we have a couple of Blues touches; the C# (b5) and the F
). This lends the piece an extra dimension.

The section below plays 54 seconds into the movie over a credit roll and really helps
establish the tone and flavour of the movie.

Audio - De Profundis 00.17
Audio, Tape of Vincent 02.30 - Movie,
Simile strings / ww


context of
the B note

The chord manoeuvre and melody note therefore offer three
perspectives, contextualised by the example below. This sense of
simultaneous static and contrary movement is at the heart of why
the chord sequence doesnt sound unduly chromatic and square
G#m G G#m G
Looking again at this chord manoeuvre we can see that the top melodic line moves from min3
to maj3 (e.g. up), the note itself is static (B to B) whilst the chord moves from G#m to G
(e.g. down).
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Bar two to three contains a C which functions first as a 9
, then a 5
. Bar eight to nine
have an F which functions first as a minor 3
, then a major 3
. JNW utilises the slightly
hypnotic and entrancing characteristics to be found when a melodic line of a chord shift
stays on the same note but changes from major 3
to minor 3
or vice versa. We feel
the context of the note moving although the actual note itself (the sound) stays static.

Another harmonic identifier which helps lend a sense of wonderment is the famous #4
which appears twice. In addition the quaver octave piano part creates an identity which is
later used in Run to the Church.

WOLF Ennio Morricone

Wolf is a Werewolf movie from director Mike Nichol in which the concept of the Wolf
functions as multiple metaphors for unleashed sexuality and the law of the corporate
jungle. John Williams was originally attached to compose the music for this film but left
when the project became delayed. Ennio Morricone plays the movie wonderfully with a
selection of cues which range in style from classic 50s horror movie genre, through to
classical romanticism.

Mostly he plays the story of the betrayal of the main character, Will Randall, by his wife
and work colleague. He plays the love story between Randall and Laura Alden, played by
co-star Michelle Pfeiffer. Morricone plays love better than most composers by providing
evocative but simple music that rises and falls effortlessly through a series of clever
chord changes and poignant harmonic statements. His use of orchestra and Alto sax is
entirely typical of his ability to think outside the box. Where others would have simply
used orchestra, Morricone throws something unique into the mix; certainly when one
imagines a Werewolf movie, Alto sax is not the first instrument that comes to mind.

Before examining the romantic theme properly I would like to cast an eye and ear over
the chords below, which form the harmonic basis for the theme. The orchestrated
harmonies alone are used earlier in the film, with the melody being added for scenes
toward the end of the movie.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The piece highlights again the use of bass and inversion as writing tools. As I have
highlighted in the transcription, the choice of inversion allows a smooth transition at the
foot of the chord which makes the chord changes seem smoother. The boxed chords show
simple examples of how inversions are used passing chords. Inversions nearly always
cause drama but their use is also tactical in allowing for a better chordal transition. The
transcription below now has the Alto sax melody added. The grey perforated lines
represent repetition of motif; not literally but where the same notes are applied to slightly
different rhythms and different harmonic support. Bars four and five feature similar
figures and bars nine and ten feature a similar contour.


How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


On the example below, a single stave transcription of the same piece, I have mapped out
the intervals being stated by some of the notes. The manoeuvre that takes the G note at
the end of bar 3 from stating a 1
(root) to a 7
on the first beat of the next bar is
interesting; the chord moves up but the note stays the same. But only the physical note
stays the same; the intervallic context goes from 1 to 7 and then back to 1. Therefore
there are three separate movements; the chord, the note and what it represents.

To those who might venture to suggest that this is over-analysis, or analysis gone mad, I
would say that such abstract observations go to the heart of how and why our minds and
respond to music in the way they do. 99% of listeners will in all probability be blissfully
unaware of the existence or significance of most of the observations in this book. But
they will be beneficiaries of the affects caused by most of the points addressed.

1 1
7 7
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


As composers we do not necessarily have to be consciously aware of such things when
we actually sit down and compose, because to be aware at all means such knowledge will
seep into your intellect and become part of your writing. If you understand how and why
harmony communicates your writing will be indelibly affected by such knowledge.
Knowledge is not something we can switch on and off. We cant un-know something; it
is part of who we are and what we do. We are products of our genes, our experiences and,
most of all, our knowledge and understanding.

To those who might venture to suggest that too much analysis, knowledge and
understanding goes against the spirit of creating art - that ignorance is bliss - I would
retort that in most cases ignorance is never bliss; it is only ever ignorance.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


H O W M U S I C C O M M U N I CA T E S # 1


All composers have a need to define themselves. Compositional identity is the ultimate
hallmark of success, the great pinnacle of achievement; to be recognised is everything. In
an obvious sense professional film composers identify themselves by doing a great job,
repeatedly and in ridiculously short amounts of time that are the stuff of legend; but how
their music manages to achieve a sense of specific character and identity, of self, is one of
the main reasons for their success and longevity.

Composers such as James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer, James Horner, John Williams
and many more manage repeatedly to succeed at the highest level. One of the reasons
they do so well so often is not in spite of the short time limit but probably because of it.
The need to abbreviate the process, to limit the conceptualisation time, can sometimes
succeed in the creation of an identity. In other words, identity is sometimes not something
we strive for, but rather something we have thrust upon us by a mixture of our abilities,
imagination, experiences and because of the time limit. One thing film score writers have
never had is time.

So how does this identification work in practice? Some composers identify their work via
its sound a specific and particular use of textures and instruments or use of the
orchestra; having a specific orchestration and / or production approach leaves a composer
relatively free to use different harmonic choices. If the music is defined by its texture the
composer is free to use varied harmonic approaches within that texture. For example,
people talk about the John Williams sound; one of the main identifiers of John
Williams music is its wonderful use of orchestral texture. The way particular
orchestrators such as the late Herbert Spencer interpreted Williams arrangements should
not be underestimated. Williams particular way of writing for strings, brass and
woodwind represent some of the fundamental reasons his work transports emotionally,
even over and above the glorious melodies and dense harmonies he crafts. This is why,
despite Catch me if you can being so markedly different, harmonically, from ET or
Jurassic Park or Close Encounters (all of which this book analyses in detail) there is a
bond between them, a style, a voice, a sameness; ultimately an identity. Although the
distinct sound is at least partly the child of Williams orchestrators and mix engineers, it
is the fundamental consistency, the strength of character and longevity of his composing
and arranging which defines John Williams. As he has proved time and again, having a
specific sound doesnt mean that rhythm, pace, harmony and melody cant be diverse. It
simply means there is a consistency of approach which identifies your work.

If a composers voice is a specific and identifiable approach to harmony, this leaves
them free to offer that voice up in multitude of different sounds and textural scenarios.

Chapter 5
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Central to any serious study about if, how and why music creates a sense of meaning
within the listener is the issue of how it communicates - how the musical characteristics
can communicate, almost literally. The reason music works so well in film is precisely
because moving images allow the viewer and listener emotional context in which to
rationalise, interpret and enjoy accompanying music. Musics vast but complicated
communicative power is never better used than when put to picture.

Music analysed: The Dark Knight & Batman Begins (music by Hans Zimmer and James
Newton Howard), The Island (Music by Steve Jablonsky), and Spiderman 2 (Music by
Danny Elfmann). King Kong (James Newton Howard).

THE DARK KNIGHT Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

The Dark Knight is not simply a movie about a super-hero. It succeeds in separating itself
from movies like Spiderman and The Hulk by focusing deeply on the hearts and minds of
diverse characters. On a deeper level it is a film about choice, morality and idealism. The
Joker is not played for laughs and nor is he in it for the money. His anger is against the
superficiality of a morally structured world. That these complex issues are distilled into
the body of a superhero film is impressive, but the reason it works in a different way to
the previous incarnation of Batman films is at least partly down to the music; in some
ways the music distils the subtext better than the pictures. And yet music does not offer
as much of an obvious, concrete or specific meaning as pictures do. Perhaps the reason
why music is so useful in accompanying pictures is because the emotions and meanings it
conveys are not quite as literal as words and pictures but more ethereal in nature. Because
listeners dont translate an actual meaning but instead benefit from more of a feeling,
musics effect can be more subtle and general and useful in accompanying a whole scene
or conveying an over-arching emotional contour. The fact that it is not absolutely specific
is perhaps its most endearing characteristic.

At its most effective the music for The Dark Knight rarely excessively protrudes or
punctuates; it functions by delivering a musical context for the films images but more
importantly, for its story. It acts as an emotional commentary on the story rather than
simply being a crude accompaniment to the films hit points. This brings another pivotal
and central issue of film scoring to the forefront of the debate; whose point of view do
you play? Film can exist on several levels at once. As a composer, do you play the fiction
(what the film appears to be about), or the subtext (often what the film is really about)?
Do you play the character or the scene or the overview? Perhaps because of the many and
varied ways in which music can serve a film, composers who manage to extort the films
emotion and bury it within their music are best writing more for message, not the surface-
level content. Certainly Hans Zimmer has succeeded in this approach more than most,
which is why his music communicates so effectively and often so vividly. So much of the
really successful and emotional sections of what Zimmer and Newton Howard wrote for
The Dark Knight function as commentaries on the story, the narrative, the overview;
comparatively little of it is actually placed to picture in the normal sense.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Because of this there are few examples of film scoring clich. Great film composers often
dont just write to picture. They write to the story, to the feeling the film creates; to its
emotion, perhaps to its soul. In some respects placing the music to picture ought to be the
final act the composer undertakes, not the first response. The great composers of today
often reflect on the concept of a film before it is even made. Both Hans Zimmer and
James Newton Howard, when working individually, have composed music before a film
is finished and sometimes before the film is even shot. Filmmaker M.Night Shayamalan
often asks James Newton Howard to respond to the concept of film. He doesnt want the
composer to be initially unduly hampered by the reality of his [the directors] vision of
the concept, but instead wants the composers first responses to be guided by the idea of
the story.

Before we begin analyzing, I am reminded of Leonard Rosenmans statement, referenced
in the book On the Track by Fred Karlin and Rayburn Wright, that as a film composer
you are not writing real music. Rosenman made a telling and important distinction
between what he called real music and film music. He wrote, Film music has all the
ingredients real music has counterpoint, orchestration, harmony but it doesnt have
the primary ingredient that separates music from non-music; the propulsion is not by
musical ideas but by literary ideas. This astute observation underpins perfectly why film
music is so different to real music but critically why composers have to address it with
such a different mindset. Film music provides many contradictions and conundrums,
perhaps the worst of which is the singular inescapable fact that although the primary
function of film is that it can be believed, music is the one ingredient that ordinarily
wouldnt be there but without which film wouldnt be so realistic. As I alluded to in the
introduction, a persons normal everyday life has no musical score behind it. This is
because it is being lived, not filmed. Musics job, therefore, is to provide the emotion that
would be there if the film were indeed happening in real life. Music brings films to life.
Music provides an emotional link. Music, when done right, makes film real.

Studying the music alone is limiting because with The Dark Knight, as with most films,
the pictures are part of the music; much of Zimmers and Newton Howards music is
about harmony, counterpoint and small, short brief melodic figures. In this respect the
film almost represents the actual melody (the melody that would appear in real music).
Let us not forget that music brings emotion to film but film also brings emotion to music.
I would therefore urge students, once they have read and understood the musical analysis,
to watch the music in action as part of the film itself.

Although all of the music in The Dark Knight is credited to both composers, any decent
scholar of film music would spot the difference between something written by Zimmer
and something written by Newton Howard in the same way people can sometimes spot
the distinction between Lennons songs and McCartneys songs, many of which were
written individually but accredited to both. The segment below is a microcosm of
Zimmers writing style, featuring as it does, the trademark dancing semiquavers that so
identify his approach. Below (fig.1) we have the counterpoint between the semiquavers
and the middle line counter melody.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


As is nearly always the case with Zimmer the sounds are a combination of real
instruments and synth/sampled sounds, often duplicating the parts. This approach
represents the genesis of Zimmers approach to production and the use of textures in
many of his films.

There are several simple aspects in this piece which create character and identity and
succeed in creating emotion. The first section of the transcription, above, displays a low
cello line. This is synonymous with Zimmers style. He mitigates the potentially
hazardous low melodic lines [which might otherwise get swallowed in the mix] by
impaling the line in bar three and many others on the major 3
, a descriptive interval
which punctuates and penetrates even the densest undergrowth. However, Zimmer does
not simply hit the buttons which will work; he also states potentially difficult intervals
such as the bracketed maj7
in bar four, the 6
in bar eight and the 4
in bar twelve. One
of Zimmers key communicative tools is precisely this low, dense melodic scoring which
features consonance intervals but also intervals which are a little more demanding on the
ears, particularly low down.

Violas / Violins
Strings / Brass



( )
( )

( )



Audio, 00.43 A Dark Knight Movie, 02.16.00
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The safe intervals would sound too sweet without the occasional difficult ones. Also in
fig.1 (bar fifteen) we can observe a G chord featuring the kind of low, crunchy dense
voicing which has become so much part of Zimmers style. These low, condensed
voicings work well because of the manner of Zimmers production, which involves real
instruments being merged with sampled sounds, enabling him to mix the various textures
together to create a real feeling of warmth. This habit of scoring low and dense is as
much a part of Zimmers style as his choice of chords and intervals.

The section below (fig.2, a continuation of the cue from fig.1) shows another example of
Zimmers communicative counterpoint; the effectiveness of the top line (the dancing
semiquavers) is shared with the counterpoint on the stave underneath, which this time
breaks into two halves (boxed, bar twenty-one), a trend which continues. This mixture of
specific counterpoint harmonies and dense lower voicing ensures the music
communicates in a cyclical, slightly mesmerising and absorbing way. The cue isnt
impaled on any single dominating melodic figure, which might have detracted from the
images; this is the kind of writing which can appear again and again, gaining character
and identity without punctuating the film too much.

Strings / Brass cont
Audio, A Dark Knight cont
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Turning now to an abbreviated transcription of the harmonies used in the same section of
The Dark Knight, we analyse how and why the specific choice of chords translates and
communicates so well. One of a film composers goals is to provide music which
speaks in an uplifting and emotional way. If composers tread the normal paths open to
them they can sometimes create predictable music, whereas if they stray into dissonant or
abstract territory they can sometimes create music which is difficult and inaccessible,
particularly in a filmic context. Listening to music is a complex and complicated
business. As listeners were constantly subconsciously searching our existing database of
knowledge for models and comparisons in order to rationalise and digest whatever music
were listening to. This is an almost instantaneous and subconscious process. A large part
of music digestion is based on assumptions. Music which constantly proves us wrong in
our presumptions fails to engage most listeners and is open to hostile interpretation.
Music which perhaps digests too easily does the opposite and is often bland, dull and
quite literally predictable. What drives the creation of most music is the desire to
entertain as music. Songs have opinion and attitude; they are in many ways an extension
of a composers attitude and ego. Film music does not share the burden of commercial
expectation present in song. The film composers job, by comparison, is to provide music
which engages the listener and creates an emotional link between the film and its music.
Often this means challenging a listeners expectations. Frequently film composers need
to write music which, on the one hand offers the comfort and security of tradition but on
the other hand offers a whiff of abstraction and surprise. We need to make the audiences
interpretative skills work harder than normal, but perhaps not too hard. This constant
trade-off between what wed like to write and what we can reasonably get away with is
perhaps most obvious in film composers. With all this in mind, lets look particularly at
the chords used in the section we analysed earlier, this time circled.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The first chord starts this (or any) sequence off and everything else is heard in context of
this. Music is usually goal-orientated. It is consumed as a linear experience with
structured reference points and repeated sections throughout which allow listeners to
navigate. How a chord reacts to the one before it or after it is crucial. But other, less
obvious relationships exist, like how chord in bar one interacts with the chord in bar three
or four or five. Even in short sequence dozens of potential dynamics exist. We hear in a
linear way but we listen in a much more detailed cumulative way. Why and how music
works depends often on things we are not even aware of, but which conspire to dictate
how we experience music.


The seemingly baffling chart above italicises the relationships between each separate
chord and the rest of the chords in the same sequence. All these relationships exist, at
varying levels of subtlety. Critics might say it is impossible for a person to rationalise the
myriad of different harmonic dynamics, or even that such dynamics only exist
theoretically. But such relationships do exist and continue to affect our interpretation of
what we listen to. Returning to the sequential order of chords, below is the chord
sequence seen logically, sequentially and in context of one continuous stream.


The same sequence below now breaks the chords into two-bar mini-sequences

Sequence 1
Sequence 2
Sequence 3
Sequence 4
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


As individual mini two-bar sequences, the chords are logical and predictable. But seen in
context of the link between the mini two-bar sequences, the move from Bb to C is very
slightly outside what we would normally assume, as is the link between Am and Bb.
If we follow a predictable path we might reasonably have expected a Gm or F to follow
from the Bb chord, not the C, because this takes us into the feel of a C key centre.



Similarly the C chord moves to Am, which in context of that manoeuvre, is predictable;
but in a wider context (particularly the Bb two chords before) isnt quite so smooth. The
trend of interrupted chord sequences continues. This is one of the dominating
communicative factors of the sequence; it takes you slightly outside what you might
expect, but does so subtly and softly. Although there is a cyclical feel, as a whole
Zimmer manages to make the sequence unpredictable by using chords which lie very
slightly and almost imperceptibly outside the immediate localised key centre. Thus there
are regular slight unsettling, uplifting and even mildly euphoric elements, particularly the
manoeuvre between Am and Bb. Perhaps the most unsettling aspect is Zimmers
imperceptible removal of the feeling of an absolute key centre.





If we look at the chords which together make up the essence of the piece, we see that
although it jolts out of its perceived key centre every two bars, there is a connection
between bars 1/2 and 5/6. Equally there is a link between bars 3/4 and 7/8, so in essence
the piece services two key centres.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


THE ISLAND Steve Jablonsky

The chord sequence for figures 1, 2 and 3 is identical to the title track from a film called
The Island, which contains a very powerful and creative score from Steve Jablonsky,
once a protg of Zimmer, which buys into the style and sound made famous by his
mentor. I make no moral judgement here whatsoever; the scores for the two films are
different in many ways. I simply focus on the similarities here to prove a point of how
composers are drawn to specific harmonic structures and devices as a means of basic
communication. The chords used are the same as The Dark Knight but written in a
slightly different order. My point is that regardless of the order of the chord sequence
they achieve the same cumulative emotion. They are cut from the same cloth,
harmonically and stylistically. Because they operate round more than one key centre,
there is a mild cyclical, mesmeric feeling. Just as in the Zimmer piece, there is no verse,
no chorus; no goal.

The same chord sequence seen in context of a chord
grid (referenced in previous chapters), show that
Zimmer mainly stays within the key centre of Dm. What
is notable is the red herring - his use of the chord of G,
which lies outside the key centre of Dm and gently hints
at the key centre of C. His decision to leave out the Gm
and F chords (grey) chords which would have normally
been found in Dm is interesting; together with the use of
the G chord, this is why the piece effectively exists in
two key centres and has a cyclic mesmerising feel. This
is an important aspect of Zimmers style; he uses this
approach in many films including The Da Vinci Code
and Angela & Demons.

Am Dm Gm

G C F Bb
Audio, 00.20 The Island Awaits You Movie, 00.00.20
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


As stated earlier there are notable differences in the precise sequential order of the chords
but in terms of the emotional content and communicative power, they achieve the same
goal. The two are scored out on single stave format below (fig.11 and fig.12) in order to
highlight the way in which the harmonies and melodic style communicate.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


In particular the relationship between the Am and Bb creates the same euphoric lift in
both pieces. Also the use of the G chord to take the piece outside the Dm key centre is
crucial to the identity of both pieces. A more obvious melodic link is to be seen and heard
between the two pieces. Zimmers use of semiquavers which colours some of his films, is
appropriated in the sampled quaver line in Jablonskys piece.

The following track to be analysed (Im not a Hero) from The Dark Knight,
conveniently and subtly highlights two issues both major forces in context of film score
composing. The first is the potent and emotional power of the humble inversion. The
second issue (referenced in the chapter Music Theory in Action) is how notes have two
contexts; two realities (the first being its musical value, i.e. the note itself and the second
being its intervallic value, i.e. what interval is being stated in relation to the chord
which accompanies it when the note is played). The relationship between the two realities
is one of the invisible governing dynamics that determines why music sounds like it does
and how it affects us when we listen. This simple observation allows us to understand the
relationship, for example, between two chords in context of a common note. But firstly
the inversions: A casual glance at many of the modern film scores shows the power of the
inversion. Why is the inversion such a powerful device? To understand how the inversion
dramatizes and communicates and the best way to use it, we first have to grasp what
happens to a chord when it is inverted. Along with extensions and other harmonic
devices, inversions allow us to slightly alter the flavour, weighting, complexion and
dynamic of a chord, slightly challenging the assumptions of the listener. Inversions
specifically provide drama, gravity and lift to a chord. They change a chords centre of
harmonic gravity; its equilibrium. In the segment below not only does Zimmer use
inversions (circled); he makes a virtue out of them by placing them within the melody
itself. He draws attention to them. Melody does not have to always be on the top, or even
in the middle. Ultimately melody is not a specific instrument and neednt always exist in
a predictable range. Over and above everything, melody is principally a function.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


In the same cue a specific chord exchange is highlighted (Bb to the Bm, bars seven to
eight). This sequence (boxed) works well because the D note (common to both chords)
retains its musical value (it is a D in both chords) whilst subtly changing its intervallic
value (major 3
becomes minor 3

Again, this information is meaningless and no more than an abstract theoretical
observation unless we understand the context of how and why these manoeuvres
communicate; a shift from Bb to B or from Bbm to Bm is completely chromatic;
everything changes at the same rate. By contrast Bb to Bm offers a major-to-minor
change but what it also delivers is a common note with a changeable intervallic value,
which prevents the chord manoeuvre sounding parallel. Normally a common note
wouldnt be such a big deal, but the common note is, in both cases, a third. Thirds are
crucial intervals; they are descriptive intervals. They carry the weight of the colour and
emotional context of the chord. The move from Bb to Bm by definition draws attention to
the bass line, which moves from Bb to B and to the 5
of both chords (F and F#). These
chromatic changes are mitigated by the common D note which changes its intervallic
value halfway through the exchange (to accommodate the new chord) but not its sound.

Audio - Im Not a Hero 0.05
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


BATMAN BEGINS Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard

Just like its successor The Dark Knight, Batman Begins aimed for a darker and more
realistic tone, with a strong sense of humanity and realism. Fear is a common theme
throughout the film and the dark tone set the context for this and The Dark Knight. The
following track (entitled Eptescius) is taken from Batman Begins. This is an effective
sequence which displays some other subtleties sometimes found in film music. Again,
although Zimmer and Newton Howard share the credits for this film, this is classic James
Newton Howard. Look at and listen to the sequence below. Do you notice any significant
features which might help it communicate in a filmic environment?

The chord symbol in bar two is G6/9. But if we look at this chord and examine its aural
qualities, its distinct airy ethereal sound, we realise that what it is, in effect, is a subtle
poly-chord (fusing elements of the G chord and the A chord). It doesnt sound as abstract
or extreme as most polychords because the G and A chords are incomplete (the G chord
is missing its 5
and the A chord is missing its 3
). It is two thirds of two chords fused
together. The same chord appears in bar four. We often refer to harmonies being effective
because of the preamble that delivers them the lead-up. In this respect what happens in
bar one and again in bar three is crucial in delivering the context in which bars two and
four are heard; the ascending D and C notes in bar one and three lead effortlessly into the
bottom two notes (G and B) of bars two and four.

The real James Newton Howard moment comes in the second chord in bar five. The
mid/low strings provide a Dm7 ascending to Em7 with the beautifully dissonant F note
above gliding between both. This is classic of the type of polite dissonance displayed by
Newton Howard. The final chord sequence (bar eight) represents, again, a classic JNH
chord change, where he displays a slightly off-key polite dissonance; a subtle
ambiguity. How? By making the low resonant E and B from an E chord sit fairly
comfortably with what is, in all but name, an inverted Fm over the top.

Audio - Eptescius
omit5 omit5
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The first chord in fig.15 is the penultimate chord of fig.14. The same chord,
enharmonically re-voiced in bar 2, exposes its poly-tonal qualities, featuring as it does
elements of E and Fm chords

The subtle manipulation of harmony is one of the ways music talks to its audience. This
is what stops it being merely background music. This is what makes it mean something.
This is the language of music speaking. Listeners who dont understand music theory are
able to understand; they just dont realise they understand. Its a communicative
language they are beneficiaries of but unaware of. Normally when any language
communicates it does so literally. Music is a language that transmits and therefore creates
meaning, but without necessarily being fully understood, principally because most people
cannot read music. When classical scholars and some academics say music is incapable
of conveying or creating meaning, that the collective sense of meaning felt by listeners is
somehow the same illusion felt simultaneously by everybody, this is why they are wrong.

KING KONG James Newton Howard

James Newton Howard is a master of the subtle nuance; the almost unheard gesture. He is
a master of the careful and creative manipulation of harmony; beautifully disfiguring the
harmonic content of a chord, rearranging and distorting its DNA so that what was an
ordinary chord is now a chord with five legs instead of two. The track below (A Fateful
Meeting from King Kong) displays the kind of chord which is typical of his understated
writing. Two sections are highlighted; the first is a small, innocuous example of the
intervallic value of a note being crucial. The note itself is constant; what it means changes
because of its surrounding context.

The second example highlighted is a classic JNH chord embellishment; the two G notes
which constitute the minor 7
on top and in the middle of the Am9 are retained and
become the min6 of the Bm7 a potentially dissonant chord but one which is delivered
with the deft touch of sympathetic orchestration.

The Gs dont suddenly appear as min6s out of nowhere; their intervallic context simply
changes as the chords change. It is not the min6s which suddenly become okay; it is the
harmonic context which makes it believable, acceptable and eerily normal. The harmony
seems to shape-shift around the two Gs.

( )
( )
( )
add +5
(omit 3
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Below is a piece called Macrotus from Batman Begins. It appears eleven minutes into
the film and/or one minute into the audio track. Again, although HZ and JNH share the
credits, this one has Newton Howards fingerprints all over it. This piece is fertile with
compositional and creative tricks and tactics.

m3 2 1(maj3)
5 #4 maj34th
m3 2 1maj3
5 #4 maj34th
Audio -Macrotus Movie, 00.11.00
Audio -A Fateful Meeting
/ Strings
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


On a simple level we have the compositional trick of the replication of a melodic line
with different surrounding harmonic context; the safety of the original idea repeated with
the addition of new context. The listener has something old, something new. They are
taken on a journey which has familiar landmarks (bars two, four, seven and nine). The
second observation is slightly more oblique; the harmonic contours of the piece are
highlighted here. If you ignore the melodic line and focus on the chords, they have their
own context; their own journey. This is a good example of the myth that melody is the
sole context through which music is understood. The chords are often the real context.
The melody is frequently a simplistic prism; a window into the piece through which we
appreciate the harmonic contours.

Does this piece have a harmonic identity? Does it have a recognisable and definable
harmonic fingerprint? Yes it does; normally when harmony is analysed the focus tends to
be linear, from left to right, looking at the key-centre chords which perhaps start every
phrase and how other chords relate. But a harmonic identity is not necessarily the
gravitational pull towards its key centre. If there is a chord type in this piece which
defines it, to which the piece returns, it is the humble but eternally useful sus chord. The
unique aspect of the sus chords used here is that two of them contain the 3
and the
suspended 4

Chordal contour
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The circles over the chord denote the sus chords, which appear regularly and define the
character of the piece. In the blacked-out circled chord symbols the melody states the sus
whilst the harmonies underneath simply state the basic chord, inclusive of its 3
Nevertheless the sus chord defines the harmony in this piece.

Expect the unexpected.

Earlier we discussed how, as listeners, were constantly subconsciously searching our
existing knowledge for comparisons in order to rationalise and digest music. This process
is so fast and so subtle, we are simply not aware of it. As alluded to earlier, music which
constantly proves us wrong in our presumptions fails to engage but music which does the
opposite is often bland. The film composers job is to create a heightened sense of aural
awareness by pricking, provoking and tantalisingly titillating our senses. With this in
mind lets look again at this sequence. The last chord in bar three seems to suggest a
return to Fm, but we go instead to Db. At the end of bar six we expect the C chord to
resolve to Fm but instead it takes us on a key change to Em. When listening to James
Newton Howard, expect the unexpected. As a composer, do the unexpected.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The first example of the unexpected definitely lifts the piece but is subtle; but the second
example on bar six defines the entire section, creating high emotion. Expecting a move
back to Fm or possibly Db but getting a move to Em is what raises our engagement.
Surprise is one of the greatest musical devices. This small, seemingly innocuous section
of music weve studied is actually full of compositional and creative tricks and tactics. It
displays quite vividly how music communicates and creates a strong feeling. If we feel
something when listening to music, it is invariably because it has meant something to
us; it has suggested created a meaning.

Almost every conceivable musical action and reaction has an emotional consequence.
Some are nebulous and unfathomable because they mean different things to different
people, but some can be rationalised and understood in a more general, collective sense.
The more we understand, the more we realise how the same type of events crop up again
and again. Most music we listen to comes built according to specifications we are used to
and understand. There is little ambiguity or room for interpretative manoeuvre. It is
distilled and digested by aural consumers. But some composers are masters at creating
subtle nuances; understated and barely distinguishable harmonic deviations which quietly
question our assumptions and create interest and even excitement. When we listen to
these harmonic events and hear something we didnt expect, most of the time were
probably not even aware of the fact; we are simply aware that were listening in a
different way, or that were enjoying the experience more, or finding it more challenging.
The reason were enjoying it more or finding it more challenging is be because at that
moment we the listener represents a bigger part of the process than they normally do. Far
from being passive receptors of what we hear but dont listen to, our preconceptions are
challenged, forcing us to engage on a deeper level; in short, we listen. Corynorhinus from
Batman Begins (transcribed below) contains some expressive harmonic language entirely
typical of its composer, James Newton Howard. The delicate harmonic subtleties
contained in his music, along with the instrumental textures, have an identifiable and
communicative style.

At this point
we expect a
to the Fm
but instead
to the Db
We definitely expect a
resolution to the Fm
but instead get a totally
unexpected key change
to Em
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Occasionally the harmonies are implied rather than explicit. Sometimes he uses delicate
polyharmony, odd voicing techniques and other subtleties which succeed in drawing in
the listener in a way other music sometimes doesnt.

Audio - Corynorhinus

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


For the first three beats of bar one we hear no min3
. We hear the root, 5
, 9
and 11

but no 3
. The number of extensions equals the number of primary intervals, so in effect
the chord is a little extension heavy. The chord is slightly and almost imperceptibly less
clear than we expect. Even this small aspect of the process causes the music to
communicate in a subtly more introspective way.

The string chord in bar nine contains a slight subversion of what we might expect in that
it has the C note (maj7) next to the root note of Db. Normally a major 7 chord would be
smoothed out and voiced to avoid such a clash. This chord works so well because the
clash is mitigated by the chord containing two F notes (major 3
). These colourful, rich
and descriptive intervals penetrate through the chord. The fact that the Db chord (with the
maj7/root clash in the middle) is inverted over the F is interesting because it offers
another way of visually and aurally rationalising the chord; the bottom two notes of the
chord (F and C) represent what could be heard as a root and 5
of an Fm chord, whereas
the top three notes of the chord represent a Db chord.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


There is therefore a small hint of polyphony, which by its nature is ambiguous and
difficult to aurally unpick and rationalise. Remember, the names we give to chord
symbols have a value which goes beyond merely the ability to visually identify and
classify. Chord symbols, intervals and extensions implicitly suggest an identity, a
character. A chord symbol is also a way of describing the way something sounds, the way
it feels.

The 11
is voiced midway up the chord, on top of the root, 5
, 7
and 9
. But the min3

is voiced at the top of the chord, not within it; this creates a strangeness in the way the
chord sounds, due to the internal intervallic dynamics, namely the 11
and the high 5

being side-by-side and the 7
interval between the Bb and Ab.

Finally, bars twenty four-twenty seven of the original transcription (repeated below,
fig.24) are particularly effective and also typical of the kind of vivid harmonic tensions
that characterise Newton Howards style. The section is in 6/4 but because of where the
crotchets and minim fall it seems to have an open feel. Bar twenty five and twenty
seven are of particular interest harmonically; the lower strings state an open, richly
voiced C chord but the top violins (top stave) state the F the added 11
. The flattened
interval (between the E and F notes) creates significant tension but, as we have seen
before, the tension is mitigated by the rich voicing and textures.
The precise voicing of the
second chords of bar eleven and
twelve of the original
transcription (Fm11) contain
some colourful and vivid
voicing. These chords are
transcribed (left, fig.22).

In bar thirteen of the original transcription (featured again in
fig.23, left) the Dmaj7, with #4 but no 3
and 5
is produces
an interesting sound. Primarily this is because it is a
fractured chord (no 3
and 5
) with two extensions, which
completely alters the internal dynamic, but it is also because
the C (maj7) and the #4 (G) create a square perfect 4

interval, creating harmonies which might better be described
as a C chord with no 3
, over a Db. So why dont we hear
it as that? We hear it as an altered Db chord because the
preceding chord (an actual Db chord) provides the context
which feeds the subsequent chord and determines how we
hear it. Chord symbols are not just names; they give a name
to describe the context in which we hear.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This creates a kind of polite dissonance where the dissonance is sounds mildly skewed
and unsettling rather than extreme or jarring.

SPIDERMAN 2 Danny Elfman

Danny Elfmans music is instantly recognisable and his scores for the Spiderman films
display his usual distinctive and vivid hallmarks. The intro alone has three distinct sub-
sections (perforated boxed on the transcription, fig.25); the first is the three-bar A-minor
section which gives way to the Em chord over the B bass (2
section). Am to Em is quite
normal and the inversion on the Em is typical of how a composer might dramatise the
situation, give it a lift and subtly displace expectation. This evolves finally to the two
chords (the Bb#4 to F#) which precede the main theme. This rapidly evolving harmonic
sequence is typical of Elfman. The success of his music and the unique style it possesses,
whilst partly to do with distinct harmonies and accompanying orchestration and voicing,
is also to do with rapid movement between key centres something we dont normally
expect. Part of Danny Elfmans style, as with Hans Zimmer, is the dancing semiquavers
[bar eight] where strings are used almost percussively. Certainly the line is moving too
fast for the notes to be rationalised by the listener, so the string lines are effectively used
as rhythm and horizontal harmony. One of the ways in which the listeners assumptions
are subtly confounded and their expectations denied, is the way in which the time
signature effortlessly moves from 3/4 to 4/4. The dancing semiquavers, although not
transcribed after bar eleven, do continue. It takes a moment to settle into 4/4 as a listener
because the change lacks the kind of gestures or signposts which might accompany such
a time change. This kind of subtlety is one of many nuances Elfman uses.

Audio, 00.01 Spiderman 2 Main Theme Movie, 00.00.01

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


If we analyse the intro in more detail we can see how subtle some of the harmonic
dynamics are and how the sequence navigates the listener from the beginning up to the
start of the main theme in Dm (bar seven).

The main focus of our attention in this piece, however, is the harmony; particularly the
section from bar seven to fourteen (of fig.25) and particularly the alterations and
inversions which are so typical of Elfmans style. Elfman is renowned for his distinctive

E note = #4 E note = 7

The chromatic downward
harmonic lurch is offset by the
E note, common to both chords
Seen through the prism of an emotional contour which responds to
the complexity of the harmonies, we can see the gradual rise as the
intro reaches its preparation for the main section which follows.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The vivid orchestrations of his long-time collaborator Steve Bartek are principally
responsible for interpreting and articulating the creative imagination of the composer.
Here, however, were looking at the information, not the sound; the harmonies and
inversions, not the instrumentation.

A manoeuvre from Dm to Ab is not subtle, existing, as is does, a #4
apart. Elfman
solves this in bars seven to eight (fig.25) by inverting the Ab over the Eb. This alters the
weighting of the chord and changes the harmonic dynamic, creating drama but also
facilitating an easier and smoother bass line. The bass movement from D (root of Dm) to
Eb (5th of Ab) mitigates the uneasy chromaticism of the chordal exchange by providing a
simple semitone between the bass of the first chord and the subsequent inverted bass of
the second chord. The chords are a #4th apart but the bass isnt. Also the melody in bar
eight references a brief D note, which in context of the Ab represents a #4. What the D is
actually doing is linking back to the previous bars Dm chord. The link between chords is
essential, no matter how oblique or tenuous.

As we have seen in other examples, the transition between a minor chord and a major
chord a semitone lower, can be effective because they share a common note; the minor
becomes the major 3
whilst remaining static as a note. The fact that the C notes
intervallic context changes between the two types of 3
creates a strange transition. The
C note remains static but what it is moves; as stated elsewhere this amounts to a kind of
musical version of an optical illusion. Elfman uses this tactic in bars eight to ten. Also the
C (3
) appears in the bass in bar ten which, again, heightens the emotion through a
change in the harmonic dynamic of the chord.

In fig.27 below (which features the last four bars of fig.25) we see a relatively simple
way of getting from one key centre to another. The F to Dm is delivered via the transitory
chord of A. The ascending melodic sequence in the penultimate bar includes the note of
B which bridges the gap between Dm and F#m creating the feeling of almost a melodic

Although not a big part of the melodic line, the A note is the strand that binds the chords
together. It is not heard as one note but its ability to weave through every chord is at the
centre of how and why this sequence works and why it displays consistency. Seen in its
musical context (below) it is simply an A note threading through the bars.

of Dm 4
of F#m
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


People rationalise the music they listen to in a number of ways. But in addition to our
individual methods we also hear and interpret harmony and melody through their musical
and intervallic contexts, as described earlier. That most people are blissfully unaware of
this does not make it untrue. It is important to be aware of the various prisms through
which music communicates. Being more open to rationalising in this way will enable you
to understand music and the ways in which it communicates.

I do not pretend for a moment that these observations or analysis are what occupies the
imagination of the composer during the composition process. What I claim is that the
analysis reflects some of the ways in which music is heard and listened to. What happens
in music can be analysed independent of the composers stated intentions. The route to
the finished composition can be a solitary process, difficult to rationalise or define. What
can be rationalised and understood with reasonable clarity is the outcome; what was
achieved, how it happened and why it is effective.


How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013




This chapter will look at various approaches in film music composition, all of which
share the virtues of subtlety, understatement, intricacy and nuance. Well look at how
composers make subtle shifts and manipulations to tradition and structure in order to
illicit emotion. Sometimes music communicates emotionally because it offers us a
different type of listening experience compared to what we have become used to. If
normal music is applied to film, frequently it doesnt distil the emotion off the film
sufficiently for it to be of any use. It can be distracting and fail to bring us closer to the
story. This is why film music, when listened to purely as music, can often sound abstract,
intangible and confusing. Sometimes it can seem to have no direction or bearing. This is
of course because its main function is to serve the movie, not to exist on its own, as pure
music. In some situations subtlety and restraint can sometimes create interesting, exciting
and stimulating film music precisely because the incompleteness of it all poses more
questions than answers. It asks more of us as listeners and compels us to hear it in context
of the film; the film almost becomes part of the music. The two are meant to work as one
experience, not as film and music. Sometimes music which is not obvious or transparent
in its harmonic complexion can be all the more effective for it. Music which blurs
harmonic reality in an impressionist way or which simply fails to define itself fully can,
ironically, be all the more striking for it because it can force us to engage with the film on
a deeper, more emotional level. Sometimes a whisper truly speaks louder than a scream.
Film music which requires more interpretation or imagination from the listener can
sometimes benefit the way the film is perceived. These are the kinds of issues this chapter
will address.

The music analysed in this chapter will be from World Trade Centre (Craig Armstrong),
American Beauty, (Thomas Newman) Road to Perdition, (Thomas Newman) The
Descent and Insomnia, (David Julyan) Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, (Ryuichi
Sakamoto) 2012 (Harald Kloser & Thomas Wander) Crimson Tide, The Rock, Pearl
Harbour, The Da Vinci Code & The Ring (Hans Zimmer) Hopilola (Sigur Ros)
Unbreakable, Signs, The Village and Outbreak (James Newton Howard) A Beautiful
Mind (James Horner) The Butterfly Effect (Michael Suby) 28 Days Later (John Murphy)
The Firm (Dave Grusin) Jaws (John Williams)


The harmonic movement below, abbreviated from Craig Armstrongs score to World
Trade Centre, looks definite and absolute. The top-stave open voicings penetrate fully.

Audio World Trade Centre

Chapter 6
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


However, if we look at the completed version (below, fig.2) it has a pedal bass
throughout and the appearance of denser harmony toward the end. The effect of the pedal
bass merely serves to confirm the first few chords, but in bar five (highlighted) we
effectively have a poly-chord, fusing the implied G chord in the treble stave with the C
octaves in the bass stave.

In bar six (highlighted) the G (5
) and D (9
) are added to the bass stave C chord
voicing. No 3
appears which leaves the chord open and ambiguous. But there is a
deeper relationship between the chords, in that the G and D on the bass stave directly
relate to the G and B on the treble staves, belonging as they do to the chord of G. The
point then is, do we hear the B and G (treble stave) and the G and D (from the bass stave)
as part of an overall G chord (with a pedal C bass) or do we hear them as the maj7
, 5

and 9
of the C chord? The omission of want would be unequivocal defining the 3

creates the ambiguity; it creates a sense of both chords at once. Although in all
probability few people are aware of the complexities at work, they are beneficiaries of the
effect, which is profound subtlety created by complex harmonic interaction. By giving
the senses little to go on, you deflect expectation and create a different, more transparent,
subtler experience. The different ways of rationalising these chords are therefore not just
theoretical; they are actual because they create two subtly different ways of aurally
interpreting the chords. In this music a whole myriad of different harmonic reactions,
combined with the distinct soft textures, combine to create a slightly mesmerising
soundscape feel. If this seems like its minimalism, it only seems that way.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The subtle emotional contours of Craig Armstrongs music for the film World Trade
Centre work so well because they are so deftly stated. Because the events portrayed in the
film are grounded in profound reality, more than almost any film the music for World
Trade Centre cannot and must not sentimentalise. Almost any music might be considered
an intrusion but much of Armstrongs music is emotional commentary. We do not really
hear it as typical film music; it is an emotional response to the narrative, to the story and
to the pictures. If any composer had tried to replicate or counter the images with a
typical formulaic film score response, this wouldnt have worked; it would have turned
tragedy into melodrama.


Road to Perdition is a thoughtful and complex film which explores many difficult and
emotional themes. Director Sam Mendes said Michael Sullivan is in a battle for the soul
of his son. Can a man who has led a bad life achieve redemption through his child?
Gangster Michael Sullivan is on the run after taking the life of his boss in revenge for the
murder of most of his family. The film explores themes of violence, guilt, redemption
and also father-son relationships, not only between Michael Sullivan and his son, but
between Sullivan and his boss, John Rooney.

The abbreviated excerpt below is taken from Road to Perdition. One of Newmans most
profoundly communicative approaches is to slightly obscure the harmonies by painting
in subtle extensions. This works well, underpinning the pedestrian pace and sombre and
dark context of the movie. Newman has used this style and approach in numerous films
and has created an emotive musical dimension to films which function on many levels
and is which is much copied and emulated.
and 3
of G
chord, or maj7

of a C chord?

Does the G and D represent the 1
and 5
of a G
chord with the addition of a pedal C?

Or does the G and D represent the 5
and 9
the C chord? The lack of the 3
ambiguity, which makes the experience mildly

and 5
of G chord
or maj7
of a C

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


By writing music which is open and free to interpretation Newman allows the viewer
chance to experience the music and the film in a deeper way. The first bar in this excerpt
features the added 2
. Newman uses this again in bar two over a different chord. When
listening we would be forgiven for thinking the sound of the chord in bar one is created
purely by the polite clash between the notes of D and E (min 3
and added 4
). We think
this because this is the most surface-level, noticeable, observable element.

As discussed elsewhere in this book the true power of harmony and intervals are best
seen and heard in their full context, not simply their localised context. The intervals
below are simply the ones from bar one, spread out, and are seen only in context of the
root note; the perforated line represents the harmonic contour of the intervals.

To presume, therefore, that the reason for this chord sounding the way it does is purely
the tone-interval between the D and E is to miss the point completely. The 11
(E) does
indeed make the chord interesting, but because of its interaction with the other three notes
in the chord, not just the one nearest to it. Understanding these deep and profound
relationships helps us rationalise the complexity of harmony and its potential to subtly
affect how we listen and emotionally digest music.














Audio - Road to Perdition Movie - 01.39.34

In fig.6 (left) all intervals within
the chord (transcribed at one note
per bar) are seen in context of each
other. Altogether there are six
separate harmonic relationships
which define and govern the sound
of this chord. When people hear
this chord, this is what they
experience; this is one of the main
reasons it sounds like it does.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Below we have the complete transcription. As we can see, in addition to the subtle
nuances created in the piano harmonies, Thomas Newman places behind it an E chord
played by an ethereal-sounding sample. So the finished sound is a subtle poly-chord with
the E/B chord set back in the mix.

In the example below I have scored out a composite and amalgamated version, complete
of the harmonies from piano and synth staves.

The amalgamated chord symbol is Bm.

In terms of hearing it, the listener is aware of two chords; two realities Bm and E.

Because of the harmonic ambiguity of the poly-chord, the G# can be heard as the #13 of the Bm
chord OR the 10
) of the E chord
Because of the harmonic ambiguity of the poly-chord, the E can be heard as the 11
of the Bm
chord OR the root of the E chord
Because of the harmonic ambiguity of the poly-chord, the D can be heard as the 10
) of the
Bm chord OR the 7
of the E chord
Because of the harmonic ambiguity of the poly-chord, the B can be heard as the root of the Bm
chord OR the 5
of the E chord
The B and F# serve the Bm which makes the overall harmonic complexion more weighted in
favour of Bm than E.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



American Beauty is described by many as a film about the meaning of life and by others
as a film about the hollow reality of the American Dream. It is a story which shines a
light on what some see as a rotting American Culture what some describe as a kind of
spiritual bankruptcy. The needless, meaningless material things America holds onto
with so much conviction are ridiculed in this thoughtful film. Director Sam Mendes
himself called it a kaleidoscopic journey through American suburbia; a series of love
stories. Above all it is a satire on whats wrong with American life. Mendes also called
American Beauty a rites of passage film about imprisonment and escape from

One of the most beautiful scenes is the scene in which a paper bag is take freely by the
breeze; a symbolic representation of letting go. How does a composer write music
which addresses such a potent mix of complex and composite themes? The example
below features music from the paper bag sequence. In the film two characters watch a
home movie of a paper bag flying freely in the wind. The viewer therefore watches a film
of two characters who are themselves watching a film. The music works so well because
it provides a kind of distant, mesmerising and ethereal emotion which serves two
purposes: it bonds us to the characters and bonds us and the characters to the film of the
paper bag. Newmans identifiable style has been copied the world over and this track
specifically has been used in numerous film & TV sequences. Why? How and why does
this music communicate so well? How does it translate the emotion of the scene and the
film and how does it function as a musical version of Mendes narrative?

Sound, music and production

Listeners are invariably seduced into the easy presumption of the sound being
principally responsible for the mesmerising and hypnotic effect of the music. Certainly
Newmans use of heavily produced piano with his archetypal and memorable
accompanying samples, are what communicate the sound. But sometimes when people
analyse music they stop at the sound without looking at what the sound is playing, e.g.
the music. Save for electroacoustic music, where sound arguably has a different meaning,
sound is nothing without the information; the actual music. We need both. Sound without
music isnt music, and music without sound to carry it is simply silent, theoretical music.
These sound like ridiculously obvious statements but so often people obsess over, and are
preoccupied by, the sound without giving much thought to the music the sound is
articulating. The distinctive sound (the choice of instrumentation, the mix, the
production, the orchestration) is not in itself music; sound is the vehicle on which music
transmits. The sound represents the eventuality of music. To presume that Newmans
music is all about the sound is to miss the point completely. Thomas Newmans approach
to harmony is exquisite and crucial to the success of the paper bag scene from American
Beauty, and it is the sound which contextualises the information and turns it into music.
This piece is one of the key reasons Newmans style has been obsessively appropriated,
imitated and copied the world over.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


In terms of Newmans global success and the appropriation of his sound by thousands of
young composers, most roads lead back to American Beauty. A cursory glance tells you
immediately that this piece doesnt arrive at a resolved chord very often. It has a
transitory feel. The resolved chords are circled in the transcription below. The rest are a
collection of suspended or incomplete, impartial, fragmentary chords; the left hand
displays very clinical, parallel writing but the right hand provides the expression; the
colour. The power of this style of writing is that it sometimes provides an exquisite and
heady mixture of extensions, but without the defining 3
in the main body of the chord.

The mixture of incomplete, partial writing represents almost a type of harmonic
depravation for the listener. The listener, dispossessed of the normal harmonic indicators
and signposts, has to work hard to find any kind of rationale. This creates the effect we
experience when listening to this style of writing.
Audio, 00.40 American Beauty Movie 00.59.20
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Within this context, the pivotal chord sequence (the American Beauty chord sequence)
has to be the first two chords of bar two, which appear again in bar five, seventeen and
twenty. This is the signature of this piece. This is the musical centre of gravity for
American Beauty. Why? The example below (fig.9) features the first four bars of fig.8.
The first chord (in bar two) cannot be defined as Cm6 or C6 because it lacks the minor or
major 3
which would define it. The bare fifth (left hand) is an octave lower than the
added 6
creating a little more ambiguity. The things which hint at the chord being a
min6 rather than a maj6 are firstly the brief Bb which delivers the chord; we would find a
Bb in a Cm natural minor scale but not in a Cmaj scale, therefore when we hear the chord
on bar two we experience it as a Cm6 even though there is no min3
. Essentially this is
what we might describe as implied or inferred harmony. The vast majority of people who
listen will be happily oblivious to this, but that doesnt mean they arent the beneficiaries
of its effect. Secondly, and ironically, the second chord in bar two (the resolving Eb)
provides the context for the chord before - the answer, the solution. This means that the
next time we hear the same phrase we understand the unstated elements of the first chord
even better; we get it. This system of partial, fragmented, broken and drip-fed
information, more than anything else, creates the dream-like quality that defines this
piece. Remember, although we hear music from left to right, from start to finish, from
beginning to end, the emotional effect music has on us is cumulative.

2012 Harald Klosser & Thomas Wander

The transcription below is taken from 2012 by Harald Kloser and Thomas Wander. It
appropriates the Thomas Newman style beautifully. It blurs harmonies subtly; the string
section undercurrent delivers a Csus4 chord, but overlaid we have various chords,
including F, Eb Gm, F, Eb and Cm

Audio - The End is only the Beginning 01.10 Movie, 01.16,30
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This subtle poly-harmony mildly disorientates the listener, creating a slightly dreamy
listening experience. The use of this music at the end of 2012 creates a reflective,
emotional response from the viewer which, with the movie itself, gives the film a
poignant and inspiring ending.

THE DESCENT David Julyan

The Newman examples we looked at showed how partial, fragmentary information can
create a kind of dream-like quality. In the following example, by David Julyan, from the
movie The Descent, were going to look at a small section of the introduction, a musical
chord sequence which came several times in the film and became in many ways its
harmonic and sonic signature. The piece sounds seemingly unlike the section we
analysed from American Beauty, but, just as in American Beauty, parts of the harmony
are partial or incomplete, and also, like American Beauty the composer often overlays
extensions onto chords whilst omitting important primary intervals. Although the two
films seem different musically, they share similar approaches compositionally. This
proves that although music conveys meaning through the appropriation of specific
harmonies, no one chord can be said to create an absolutely precise emotional meaning
with which it is inextricably and exclusively connected. Chords can be said to create
within us some emotional meaning but ultimately it is the context of the film (which is,
after all, part of the music) which places on the music its final immovable context.

In The Descent the composer uses chords where two extensions which dont normally
exist together, are placed in within the same chord. In addition Julyan omits primary
intervals from chords. This can make chords very extension heavy or colour heavy,
which can sound undefined, transparent, partial and spatial. David Julyans score for The
Descent is solemn and somber in places. Its not entirely unlike parts of Jerry
Goldsmiths score for Alien. It is dark, ambient and minimalist sounding and has touches
of Philip Glass. The movie itself features a group of women caving in the Appalachian
Mountains who encounter monsters - referred to as crawlers - that gradually and
perhaps inevitably pick off the group one by one. There are tensions between the
characters which become exposed as the movie progresses. One of the elements that
make the film such a convincing and classy horror movie is the music, which features
some refreshingly abstract harmonies. This is not, thankfully, the kind of formulaic score
it could easily have ended up being. The normal Hollywood gloss may well have ruined
the film. Julyans thoughtful, introspective and deep music raises this film outside the
context of what could have been an atypical horror movie. It features little in the way of
melody or formulaic Hollywood orchestration.

The transcription in fig.11 is typical of Julyans score for The Descent (and Insomnia
which is covered later in this chapter). It possesses a serenity, stillness and tranquillity
despite its preponderance toward difficult intervals and odd voicings. This approach
serves the movie well.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


It lends the first few scenes a sense of foreboding which the pictures do not entirely
reflect. Visually the opening scenes are on the nose; but the music tends to betray the
story long before the pictures do.

Audio: White Water Rafting Movie: 00.02.00

When I say you wouldnt normally find a maj6
and maj7
together in the same chord,
what I mean is that they possess distinctly different aural qualities. They offer quite
specific characteristics and tensions. In scalic context they are only a tone apart but
Julyan separates them by placing the 6
above the maj7
. But still it sounds a little odd.
Bar six features a Bsus4 resolving to a B which then subsequently resolves to a bare C#
chord, with no defining 3
but with an 11
and a high 7
. This is a classic example of a
filmic, spatial, extension-heavy chord.

In previous chapters we looked at the issue of the intervallic context of notes, whereby
the emotion and character is dependent on a notes musical function and its intervallic
context (what interval it represents relative to the chord in which it is placed). With this
in mind, bar eight contains an F# (7
) which in the previous bar functioned as the 11
This tiny subtle nuance is crucial to how this piece functions. Bar eight also contains a
high m6 (the E) which creates tension with the 7
(F#) lower. Perhaps bar nine contains
the best example of what harmony can achieve; chords normally contain either a 3
or a
but not usually both; indeed the very concept of a suspended 4
is that it takes the
place of the 3
. However in this case the lower strings state the suspended 4
(A) of the
E chord whilst the French Horns state the 3
. This is not a semi-tonal clash; the notes are
a maj7
apart, mitigating and softening their potential for dissonance but not deleting it.

The chord in bar two
contains the strings
playing the root, 5
and 6
whilst the
trumpets play the
and 9
. The 6

and maj7
normally not be found
in the same chord and
the fact that they are
lends the cue a distant,
remote sound.

Also the piece moves
in and out from
defined chords
(containing a 3
) to
non-defined chords (no
); for example bars
four to five.

Defined chord Non-defined chord
Defined chord
Non-defined chord
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This piece succeeds in being effective, emotional, sparse, dense, spatial and dissonant, all
in the space of a few bars. The musical cue, which appears several times in the film, is
crucial in underpinning the drama. The first time it appears, while the characters are
white-water rafting, the music offers a sense of subtle foreboding. Set against the
seemingly happy scene on film, this creates an effective juxtaposition.

The dull inevitability of music

Normally when we listen to music there is a sense of inevitability. As we discuss
elsewhere in this book, John Cage criticised Beethoven personally for being the principal
creator of what he termed goal-orientated music. Whilst it might seem disingenuous and
even absurd to level criticism at Beethoven for simply constructing music in a way that
was absorbing, enlightening and entertaining, it would also be wrong to presume that
John Cage was necessarily inaccurate about his central observation; music is goal
orientated. It mirrors our lives, which are also punctuated by journeys and goals. Perhaps
the one area of mainstream music (listened to by millions) capable of exploring other
ways of delivering music is film music. Music is linear by its very nature. Even if it
doesnt possess goals, it has a beginning and a conclusion. But the real beauty of some of
the more expressive film music is that it doesnt appear to have the same dull inevitability
that most music possesses. Because of the nature of how film music is constructed - and
although it still goes from left to right, from beginning to end - it seems sometimes as if it
communicates cumulatively, as if the music is being fed to us from different directions,
almost as if a labyrinth of chords and extensions are falling like snowdrops. It appears
lacking of the kind of dull inevitability or grand scheme which so defines normal music.
The music seems to breathe and evolve rather than move. It seems to inhale and exhale
rather than progress or conclude. It evolves rather than develops. This is of course down
to the nature of what film music is and the functions it undertakes. It is required often to
come in halfway through a scene; it is sometimes required not to really have a beginning
or and end but merely to appear briefly. It is almost an unwritten rule of musics central
function that it ought not neccasarily exist as a separate, standalone entity because to do
so could be distracting.

INSOMNIA David Julyan

The piece below, again by David Julyan, is part of the opening sequence to the film
Insomnia. A glance at the chords below will show, once again, Julyans use of
incomplete fractured chords - ordinary chords deprived of some of their pivotal
structural intervals. The opening of the film is visually stunning, with aerial footage of
Alaska. Sent to investigate a murder in Alaska, cop Al Pacino accidentally shoots his own
partner while trying to apprehend a suspect. He hides his guilt, which adds to an already
emotionally entangled movie. Julyans music works brilliantly well in this deeply
emotional and psychological film in providing densely textured but harmonically
incomplete and mildly dissonant music.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The music is introspective and pensive throughout the opening sequence, which adds an
unsure, apprehensive and ominous context to the visually dramatic pictures.

This is particularly striking when the chord evolves to a Bbmaj7 later in the bar. A maj7
chord minus its 3
is an interesting chord because the lack of the defining interval (3
makes the maj7 into a slightly different listening experience. The aural qualities of the
maj7, although in part due to the maj7 interval between it and the root, are partly the
product of the completeness of the chord. This is what gives it its niceness. Omitting the
partly aurally recontextualises the maj7. All extensions rely on the completeness of a
chord to determine the way their aural qualities are heard. If we omit the vital 3
from a
chord which has extensions, we expose different intervallic dynamics within the chord.

The penultimate bar of fig.13 is rationalised as an F over a Bb bass. The lack of an F or C
in the chord, however, means the description falls between different possibilities (Am/Bb
for example) as does the sound it creates. The real success here is that Julyans use of
fragmented and incomplete harmonies creates a kind of apprehension and tension in the
film. It works as an effective musical accompaniment to the desolate but striking
panoramic mountain scenery in the films opening.

As listeners were conditioned to be able to fill in any confusion or missing gaps with
supposition, assumption and hypothesis. This is an instinctive process by which we
attempt to understand and comprehend. The harder this process is, the more effective the
music can be, within reason; if the process was impossible due to unfathomable
dissonances or sonically impenetrable textures then we would be confused to the point of
irritation. Because the piece doesnt reveal itself easily or immediately, the process we go
through to rationalise what were listening to is, to some degree, what creates and defines
its inherent communicative ability. Its why its so effective and emotional. The music
creates an emotional response in us. The absence of crucial intervals creates insecurity in
the listener. Absence apparently makes the heart grow fonder, but it also makes the
musical receptors and aural cognition more heightened.

The following short abbreviated transcription (fig.14) is from the same film and shows
again the use of minimal harmonies, e.g. chords which appear to be missing intervals
which normally define them. The first chord sounds like an A6/9 chord but on closer
analysis has no 3
or 5

Audio, Opening Titles (Blood Drips) 00.30 Movie: 00.00.30
Bars one and three
feature an Am but
minus its 5
; bar two
features simply
octave unison; bar 4
features a Bb chord
but minus its 3
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This chord creates emotion precisely because it lacks complete identification. Indeed the
only reason for rationalising it as a chord in the first place is to show a benchmark by
which it can be classified; to show how near it is to the chord on which it is loosely
based. Rather than see the chord as a bunch of notes, we have to look in context of what
its nearest rational reference is, then look what is being omitted and to what degree this
dictates its effectiveness. The chord in bars four to six is another incomplete one; this
time its the A6 but minus maj3, which makes it a different listening experience. The lack
of the 3
recalibrates the harmonies and redistributes the emphasis of each of the notes in
the chord, giving the chord a stark bareness.


Fig.16 looks at the manipulation of harmony to illicit very slight and subtle harmonic
blurring by examining the main theme from the film Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence.
First, in order to acclimatise, it would help if we glanced at fig.15, which contains chords
which are followed with the isolated extracted elements of the chords that offer tension.


The chords on the treble and bass clef above (fig.15) in bars one, three and five offer a
slightly different chord, simultaneously. The differences are so subtle as to be hardly
recognised but their effect is crucial to the emotional impact of the music and in order to
garner the slightly dreamy feel of the chords. Although the bottom and top stave of bar
one feature a distinctive flattened 5
, the top chord features maj 7/9 whereas the bottom
stave features the 6
. As in the Julyan piece at the start of The Descent, finding a 6
and a
maj7 together can create a cluster of colour to which we arent accustomed.

A6/9 G# G# G#
(no 3/5)
(b9/no3) (no3)
Audio - Will hides the gun
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


When one listens to the title track from this movie there is a temptation to assume the
theme itself is the main propellant of the emotion, resplendent with its far-eastern style
textures. However, the preamble which precedes that section completely sets the tone
(texturally and harmonically) for the rest of the piece; this is the section we will analyse.
Technically the section below is the introduction but it is completely crucial. It manages
to present a sad, melancholy innocence whilst retaining textural clarity. How does it do
this? The crystal-clear synth instrumentation in the melody is crucial to the sense of
textural clarity but the melancholy innocence is greatly aided by the sequence of
accompanying harmonies. The subtle, blurred distortion created by two subtly different
chords at the same time creates emotional impact. Listeners are unable to rationalise the
subtly indistinct harmonies which creates a slight dream-like mesmeric quality to the
sound. Subtle differences in the precise harmonic complexion of the chords create a
warm, evocative and mystical sound which can be misunderstood for texture rather than

Audio: Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence title track 00.27
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The mesmerising and expressive top-line melodic movement goes too fast to be
rationalised as a melody and so is absorbed into the chords and functions as rapidly
moving horizontal harmony. Film musics primary function is to aid the telling of a story
told through images and narrative. Because music for film lacks the habitual great
incentives of normal music the need to serve itself, the need for musical goals and the
desire and need to entertain as music it is free from its customary structural shackles, as
this piece displays, however subtly. Music for musics sake carries with it the burden and
expectation of commercial expectation and musical entertainment. Music for films sake
has no such incentive. This is why composers can deliver ethereal sounding textures and
harmonies for films like Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence.


Take a look at the following excerpt, which is abbreviated from a sequence from Pearl


The sequence is crying out to be resolved at the end of bar four. We are lead to the
assumption of a resolution to Gm. But one of Hans Zimmers defining characteristics is
on the one hand to immerse us in cotton-wool orchestration and dense but soft textures,
but on the other hand to take the road less travelled. With Zimmer expect the

One of the things that can make music original is not what it is, but what it is not. The
level to which it weakens our assumptions and subverts our expectations can, in some
circumstances, also be the level to which it succeeds. Something which subverts
completely, suddenly, abruptly or starkly will disorientate a listener and in terms of a film
experience, it will distract, but not in a good way. Something that subverts unexpectedly
but subtly will titillate, tantalise, tempt and entice.

Audio, I will come back 00.29
How Harmony leads us into temptation
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Take a look at a fuller version of the excerpt.

D to Dm (boxed) is unexpected. Its an acutely anticlimactic harmonic sequence which
creates a sense of insecurity, sadness and foreboding. This happens again between bar 8
and 9 (Am to Ab). Zimmer does these things at crucial moments within the structure of
music to extort the maximum emotional impact at the right time. In music, architecture
and placement are everything.

In order to put this into some kind of context, below in bar one we have a D note. The
idea is deliver it into a sequence which contextualises it harmonically, e.g. works and
makes the D note mean something. The first example (fig.19) is a simple no-brainer: the
D note becomes a D chord. In fig.20 the D note becomes an inverted 7
of an E chord.
This causes a sense of freshness and surprise. By beginning the sequence with a note
which we presume is the tonic but turns out to be the inverted 7
, we surprise people.

Fig.19 Fig.20
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The change in fig.21 is slightly less expected, where the D note becomes part of an
Ebmaj7 chord. The change in fig.22 is even less expected, where the D becomes the flat
of an Ab chord.

Fig.23 features the D note becoming the 1
inversion of a Bb chord. Again, this is
unexpected because the chord of Bb is outside the key centre of the chord of D we
expected. The note of D links the two chords together and alters the harmonic weighting
of the Bb chord which makes it more interesting. It is effective also because the interval
of the destination D note is a 3
which is a penetrative descriptive interval. Fig.24 is
perhaps the most unexpected and severe. The D becomes the flattened 10
of a B7 chord.
Subtle complimentary textures and orchestration will soften the impact.

5 6
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



Zimmer uses the expect the unexpected tactic again in this short opening sequence from
one of his most successful movie scores.

There are several ways in which Zimmer disturbs and blurs harmony in this cue. For a
start, the initial opening chord has an added 2
, clashing faintly with the min 3
and is
also built over the inverted A (5
). Secondly, the bass motif, which comes in three bursts,
although normal (3,5,1) in the first instance, reverts to a more harmonically blurred
state; in the second statement (bar seven and eight) the line rests on the 4
(G) and then
again on the 2
and 4
(bar twelve). These are the harmonic tactics which ensure the
piece doesnt descend unduly into normality and tunefulness. This is what makes it
dramatic and makes it filmic and makes it suitable for picture. Later on in the same cue
(01.05 movie 00.01.06) Zimmers harmonic tendencies come through again.

Audio - Dies Mercuri Martius - Movie: 00.00.06 Fig.25

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The initial bass note of D becomes the inverted 3
of a Bb chord. This is classic Zimmer,
confounding the expectation.

When we hear a single note, or octaves, we default to the natural assumption that were
hearing the tonic, the root. Were not particularly conscious of this presumption but given
that classification forms part of aural cognition, this process forms part of how we listen,
how we understand and how we enjoy. If it turns out that the note we presumed was the
root isnt the root, the realisation can be very mildly surprising; this is one of the many
ways music communicates a sense of identity, character and meaning. In the next bar the
chord changes to Bbsus4. The sus4 is the Eb, which causes mild dissonance between it
and the D bass, mitigated by the D being so low.

If the Bb inverted chord in bar three was played in isolation it would sound like it is
supposed to sound, like you would expect it to sound; but played after the two bars which
precede it, it sounds different because its context is different. Harmony does not
communicate to its listener as a singular linear experience, despite this being the
method of its physical delivery. Chords communicate collectively in a cumulative style.
The emotional feel and identity of a chord is something that communicates, but when
that chord is delivered or prepared in a certain, specific and unexpected way it can
change its characteristics slightly and subtly. The effect of the D even continues after the
key change because although it no longer represents the bass, there is a D note within the
Bm chord. This piece of music runs behind the opening credit sequence from the film and
as such has only graphics to accompany. Thus it is almost exclusively responsible for
preparing the context of the film for the viewer.

If we now take a look at the same cue, this time from the beginning, we can observe other
factors which help the piece communicate.

A scene in the same film gives us a perfect example of the simple power of the inversion
in creating a subtle but nevertheless dramatic distortion of the harmonic equilibrium of a
chord. 00.5510 in, the film presents a scene in which the two characters punch in a
sequence of numbers (the Fibonacci sequence) which results in the arrival of safety
deposit box. This is a key moment of the film and is preceded by Tom Hankscharacter
stating the moment of truth. Before we look at this sequence let us first analyse the two
simple chords below.

D Bb Bbsus4 Bb#4 Bb Bm Bm6 Bm Bm Bm9 Bm
(omit5) (omit5) (maj7)
Choir /
Audio - Dies Mercuri Martius 01.05 - Movie: 00.01.06
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


G Fm

By making the second chord inverted, we create contrary motion in the voicing (top note
goes down, bottom note now goes up), and create dramatic tension in the second chord
by virtue of its inverted nature.

G Fm/Ab

Although it is important to understand the technicalities of how the inversion has affected
the sequence in terms of subtle dramatic tension, just as important is to understand that
contours created by contrary motion could be described as being how music breathes.
Every time music is performed and listened to, it lives. One of the reasons it sounds alive
is because of the internal evolving architecture of the harmony moving. Just as we are
programmed to breathe by our brain, the level to which music breathes is determined by
composers, arrangers, orchestrators, producers, mix engineers and of course, the
musicians who interpret and perform.

Although people might presume that the rhythm or pulse of a piece would constitute it
breathing, every subtle nuance in voicing, every small bit of harmonic architecture, is
one more way in which music contracts and expands. The sequence is transcribed full
[fig 28] complete with the crucial, dramatic but subtle inversion which creates the
contrary motion. We hear the chord going down but the bass line going up. The chord
goes from major to minor but the minor-ness is disguised by the inversion. Whats really
happening here is that were experiencing competing perceptions which cause dramatic
emotional tension. In addition, if we look carefully from bar six onwards with the use of
alternating 5s and #5s, articulated with classic orchestration, we see what could almost be
described as Hans Zimmers John Barry moment.

Although the two chords sound
dramatic, they are a little
obvious; they lack any real
subtlety in voicing. The voicing
is almost parallel and has a
clinical chromatic feel. How
can we make the transition
Almost parallel motion
By such simple devices music
is manicured and manipulated.
What were doing when we
alter chords for more dramatic
effect is sculpturing the raw
materials of harmony to create
a more dramatic aural shape
whilst retaining the basic feel
of the chord.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Audio Fructus Gravis - 0.41 Movie - 00.5510

THE ROCK Hans Zimmer

In the transcription below (fig.29) from the main theme from The Rock, bar seven
features Asus4 and A chords. The expectation is for the sequence to resolve to a Dm. As
with The Da Vinci Code, Zimmer chooses instead so resolve to a Bb/D. This chord
sequence, again containing the inversion, is almost a semi-trademark of the composer.
Our analysis of it is in context of its ability to generate an emotive response from the
listener / viewer. The piece below, like many Zimmer pieces, possesses an anthem-like
quality with its slow, deliberate, unhurried harmonies and pedestrian pace. This piece,
like so much of Zimmers music, is not so much written to be synced to a precise point in
the film, but rather exists as an uplifting, elevating, stirring response to the narrative of
the film as a whole.

Audio: Hummel Gets the Rockets - 00.22 Movie 00.00.36

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



The excerpt below is taken from Crimson Tide and, as with bars seven and eight of The
Rock (fig. 29) features the same harmonic approach in bars nine and ten. Also, in bars
seven and eight Zimmer uses the distinctly John Barry 007-sounding chord sequence

Audio Roll Tide


How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


THE RING Hans Zimmer

In terms of creating delicate and subtle harmonic dissonances, we ought to examine the
following section from The Ring. The music is a defining aspect of the film and works
with the narrative to deliver some memorable moments. Zimmers harmonically and
texturally opaque music works well. The music below is one the central musical cues of
the film, and is first heard during a car journey which follows character Rachels meeting
with her child Aidens teacher in which the teacher expresses worry over Aidens recent
behavior. The scene in the car is initially silent apart from this eerie piano and synth line.
The two characters glance at each other but the music describes the anxiety and strain.

Movie: 00.10.15

What this piece highlights, yet again, is the effectiveness of subverting the listening
experience; the denial of what the listener expects to hear. Broken harmonies can and do
communicate more profoundly in some cases than regular more exacting harmonies.
There is a vague and unsettling impreciseness which draws us in and makes us think
more than harmonies which are complete and delivered on a plate.
The defining moment is bar three, where we would expect a return to the chord in bar
two, but are instead given a mildly distorted version of it, in the form of a sparsely voiced
Dm(add4). There is no actual D note (root) in what we assume is a Dm simply because a
chord of Dm preceded it. Even the A note (5
) is only heard thanks to the sample line on
the bottom stave. In the spirit of less is more, harmony by suggestion or innuendo
where central pillars of the chord are omitted can be more powerful because the listeners
interpretation is more acute. The chord contains the 4
, which, given the lack of a root
note, displaces the harmony further. Taken in isolation we wouldnt even hear the chord
in bar three as a Dm(add4); it is the slightly more certain chord in bar two which delivers
this aural assumption and chord symbol name. Ultimately with less definite and fractured
harmony perception is everything. Placing fractured chords after more definite chords is
therefore one of the cornerstones of this kind of writing. Beginning with a fractured chord
in many respects gives the listener nowhere to go. Moving in and out of harmonic focus
is what makes this style of writing so effective.

This subtle denial of what we expect is one of the main harmonic approaches in this film.
Bar four is technically the most dissonant, featuring an implied Bbm chord (no 5
) but
with the added major 7
on the synth line underneath.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This would sound more challenging than it does were it not for two things; firstly the soft
sample textures deliver the dissonance subtly and secondly, bar three offered a much
more subtle dissonance, leading us up to the main dissonance. We therefore have an
emotional arc created by an harmonic contour which delivers a gradual swell of
intensity before subsiding in bar five (see fig .32).

Other subtle dissonances come in the following, which appears several times in the film.

However, closer scrutiny and different contextualization below reveals that the first two
bars are in fact polytonal. The melodic line is in Bbm whereas the accompaniment is in
Dm. thus we have the irony that the more visually complex explanation is actually easier
to rationalise.

Bbm F#m

In the section below, which is abbreviated from the opening few bars of probably the
most iconic musical motif in cinema history, we have an open key signature with all
context deliberately removed apart from the notes in bar nine, which we naturally
perceive to be the root, 3
and 7
of an Eb chord.

This short section displays a Dm
chord being offset by an
alternating major 7
and dominant
melodic line.
Audio - The Well 00.00
Strings /
Polyharmony is not beyond
comprehension but often makes music
seem beyond conventional rationalization.
But it only seems that way; in music most
things can be rationalised and understood.

maj7 maj7



Strings /

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


As we can see from the fuller version below, from the movie Jaws, this is classic
polytonal writing. The bottom stave contains notes which tell us one thing, whilst the
horn line in isolation is in an entirely different key: simple polytonality. Because we
arent able to separately rationalise each line, we hear something which is effective but
which we dont understand; brilliant but baffling. After hearing several bars we
understand the basic concept of the semitone movement between E and F. Then we hear
something that doesnt fit. The point is, one of the main reasons it is effective is because
we dont understand it; because it doesnt fit. If you played the horn line a thousand times
featuring three notes which worked it would probably not have the same impact.

Audio - Main Title from Jaws

The section below, which is a continuation of The Well, from The Ring, offers an
intriguing insight into how and why music which has been subtly disfigured
communicates so well

Dm Bbm/Db

Audio - The Well 00.18



How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The first issue is the context of the lower note of the arpegiated piano line. The D in bars
one to three constitutes the root of the Dm chord, where as the Db in bars four-five
constitutes a minor 3
of what is an implied inverted chord. Therefore although the
musical notes D to Db drop by a semitone, what the intervals represent rises by a minor
. This simple duality of perception is one reason why sections like this work so well.
The reality of this particular sequence is skewed further by virtue of the A which appears
in the left-hand accompaniment, which represents a 5
of the Dm chord, then a major 7

of the inverted arpegiated Bbm chord. The note itself clashes but of course what it
represents changes too.

We only call the chord in bars four and five Bbm/Db and not Db because the melody line
in bar four hits the Bb. This kind of loose chord classification is not just a theoretical
observation; these vagaries affect how we hear. Listeners hear chord symbols even if they
dont know what they are, which means they also hear the subtleties which shave the
edges of the certainties of the harmonies too. The transcription below, which is from the
hit US television drama series Rubicon, features music written in a similar style to the
example from The Ring.

05.19 episode 2, season 1 - Rubicon

Again, if we look and listen carefully we notice that the G in context of the Gm piano
arpeggio represents a root. The Gb note in bar two has dropped by a semitone but the
interval rises to a minor 3
of the Ebm/Gb chord, so the intervallic ratio rises, offering a
kind of contrary motion between the note we hear and what it represents, which we also
hear. The final example from The Ring is entitled this is going to hurt and is a slower,
more languid and expressive example of same concept of note v interval.

Audio - This is going to hurt from The Ring





(maj7) (#5)
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The D bass note (seen as a continuous line in the example below) in the double basses,
drops to a Db. The intervallic context (what the notes are as intervals in context of the
chords they imply) seen here as a perforated line, is from root to minor 3

This is one of the reasons this cue sounds so effective and dramatic. This is one of the
reasons why it works. The transition from Dm to Bbm/Db lets out a stream of emotion,
almost as if the piece is literally breathing out. This is how our senses are tweaked, our
responses titillated and the predictability of our reactions challenged. Music structure
delivers these possibilities. We find them only by looking hard at what music can offer.
This is why the crossover section where the musical and representational contexts cross
over (the end of bar two into the beginning of bar three) is so interesting and relevant.

The idea of contextualizing music not just as notes but also as intervals can be rewarding
and enlightening. Its not that it necessarily makes us better writers; its just that we can
understand how harmony works and creates emotional reactions within listeners.

Take a look at the simple bass line below; the key is Db, so taken on face value the notes,
as well as being Db, F and Ab, are root, major 3
and 5
. If we were trying to harmonize
this section we would probably default to a relatively safe approach where the key
signature and perceived key centre guides us. This is natural but it does underscore to
what degree we are hostages to conformity and tradition. When we sit at a piano
keyboard we naturally default to a normal way of approaching composition and
Our fingers are programmed to automatically reach for favorable chord voicings. Even if
we attempt to buck this trend by, for example, placing our entire arm on the keyboard to
deliberately create harmonic chaos, even this is a caricatured overcooked extreme
reaction. We are programmed to obey the rules of music. But of course in reality there are
no rules, only traditions. There is no truth, only opinion.

Db Fm Ab

Db Db/F Fm/Ab

Bbm/Db F Db/Ab

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Above are written three alternate chord sequences to fit the bass line provided. In truth
none of them sound that good because none of them stray outside the key centre. The
bass line is quite restrictive. So lets see what Debussy did.

The first two chords are root-position but in bar two the Ab has been re-contextualised
enharmonically as a G#, which means the interval is different and now provides the
inverted major 3
of the E chord. This simple shift is typical of someone who thought -
as Dr Emmet Brown from Back to the Future, might have said fourth dimensionally.
Chords or notes are not always hostage to their key centre. They are only hostage to their
key centre because we allow them to be.

Why is this sort of harmonic device effective? What are the unique and distinctive
harmonic relationships that make this work so well? First of all we have the contrary
motion contained in the chords and voicings, in which the top and bottom notes move in
contrary direction, avoiding static or parallel movement. Also, look at the difference
between the musical direction of the notes (fig.43) and the subtly different contour of the

Sometimes there are two completely plausible but different ways of rationalizing a chord,
theoretically, visually and aurally, just as there may be two completely different, equally
valid interpretations of a picture. In the picture in fig. 46, do you see a girls face or a
caricatured saxophone player?

Just like the picture, the chord can be described two different ways which means it
doesnt possess an absolutely definitive theoretical or aural identity. Chord symbols give
a name to the way something sounds. If the chord only sounded one way if it was
simply heard in one definite way then however many abstract and ridiculous theoretical

What is the chord in fig.46?

B7 or an Em11

Technically from a chord symbol perspective
it can be both. Although you will probably
settle on the B7 because it is easier to
interpret, in terms of hearing it, the chord has
two possibilities.
(sus4) (omit 3


How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


chord symbol names we tried to apply to it, its irrelevant (for example, if we called a
chord of C an Am7 minus the root this would be theory gone mad it would quite
literally only be theoretical).
The situation in which its not irrelevant or merely theory is if a chord has two equally
valid and compelling chord symbols, because then it has two different aural definitions. It
is like an aural version of the picture in fig.45. There are two equally valid simultaneous
ways of interpreting it.

Chords like the one in fig.46 communicate in a similar way to the picture in fig.45; they
both offer two simultaneous realities which are equally plausible.

Most chords come to us already zipped-up and ready to be heard; heard rather than
listened to. The composer has offered us a definite context and we have no alternative
than to accept it because there are no alternative contexts. But when harmony comes in
ambiguous forms which have more than one interpretation, as listeners we are involved
more in the process. We are no longer passive and reactive. We are titillated, perhaps
mildly stupefied, but equally we may be more proactive and engaged. We may be
listening rather than merely hearing. That the chord has more than one type of
recognition available can sometimes suggest an unfinished incompleteness.

All melody is harmony. We rationalise melody by means of rationalizing a harmonic
accompaniment which is either given to us musically or, in absence of that, is presumed
by the listener. Technically there is no such thing as unaccompanied harmony because if
harmony doesnt appear to be there, we create it in order to understand the context.
Melody is simply horizontal harmony; it is simply harmony drip-fed rather than given to
us in a chord or harmonic grouping.

maj 7

The sequence to the right,
seen in context of an
unstated Bb chord possesses
no 3
by which we would
normally deduce the
harmonic flavour of a
melodic line.
If we condense and convert the melodic pattern in fig.47 into a chord, where
notes are struck together, not separated horizontally into melody, we begin to
realise, as alluded to in other parts of this book, that the notes themselves
mean nothing; they are unilateral harmonic energy. The real cause of how
and why a chord sounds the way it does is the space in between. It is the gaps
that determine harmony, not just the notes.
(omit 3

In this sparse, broken chord, transcribed
horizontally again, chord extensions are in equal
number to the basic core components. This, along
with the missing 3
makes the aural identification
of the chord difficult.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


THE FIRM Dave Grusin

If we look at this harmony in deeper context, (the track is Mitch and Abby by Dave
Grusin from the film The Firm) we can see how the harmony creates an ambiguous feel
which offers the piece a distant, melancholy feel. The melancholy, distant feel is
absolutely right for the scene for which it was used; at 12.33 Abby, who is about to move
to Memphis with husband Mitch, receives a gift from the class of schoolchildren she
teaches. The music is happy, playful but the broken chords help articulate the scene;
perhaps they help describe how Abby feels about the move; melancholic, apprehensive,
nervous but happy.

Audio: Mitch & Abby - Movie: 00.12.33

The initial harmonies are indistinguishable but not dissonant; difficult but not impossible
to rationalise.

Sometimes composers can get good results if they view the traditional, restrictive and
hierarchical relationship between melody and harmony literally back-to-front. If the
melody is static or heavily repetitive whilst the chord sequence moves, this can have an
interesting impact on the intervallic context of the static melody and effectively turn the
chords into the most important aspect.

Stability Colour Stability Colour
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Take a look at the following group of chords and in particular the note of A voiced on top
of every chord.

The A is notated at the top of each voicing in the chord chart above. In each of the
chords we hear the A but it never becomes boring or monotonous in fact there is a
peculiarity and abstraction about it precisely because this is not how you normally hear
the A, being restated in different intervallic contexts repeatedly.

We are used to melody moving more than chords. What we hear in the sequence in fig.51
is the feeling that the A moves when in fact it doesnt. Above the chord sequence is an
intervallic contour line which displays what the A means in terms of its intervallic
movement; its intervallic context. Whilst we hear the A, what we listen to is the note
and the interval it occupies. With this in mind, if we examine the melodic sequence
below without determining what chords will be applied, it is a fairly lifeless, predictable,
repetitive and uninspiring line. When we rationalise the possibilities the line offers us we
default to traditional assumptions; that is why we assume this melodic line to be lifeless.
We are the victims of a combination of slavish adherence to tradition and an inability to
see beyond what is probable and into what is possible. We look at notes as notes, not

The note of A means different things to different chords


b10 9

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Now add the chords which make the intervals make sense (below). The only reason the
notes make sense is because they have intervallic meaning.

Although we are used to the assumption that melody is the dominating characteristic of
music, the accompanying chords represent how and why the melodic line above even has
an identity. To some degree this happens in all music; harmony is nearly always what
enables an effective melody. Without accompanying harmony, melody generates its own
harmony (as weve discussed in other chapters); what accompanying harmony does is
define the context in which the melody is heard. Without accompanying chords listeners
fill the gaps in themselves, guided by the melodic lines and what they imply and suggest,
harmonically. The simplistic and monotonous line in fig. 53 is an extreme example of the
effectiveness of harmony; harmony literally is everything in this piece. Without harmony
the odd line, consisting of semitone-tone-semitone, doesnt really suggest anything
tangible and obvious in terms of the kind of chords which might work. The harmony is
the only thing giving real identity to the melodic line.

Now look at the melodic line below, annotated simply with notes and note names

Rather than look at it as music look at it as a series of intervallic possibilities; we end up
breathing life into what looks like, on face value, an uninspiring and repetitive line, by
adding harmony which contextualizes the melody.
C# D E F C# D E F
C# D E F C# D E F
Dm Bb
F Gm
maj7 1 2 3 min3 maj3 #4 5
#5 6 maj7 8 #4 5 maj6 7
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The piece notated above is called In the House - In a Heartbeat and it was written
originally by composer John Murphy for the film 28 Days Later. The name of the track
stems from a scene, set in a country house, in which the character Selena is tested to
make good on her promise to kill character Jim in a heartbeat if he ever became
infected, as she had earlier promised she would. The music possesses a relentless,
persistent, inexorable quality; a quality which works well in juxtaposing some of the
scenes in which it used.

28 DAYS LATER / 28 WEEKS LATER John Murphy

The movie 28 Days Later represents society in its extreme; people kill people. Humanity
descends into violence and eventually collapses in on itself from its own hatred. The
Rage virus may just be a metaphorical representation of the anger in human society and
culture, sped up to an extreme. Some have suggested the sequel 28 Weeks Later was a
metaphor for the events in Iraq, with American troops occupying a green zone within a
foreign country.

John Murphys transfixing and iconic track, In the House, is typical and symptomatic of
a score that goes underneath, beyond and outside the obvious sci-fi genre to deliver music
that addresses deep and emotive issues buried in the subtext. The tracks worldwide
usage in other media projects underscores is profoundly mesmerizing and transfixing
characteristics. It has been used on numerous films as trailer music, usually used to evoke
a sense of panic, urgency, fear and anxiety. It has also been used on TV car adverts,
countless TV dramas, the TV Drama Documentary Britains Largest Storms, James
Mays Big Ideas, (episode 1; used during the Harrier sequence). It has been used in short
sequences on BBC 1s Strictly Come Dancing and Strictly Come Dancing - It Takes Two
and is played while the meat is being shared around during the cannibal party scene in the
film Doomsday. The track is also used in CSI: Miami, season six, episode five, titled
Deep Freeze. In addition the track was used in The Apprentice: The Final Five, as a
backing track. The track was used in the adverts for the 2009 RSC production of Hamlet
on the BBC and was also used in EastEnders - The Greatest Cliffhangers. These are just
a few examples of how the track has been licensed and used. I mention all these uses
simply to highlight its success but also to display the sheer depth and variation of the
projects that have utilized the tracks qualities. Anxiety, fear and trepidation do not have
only one stylistic avenue (especially when the shows are as diverse as EastEnders,
Strictly and 28 Days/Weeks Later are involve) but they do speak with one musical
voice. Perhaps what unifies the success of the sequences in which this music was used is
the music. That, after all, is the common denominator.

1 5 1 5 1 5 1 5 maj3 maj7 maj3 maj7 maj3 maj7 maj3 maj7
6 3 6 3 6 3 6 3 5 9 5 9 5 9 5 9
Dm chord
Bb chord
F chord Gm chord
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


When you look at a picture, which bit is the melody? Pictures dont have melodies they
simply consist of different contexts which work well together. Only music has a fixed-
stare mentality when it comes to rationalizing different aspects of its context; only music
pigeonholes different aspects of its character in terms of their perceived greatness or
industrial potential.
If we look at a reduced transcription of the whole track, below, we ask ourselves the
question which bit is the melody? Traditional thoughts about the hierarchical
relationship between melody and harmony are capsized.

Which bit is the melody - the monotonous melodic figure in the middle stave, or the
monotonous piano figure on the top stave, or the harmonies which contextualise them?
We must remember, especially in film music, that melody, above else, is a function.
Melody does not necessarily mean something that has the most melodic movement; it
doesnt necessarily mean something on the top stave or something played on a certain
instrument or a certain stave. In film terms sometimes melody can be a restrictive, crude
and inhibiting device; too obvious, recognisable and distracting to function behind a busy
scene which in many ways functions as a melody itself.

SIGNS James Newton Howard

The traditional notion of film score composers writing to picture is perhaps in need of
some modern context. Composers such as James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer have
been known to write an albums worth of music before even seeing the film, following
detailed meetings with directors and access to storyboards. This has become an
established working practice between composer James Newton Howard and director M.
Night Shayamalan. Together they are responsible for films such as Sixth Sense, Signs and
The Village. Shayamalan is a critic of the way in which music is used in film, i.e. its
Fig.56 Audio In a heartbeat 00.32

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


function; one cannot in honesty be a critic of music per se because so much is opinion
and personal judgment, but he is critical, for example, of the amount of music in a film,
saying, Music is used way too much in film and is used too much as a band aid to
cover up poor story-telling.
The way Shayamalan uses music in the film Signs, (as in Sixth Sense and The Village
which we cover elsewhere in this book) highlights the issue of the function of the music.
Certainly the music, with the exception of the introduction titles, does not always
function as atypical horror music in the film. It works on a much deeper, engrained level,
addressing the frailty of the human condition in the face of adversity.

The scene five minutes into the film where Mel Gibsons character, Graham Hess,
surveys a flattened cornfield is interesting. The communicating factor here is the schism
between the 5
and the #5
. This dissonance is brief and is dressed up in orchestration
which prevents it from jarring. But still, it is subtly unsettling, which is exactly what its
supposed to be.

The same way The Ring had an identifiable harmonic brand, so does Signs. The rhythmic
identifiers are the two semiquavers-to-quaver. On many of the cues the fluctuation and
interplay between the 5
and #5
is a major factor. The cue below begins the first time
Graham Hess sees the unmistakable form of the alien. He shines a torch in the darkness
and sees the fleeting image of the aliens leg disappearing into the cornfield. Terrified,
Hess runs back to the house. He enters the house to a scene of calm with his brother sat
reading a book and his children doing housework. Gradually they notice his unease.
There is no dialogue; the music tells the story, not with classic sci-fi music but with
subtle delicate and restrained harmonies and instrumentation.

Audio First Crop Circles 01.26 Movie 04.50
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


What is notable in this cue, as discussed briefly in the chapter Music Theory in Action is
the chord maneuver between Cm and B (bars eight and nine) with the min3
of the Cm
(the Eb) becoming the maj3
of the B (the D#). We see this trick hundreds of times in
modern film music. As we allude to elsewhere in this book, the success of the chord shift
is that it offers a note common to both chords which function as minor and major 3rds
(the Eb becoming the D#). The success is buried in the slightly unnatural harmonic
feeling this creates, and this is because the 3
(minor or major) is the ultimate defining
interval. Changing the intervallic value from major 3
to minor 3
by staying on the
same note is an effective harmonic device.

The listener hears the slightly abstract reality of something changing but not changing.
What actually changes is nothing as obvious as the note itself, but something wholly
more subtle: what the note means; what it represents. This is what we respond to. We
respond to the context of the note. Our understanding of context is everything; it is how
we make sense of the world around us.

Audio - First Crop Circles Movie 00.36.40
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


OUTBREAK James Newton Howard

Staying with James Newton Howard, the harmonic shifts in his score for the film
Outbreak are also effective in creating a mysterious, peculiar and strange musical
backdrop. Film composers do not always think in terms of writing different chords, but
more in terms of evolving an existing chord; changing it, modifying it. Look carefully at
this piece, played near the beginning of the film as the camera enters a research facility
and eventually a laboratory. No dialogue interrupts this sequence and sound design is
minimal. The music, almost alone, dictates the scene. Although technically there are three
different chords at work in the opening four bars, essentially all thats happened is the top
two notes of the chord have ascended on bar two and then again on bar three. This is
what has physically happened to the music, but in terms of the development of the
intervallic harmony, its far from simple. The F# at the bottom of the chord is consistent
as a note but as an interval it represents first the root, then the 4
then the 5

Look now at the 2
note up from the bottom (the C#) and how the intervallic context

F# note
C# note





Audio 00.11 Main Titles Movie 00.04.00

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This is frequently why sequences like the one above sound a lot more effective than they,
on first glance, look. Film music is not alone in trying to cultivate more expression in the
manipulation of harmony. If we look closely at this musical excerpt from Jean Michelle
Jarres landmark Oxygene, we see the same harmonic tensions that were contained in the
previous sequence from James Newton Howards Outbreak

Audio Oxygene part 2 (Jean Michelle Jarre)

The second half of the fig.59 sequence from Outbreak shows similar characteristics at
work. Look at the evolution of the lowest note in the bottom stave (E).

Signs from harmony and chords 1

The final sequence from the same cue features perhaps the most obvious and successful
example of the note remaining static and the intervallic context changing.

Interval (root)

------- maj7th

Em Eb Em Eb Em Eb Em Eb
G = min3
G = maj3
G = min3
G = maj3

Gm F/G Cm/G
Note (E)
Synth /
G = min3
G = maj3

G = min3
G = maj3

Audio 00.30 Main Titles
Audio 01.00 Main Titles
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Harmonic uniqueness was once a composers stamp of individuality, authenticity and
originality. For composers such as Schumann, Debussy, Chopin and Liszt, harmony was
everything. This is interesting to note because by comparison even fifty years earlier
composers such as Mozart and Haydn had essentially occupied each others territory,
harmonically. Debussy in particular not only proved that music featuring mildly
dissonant and abstract harmonies neednt be impenetrable; he also made it acceptable,
fashionable and popular. But despite the rich tapestry of harmonic possibilities available
to us and the routes painstakingly carved out by composers such as Debussy, harmony
remains, for the most part, predictable and simple.

One of the reasons harmony isnt more progressive is because people are far too attuned
to the concept of a hierarchy of importance in terms of harmony and melody. People are
used to a diet of fairly mediocre harmonies because of the dominance of what is, perhaps,
musics biggest commercial entity; the melody. Melody dominates western music and it
prioritises our listening pleasure. As I said earlier, when we look at a picture, we dont
tend to think in such absolutes. For example, there is no dominating aspect of a painting
to which we are so permanently wedded. We are accustomed to vivid and abstract visual
art but music which is difficult to listen to is open to hostile interpretation. Where is the
musical version of Banksy, and why isnt it more popular? John Cage once said people
are afraid of new ideas; Im afraid of the old ones. This poignant phrase perhaps sums
up why music is such a victim of its own success and popularity. It has a fundamental
problem with progression and evolution; such is lure of tradition, the crass sentimentality
of the way in which music history is learned and revered, and, ultimately, the iron grip of
musics industry.

But before we consider going off the deep end and descending into abstract musical art,
one of the things composers who want to explore new possibilities can do is to address
and challenge the limitations of restrictive and dominating conventional relationships
between melody and harmony. So much of music is based on the assumption of a
hierarchical relationship between melody and harmony. This assumption has forced us
down the narrow roads of predictability and simplicity. I would like to highlight some
subtle examples of how we can gently subvert listeners expectations whilst remaining
mainstream and fairly loyal to the general rules of music. People wrongly assume
there are two choices; the mainstream or the abstract. In between those two extremes lie
avenues of possibilities which can slightly and almost imperceptibly offer a more
challenging and rewarding listening experience.


With this in mind it would be helpful to discuss James Horners score for the landmark
film A Beautiful Mind. I have this vision of how numbers work and to me that was
always something I wanted to bring across musically, said Horner in an interview about
the film.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


If we take the issue of intervals and numbers we can often find interesting structural
relationships in music which can uncover and expose successful compositional methods.
Horners exciting and communicative score for this film deftly underscores and
references the fractious state of mind of the main character, scientist and mathematician
John Nash, who suffered his entire life with schizophrenia. Horners use of unorthodox
and rapidly changing harmonies mirrors perfectly the character John Nash and also
addresses the ever-present issue of numbers and how they interact with the narrative
structure and the characters mind. One of the reasons the film was such a milestone in
cinema history was its sensitive portrayal of Schizophrenia. It enlightened and educated
many about this challenging condition in a perceptive but delicate way. One of the
reasons it managed this was because of the music, which was penetrating, subtly abstract
and absorbing.

The piece below, entitled Kaleidoscope of Mathematics plays at the start of the movie
and includes phrases and an overall harmonic approach heard throughout the movie.

Repeat 3x
Audio Kaleidoscope of Mathematics 0.32
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Maths is about numerical relationships; so is music. The score for A Beautiful Mind
makes a virtue from the link between music and maths. Of all film scores examined in
this book, this encapsulates the success of the interval more than the note it sounds. The
harmonic relationships in the music manage to skew the harmonies, creating a vivid and
emotional listening experience. The repeated section at the beginning of fig.64
(transcribed again separately below) possesses a repetitive melodic line, the monotony of
which draws out and italicises the chords underneath and thus the changing intervallic
context of the melodic line itself. Looking at the note of Bb purely as a note (below)
reveals little of its impact in the piece unless we look at it in terms of its relationship with
the evolving chords (fig.66)

Looking at this piece in terms of what the Bb represents offers a different perspective on
how we actually hear the note as it progresses through its different contexts

Carrying on now from 0.33 of Kaleidoscope of Mathematics see how what the interval of
the note represents is crucial




1 1 1
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


In the same cue below, see in the supporting harmonies how many times a note stays the
same in a chord sequence whilst the intervallic context undergoes a change.

Audio Kaleidoscope of Mathematics 0.33


to. maj3

(Db) to maj3
(C#) min3
to maj3
(A) to maj3
Audio Kaleidoscope of Mathematics 0.33
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Finally on the same cue, we have some examples of more than one intervallic change in
the same chord change. This is important because it shows how chords can change the
way they sound not because of fundamental alterations in most of the notes but in the
alteration of how we hear them. For example, on bar four of fig.69 two chord notes
remain the same; they change their meaning simply because of one of the notes in the
chord physically changing. In many ways this is simply harmony at work, but it is worth
highlighting because the reason it works so well is because the change of chord is largely
down to how we hear the intervals, not just the notes.

None of the factors addressed are necessarily earth shattering revelations; they are
mentioned because they show how important issues such as chord voicing and intervallic
interplay are in terms of understanding how harmony can be tweaked and subverted.
In the following cue we see the same harmonic style at work. The piece, this time in 6/8,
features a pedal note of D over different chords. Look at how the representation of the A
note changes

(G#) to 1
(G#) AND
(B) to minor 3
(F#) to 1
(F#) AND
(A) to minor 3

A (1) A (5) A (maj7) A (1)
Audio Creating government dynamics Movie 00.20.42
Audio Kaleidoscope of Mathematics 0.33
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


If we observe a larger section of the same cue, we see how James Horner uses the
intervallic context to good effect.

Before moving away from A Beautiful Mind, lets look at a transcription of the theme
song, music written by Horner and sung by Charlotte Church.



Minor 3


Audio All that love can be
Audio Creating government dynamics Movie 00.20.42
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


When the vocal line arrives all chords are in root position. This means they have a very
parallel square feel. But one of the fundamental characteristics is that the song has no
separately functioning distinctive melodic line. The melody is simply an element of the
chord. And in all but two chords, the interval of the chord chosen for the voice is the 3
As we have established before, the most communicative interval is the 3
. It literally
colours the chord in. To have a melodic line impaled purely on the 3
is to italicise and
exaggerate the implicit richly communicative qualities of the 3
. To then have a melody
which utilises a sequence of rhythmically identical sequential minims, voiced almost
identically, is to further italicise the 3

The piece transcribed in fig.73 is part of the final credit roll of the film The Butterfly
Effect (music by Michael Suby). I have highlighted this piece because in shows how
other composers have been influenced by A Beautiful Mind. In The Butterfly Effect the
chord sequence is played with soft textures and we can see and hear the same harmonic
approach as we saw in the Horner score where the Db (min 3
of the Bbm chord
becomes the C# of the A chord.

Audio Everyones fixed memories (01.39) Movie end credits 01.45.16

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The section below is a reworking of the theme song from A Beautiful Mind, used in the
film. There are several interesting harmonic aspects in this piece, not least of which is
how Horner once again distorts our perceptions. Note the choir in the last two beats of
bar six; the natural overhang of the choir chord of E is just enough to cause mild
dissonance with the chord of Db which follows but which is not stated by the choir; thus
the choir never resolves. It does the same again at the end of bar eight but this time the
effect is smooth because the subsequent chord of B is not so far removed from the
preceding chord of E. Secondly, Horner obscures and muddies the harmonies in the lower
strings in bar five (the Fm/C) and bar six (the E over B). The chord is inverted but the
voicing is so low that the 5
interval between the low inverted C and the F above (in bar
five) creates a mildly dissonant rumble of competing frequencies. By the time the same
phrase a tone lower in the key of B (bar nine) appears, the harmonic clarity can no longer
sustain the dense undergrowth of the inversion so it is jettisoned in favour of root-
position harmonies.

Audio - A beautiful mind closing credits
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Its worth taking time out here to look at how chords react to each other and how we can
manipulate the interplay and effect. The first sequence is E to Eb, the second is E to C,
the third is E to D and the fourth is E to Db. Why does the second and the fourth
sequence work better than the first and third?

The obvious answer is because the second and fourth sequence contains notes which are
common to both chords. In sequence 2 the common note is E, which represents the root
of the E chord and then the major 3
of the C chord. In sequence 4 (which is used at
1.42 of the intro to The Butterfly Effect) the G# (maj 3
) of the E chord becomes the Ab
) of the Db chord. The slightly less obvious reason the chords work better in sequence
2 and 4 is because in both cases the common note goes either to or from a major 3
defining interval.

So whats the point? For years music has been rationalised, chronicled and understood
through a prism of the personal greatness of the composer. History faithfully delivers this
fundamentally flawed perspective. Some music history books, whilst full of reasonably
accurate facts, display questionable assumptions. Especially when chronicling classical
music, most books lack the context to adequately explain why the music works, much
less how it was likely conceived. Into this vacuum come unbridled reverence and the
crass assumption that each piece is a work of the brilliance of one person. Music is a
plan, a structure whose characteristics and tolerances existed long before we started
finding them and using them. We buy into it, we uncover it, we use it, but we do not
literally create it and nor can we truthfully claim long-lasting moral or intellectual
ownership of it. We claim temporary ownership largely because of the architecture; the
method and mechanism of its delivery, but we are not responsible for the fact that it
works, only the realisation that it works and the decision to use it. Structures and
tolerances are there already. Through a detailed examination of the structure of A
Beautiful Mind we uncover how and why it works. The fact that it works is not the
responsibility of the composer. He designed it and built it but is not responsible for its

E Eb E C
E D E Db
3 4
E note = octave E note = maj3

G# note = maj3
Ab note = 5

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Sometimes its good to try and put to one side the hierarchical relationship between
melody and harmony. Film composers treat them the same way because essentially they
are the same thing, separated not by stature but by function.

UNBREAKABLE James Newton Howard

The piece below is a section from the intro music to the movie Unbreakable. The piece
uses various shades of Em as its harmonic centre, but which stave represents the melodic

Audio Visions 01.21 Movie 00.02.48

Strings / samples
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Truthfully although we will automatically gravitate to the middle stave simply because it
is busy, there is no dominant melodic feature. Look at the same piece below which this
time has the melodic and intervallic contours of each line, side by side. The top line of
each contour represents the top stave of the notated version (fig.76). The middle line of
each contour represents the middle stave of the notated version and the bottom contour
represents the top note of the two-note voicing on the bottom stave of the notated version.
Therefore if we view the context of this music as being essentially three separate lines of
counterpoint, we get closer to understanding how it works. There is an assumption of a
key centre of Em at the centre of the piece. Below written out are the musical context (the
notes) and the intervallic context (what notes those intervals state in relation to Em). By
looking at both we can see many similarities but also sections where the musical and
intervallic context go their separate ways. This is one reason music communicates:
because we listen in two ways, two contexts. There is a duality of perception in all music,
whereby we listen to intervals and notes; character and colour. This is one of the many
reasons why we find music so alluring; we arent just listening to the music, were also
listening to and experiencing the intervallic context.

The Music The intervallic context

As referenced many times in this book, what distinguishes melody from harmony is what
function it fulfils, not what it is. We are taught that there is a distinction between melody
and harmony - a difference that separates them that they perform distinct tasks.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Music is built on a tirade of assumptions, traditions, functions, accepted norms,
tolerances and structures, but these are simply interpretations.

The section below is again from the film Unbreakable and comes around 01.41.00 when
Bruce Willis character, David Dunne, discovers the truth about Elija Price, played by
Samuel L Jackson. The music has a distinctly cumbersome, pedestrian but revelatory feel
to it but melodically is the same phrase repeated. What gives the cue its distinctive air is
the evolving harmony underneath which continually refreshes and recontextualises the
melodic line, intervallically In addition to the transcription I have added melodic
contours which are pretty much identical in each 4-bar phrase.

The version underneath is the same piece but this time has the intervallic context added
by way of intervals and a contour to plot their journey. If you look at the contours
displayed in both versions, in a way this is an indication of what we hear. The melody is
only one half of the equation. Whether we are aware of it or not, we experience the
melodic lines intervallic context. This is what gives the melody line its distinct aural
3D image.

Fig.78 Audio The Orange Man 01.05 Movie 01.41.00
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Below we have the musical contour with the intervallic contour underneath. The
repetitive monotony of the melodic line is mitigated by its evolving intervallic context.




















































1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


THE VILLAGE James Newton Howard

Turning now to the film The Village by director Night Shayamalan music by James
Newton Howard we examine similar issues at work. For this sequence in the film the
sound design is pulled down in the mix to allow the silent pictures and the music to
contextualise the narrative and deliver the story. Bar eight of the sequence is the chord
change from Fm to Ab; it comes at the moment one of the characters in the film sees a
red flower in the ground; supposedly a harbinger of danger. By the end of the cue the
characters have pulled up the red flower and buried it out of sight. This is a pivotal
moment of the film and one which is served brilliantly by the music.

Audio Noah Visits Movie 00.04.10

From bar eight we have almost exactly the same melodic line but with a new chord
underneath, which of course changes the intervallic context of the melody. This cue has
been described as sounding mesmerising and mildly hypnotic. It is not beyond the wit of
man to understand the reasons behind such description. The reasons for this description
are not personal or specific to one person or subjective or abstract or metaphysical; the
reason for the reaction is partly the duality of perception the repetitive melodic line
with evolving harmonic context underneath. This kind of line, which has the dual
perception of, one the one hand a very simple line and on the other hand subtly different
intervallic meaning, regularly provokes emotional reactions.

The moment when the two characters see the
red flower
The two characters bury the red flower out of sight
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


From a purely structural perspective, it is interesting to note that the phrase in bar two
and three bookends the transcription; it appears to announce the phrase and then to tie the
phrase up.

I say this once again to highlight that whilst intervals may seem the automatic by-product
of a compositional whim, it only seems that way. The interval defines how a note will
work. If we go looking for the structural secrets behind a piece of music we will learn
much from investigating the intervallic contour of a melodic line. Dont forget the note
delivers the sound but the interval delivers the context of the note; literally the music.
What a note represents is as important as what a note is. What a note represents
intervallically gives us an insight into its function within the music.

The piece below is called I cannot see his colour (from the same film). It features some
quite abstract harmonic and rhythmic writing. However, even in something as difficult to
rationalise and penetrate as this, there are patterns and consistencies. The intervals are
written over each note in accordance with whatever chord accompanies them.

Audio I cannot see his colour



5 3 2 1 6 1 5 3 2 1 6 1 3 2 1 5 3
3 2 1 5 3 3 2 1 6 5 3 2 1 6 5 3 4 3 m2 6 4 3 m2 1 6 5 4 3 m2 1 6 5 4 3 m2 1 6 5 4 3 m2 1 6 5
3 2 1 5 3 2 1 maj7 5 #4 3 2 1 maj7 5 #4 3 2 1 maj7 5 #4 3 2 1 maj7 5 #4
5 3 2 1 6 1 5 3 2 1 6 1 5 3 2 1 6 1 5 3 2 1 6 1
But also on this piece, the bookended phrase
(transcribed separately, fig.82 and in bars
two and three and bars twelve and thirteen
of fig.81) are interesting from an intervallic
perspective. The first three notes are bare,
stark characterless intervals; whereas the
next three are colourful descriptive intervals
, 3
, 7
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


As we can see, the intervals which colour the music are quite consistent in how and
where they appear. The 2
and 6
intervals give specific colour. The interesting thing
here is the two different intervallic possibilities that emerge halfway through bar eight.
The intervallic context on the top of the notes stays loyal to the Fm feel in the supporting
harmonies. However the more likely intervallic context written underneath offers a
polytonal perspective where melody is essentially following an unwritten Gb harmonic
framework. Thus the melody is following a notional chord; a chord which isnt being
played. It is, however, being inferred by the unilateral intervallic dynamics of the melody.


Like many famous pieces in the history of film and television, the final musical example
in this chapter was not written for the screen but has been used in a multitude of filmic
settings. Every once in a while a piece of music appears which dominates the media
landscape. It captures the imagination so perfectly that it suddenly gets used in many
different moving image contexts and scenarios. Just a handful of the words used to
describe this piece are powerful, dramatic, uplifting, inspiring, mesmerising,
elevating and theatrical. The song is Hopppolla by Icelandic band Sigur Rs. It was
released as the albums second single on 28 November 2005 and was, inevitably perhaps,
referred to as the money song, as the band was certain they had written a song which
would have commercial success outside their own success as a band. They were right.

It was used in 2006 advertisements for the BBC's Planet Earth TV series, giving the band
one of its rare exposures to a mainstream audience. When Sir David Attenborough
received his National Television lifetime achievement award, the piece was used for the
moving anthology of his work, made especially for the occasion. Other uses include the
BBC coverage of the 2006 FA Cup final and TV coverage of the World Cup. The
common denominator in all the media usages was the need for poignancy, expression,
euphoria and/or exhilaration. The song was featured in the Doctor Who episode End of
an Era and featured in the movie trailers for Children of Men and Slumdog Millionaire.
It played on moving image excerpts as diverse as an Oxfam TV ad and Sky Sports. It was
also used as background music to interview contestants in shows such as The X-Factor,
Britain's Got Talent and I'd Do Anything. In April 2008, a film trailer was released
advertising Disneys new movie Earth. This is arguably its finest hour. In a now iconic
scene, all sound design and music is pulled down, a bird floats down to the ground and as
it lands the music starts. The music has a euphoric feel from its opening bar. Here it is

Audio - Hoppipola Sigur Ros - Earth Trailer.01.06

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The issue as far as were concerned is why. Why and how does a piece of music
communicate such vast emotion? How does it manage to communicate similar emotions
to all? Or, as traditional music discourse used to dictate, does it communicate similar
emotions to all who listen by accident? If each listening experience is peculiar and
specific to each individual person, as many suggest, is it just blind luck that it manages to
speak to people in the same way? As we discussed at the beginning of the book, many
classical composers and musicologists thought, and still think, music is incapable of
conveying intrinsic or palpable meaning, especially a meaning which can be applied to
the many, not just the one. They say it is powerless to convey specific meaning in a
general way, and that any meaning we get is specific to individuals, not all of us. This is
patently absurd not least because listeners regularly experience the same emotions and
deduce strikingly similar meanings from the same piece. If so, how and why would
millions of different people go out and buy the same record?

So, having dispensed with the absurd notion that music is powerless to communicate, and
in order to ascertain what general meaning this piece has, lets first look at some obvious
areas in terms of basic emotional communication before we turn to the more in-depth,
abstract issues. The opening four bars are arpegiated but although no chords are played,
melody is essentially communicating and functioning as harmony by arpegiating the
harmony rather than stating it as one chord. This is important because horizontal
harmony tends to communicate more profoundly because we join the dots ourselves,
unlike a vertical chord in which the colour of the harmony exists instantly.

Whereas bars two to four infer sus chords and bare chords, bar one implies a chord of B
and opens with a D# (3
) F# (5
) B (root) and C# (2
).This mixture, especially the
initial rich 3
and the inclusion of the 2
, creates a sense of emotional warmth. The last
note of the group (the 2
) has often been criticised for is cheesy characteristics in chords
in ballads and love songs, but of course context is everything; here we have a sparse,
slight arpegiated sequence, not a lush chord orchestrated, for example, for strings. The
reason for the emotional, romantic (and, if abused, cheesy) characteristics a major 2

exudes lay in where it is in the scale in relation to its neighbours. It lays one tone from the
root and a tone from the major 3
. The 3
is of course the ultimate descriptive interval;
nothing colours like a 3
and most chords without one have trouble communicating
warmth. The major 3
and 4
played together creates serious dissonance but the major
and major 2
played together, when contextualised with the root and 5
, creates a
warm emotional feeling. When a major 2
is played alongside a minor 3
the clash is
more dramatic because the interval is smaller.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


So far weve examined the intervals of the notes in relation to the chord they create, but if
we look at intervals that exist between the notes themselves, this too is interesting The
notes that play over the E chord are a little uneven in that they features a tone (between
the E and F#) followed by a 4th then a 3
. The lack of a G# in this small four-note
section over the E chord, as I said earlier, is key because that note would have
represented the bright maj 3
. without the 3
we are drawn disproportionately to the
other intervals, namely the 2
(F#) and in particular the square, penetrative 4
between it and the B which follows. The lack of the 3
tends to almost recontextualise
the existing intervals and draw more attention to them. Now we address another reason
people thought it was mesmerising. Once again this goes back to the issue of notes and
intervals. Below I have placed melodic contours over the line which, to an extent,
explains the consistent, repetitive mesmerising element.


The way it could have been is
transcribed to the left (fig.85)
with intervals and gaps which are
even and consistent. This is
cheesy, normal and predictable. It
is over-colourful, containing three
major thirds.

The way it was the version to the right,
features intervals that are not quite so basic
and obvious. There is only one major 3
first note). Add to that the interval of the 2

(which comes twice in this bar) and you have
one of the reasons why this seemingly
innocuous line works so well. The colour is
subtle. The specific delivery of the notes and
the intervals they state is absolutely crucial.


How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Below we analyse the musical and intervallic context of the melody line, particularly
from bar six, seven and eight. If we focus from bar six to the middle of bar seven and
then from the middle of bar seven to the middle of bar eight, we see the same melodic
line repeated across the bar line but with subtly different intervallic context. This
explains why such a repetitive line doesnt become boring or monotonous but instead
mesmerising and entrancing. The fact that it comes over a bar line disrupts our sense of
time and meter.

Some context

Music offers a multitude of different and almost limitless structural possibilities to
composers. These vast reservoirs of possibilities exist long before we find them. We do
not invent them, we find them, we discover they work well in a specific context and we
assemble them. In many ways thinking of composing as creating is to be seduced by the
romance of writing music and is to miss the point of the process of composition:
Composers are, in the main, arrangers; they assemble, place, coordinate and plan.

Songwriting is seen in many ways as an extension of someones character, personality
and even ego. Its an expression of self-worth, of individuality; what they think and who
they are. But even this is partly a myth; songwriters choose sequences built from existing
chords, placed in a specific order which gives the song a touch of individuality and a
flavour of newness. Lyrics are the reassembling of words which already existed and
which have pre-existing meaning. Their precise meaning is recalibrated via the specific
placement of words. In some respects the melody is the key area of real individuality and
character for a songwriter. But film composers ought not to be speaking with ego and
their music should not ideally be an extension of their character because what the
function of the music needs to be is dictated by the needs of the film and the narrative.

E B G#m
E F# B D# B E D# B F# E F# B D# B E D# B F#
1 2 5 maj7 5 4 3 1 5 4 5 1 3 1 6 5 3 7
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The only real choice film composers have is how precisely to interpret someone elses
idea. This is not rampant creativity; it is creativity in a controlled environment. I say all
this because its important for any composer (but especially a film composer) to try and
dismiss sentimental notions of composers speaking from the heart or of ideas coming
from nowhere. If we speak of ideas coming from the heart this amputates any logical
discussion about where ideas really come from and how they are formulated and
processed. Ultimately they have to come from somewhere; they cant come from
nowhere and it doesnt happen by magic. Anyone who thinks ideas come from nowhere
is seduced by romantic sentimental notions which seek to glamorise rather than

Remember that successful film composers cannot wait for the great inspiration, for they
do not have the luxury of time; they find the inspiration, they cultivate it; not out of thin
air but from a conscious or subconscious database of knowledge and experiences which
forge together to reassemble such knowledge in a newish way. Try not to obsess about
elastic notions such as creativity and inspiration and focus instead on understanding
what the process is and then harnessing and manipulating it to function more efficiently
and at speed.

Film composing is about craft, technique and vast amounts of harmonic knowledge. It is
about architecture; it is about harnessing musics vast structures and harmonic edifices. It
is about design and build, about construction. Part of the reason people misunderstand
what composers do is firstly due to the baggage of sentimental notions of greatness and
genius but also because of the word composition. If we rationalise the term
craftsperson we have a fairly firm and accurate idea of the skill entailed. Composer
wraps the process of writing music up in awe, admiration, respect, astonishment and
reverence, most of which is because people misunderstand the process by which people
write music and so replace it with one based on personal greatness of the individual.

Composers do not make stuff up; they find existing stuff and present it in a specific
order and context. That is it; no more, no less. That is not to say that many composers do
not possess significant and fantastic abilities firmly beyond the ability or even
understanding of most people, but it means that those abilities should be contextualised in
a more rational way, not one buried in reverence. In short, we need to demystify what
composers do. The fact that we dont understand something does not in itself make it

The elephant in the room in this discussion and the reason I go on about it so much, is
that the blind reverence we accord to composers, as if they are all unfathomable geniuses
whose abilities are completely beyond any understanding, discourages, depresses and
daunts many young composers. Because they too are seduced by the celebrity superstar
status to which we elevate those who succeed, all too often they see what the real
composers do as brilliant and by comparison their own potential and self-belief is
compromised. This isnt to suggest that we ought not have heroes, just that we should
remember that they too were once unknowns who had heroes too.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



As discussed in other chapters, often what we hear is surface level, but what listen to
is a combination of the sound the notes make and the harmonic context they represent
(which we may not be conscious of hearing but nevertheless experience). Our
responses and various levels of perception enable us to enjoy the different levels on
which music transmits or communicates. We all listen in subtly different ways; the
variables are infinite because our emotional reactions are based on individual emotional,
psychological, physical, biological and intellectual factors. There are, however, common
denominators and common emotional reactions caused by specific musical devices which
we can quantify and understand. This is how and why some elements of music
communicate in ways we can identify. In short, although the manner in which we all hear
and listen varies greatly, there are some musical devices and structures which are so
strong, so popular, so ingrained or so utterly communicative that we all respond to them
in a way which is similar enough for us to deduce a kind of universal meaning. This is
why musical structures, traditions and tolerances are so powerful and is why we are able
to identify, rationalise and learn from them. In this chapter I aim to address some of these
complex issues by looking at the music to some notable films.

Music analysed: Gladiator (Hans Zimmer) The Day After Tomorrow (Harald Klosser &
Thomas Wander) Contact (Alan Silvestri) Aliens (James Horner) King Kong (James
Newton Howard) The Long Good Friday (Francis Monkman) Pearl Harbour and Angels
& Demons (Hans Zimmer) Chaplin, Out of Africa, Dancing with Wolves (John Barry)
Defence of the Realm (Richard Harvey)


No book on film music would be complete without an analysis of the music for the film
Gladiator, composed by Hans Zimmer. Analysing Zimmers music means examining
specific, successful and identifiable harmonic devices and how they communicate a sense
of emotion and even meaning to the audience. The most successful sections of the score
are written as emotional commentaries on the story rather than functioning necessarily as
explicitly synced music to picture. Freed often from the need to overtly italicise specific
visual elements and respond to hit points all the time (which can sometimes punctuate the
emotional impact and longevity of film music) Zimmers music provides an emotional
musical narrative which is expansive, majestic and imposing. One of the things that make
Gladiator a great movie and separate it from being just a film about violence and revenge
is Zimmers music. Maximus is governed by a commitment that is of greater substance
than a desire simply to avenge the deaths of his family, and the sensitivity of some of the
music cues italicises this. Below I have transcribed the lead line and chords to Now we
are Free, a piece which runs at the end of Gladiator over the credit roll.

Chapter 7
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Contours have been added which show variation in the way the melody and harmony
interact; firstly we have contrary motion in bars two-three as the chords move upwards
from D to E and the melodic line sung by Lisa Gerrard moves down. The same type of
sequence happens in bars six-seven where the chord bass line moves upwards and the
melody moves downward. By contrast the melody and chord movement in bars four-five
and twelve-thirteen displays close, almost parallel, movement. Contrary motion might be
an obvious observation but it underpins one of the main ways music communicates. To
put it in more human terms, it could be said that this is one of the ways harmony subtly
contracts and expands, or breathes in and out. This is one of the many aspects that make
music something we can experience, respond to and enjoy; something we can listen to,
rather than simply hear. In the same excerpt below, this time I have highlighted another
important characteristic; the all-powerful and descriptive minor / major 3
intervals. Such
intervals are profoundly descriptive; they literally colour a chord by determining its
harmonic characteristic e.g. whether its major or minor. As listeners we respond to
these intervals; we gravitate towards them. They wield disproportionate power within a
chord. The crucial area here is in bars four-five and ten-eleven, where the notes and the
chords both move down but the intervals they represent remain 3rds. There is a richness
to these bars in particular, not least because the emotional 3
features in all chords.

In general musical terms the relationship between the musical sound and the intervallic
meaning is one of the things that creates the distinctive emotional impact and aesthetic
beauty of music. The relationship between what the melody sounds like (the notes) and
what they represent as intervals is everything.
Audio, 01.00 Now we are Free Movie, End Titles 02.22.12

A G# F#

A G# F#

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The difference between the surface-level obvious musical analysis and a deeper
contextual perspective is key to understanding what music is. In the figure below we see
the musical notes (from the melody line in bars four-five and twelve-thirteen of fig.1 and
fig 2) diagonally from top left to bottom right. I have also added an intervallic contour
(bottom left to top right right). That these factors happen simultaneously explains the
duality of experience enjoyed by the listener. This is a harmonic device which
specifically finds its way into film music on a regular basis, as described elsewhere in this

Here is the same section in context of a larger excerpt from Gladiator. I have also
highlighted the minor and major 3
( ) intervals (which lend the piece a richness of
emotion) and the contrary motion at work ( ).




Min 3

Maj 3

Maj 3

In the three bar excerpt in fig.4 we have another
example of the interval being of more interest than the
note; firstly, we have a note of C in context of an Am
chord. By bar two the C note has become the sus4 of
the Gsus4 chord. Then we have a Bb which represents
the minor 3
of a Gm chord, which becomes the sus4
of the Fsus4.
Audio, 02.38 The German Battlefront Movie - 00.02.37

Section from
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The 3
intervals come at the beginning of each of the first three bars of fig.5 establishing
a sense of warmth and emotion. The extra drama and gravity created by the inverted bass
in bar four is also worthy of mention. The chord of C in bar three becomes a chord of F/C
in bar four, then back to a chord of C in bar five. Such a simple observation belies the
extent to which this dramatizes the moment. The use of inversions softens the extremity
and squareness of the movement between chords of C, F and C, offering a common bass
line. But what inversions also offer is drama. We hear the chord but are aware that
something is different; there is a different harmonic weighting, a different distribution.

Other notable tensions are to be found in bars thirteen-fifteen. Bar thirteen offers a Dm
chord with an E-to-D downward counterpoint (2
to root) in the mid strings (top stave)
with a G# to A (#4
to 5
) upward melodic figure in the top strings. Much of what the
harmony offers in counter-melodic terms can be considered inferred, implied, or almost
shorthand. The E and G# (over the Dm chord) could also represent the 1
and maj3
an E chord, which means the chord almost functions as a polychord (containing distinct
elements of E and Dm). I say this not because it is some vague theoretical possibility but
because the fact that this can have two visual interpretations, or meanings, is one of the
characteristics that make it work so well, especially as a brief passing chord.

The final observation from this section is the glide upwards on the 8va strings (bars
twelve to fifteen) especially the C# note which ties between its major 3
context in bar fourteen to its destination intervallic context of a major 7
over the Dsus4
chord. This skewing of context offers further reasons as to how and why the piece
communicates so well. In fact if you observe the final C# in conjunction with the sus4 G
note of the Dm (bar 15) what you actually have is a major 3
(C#) and 7
(G) of an A
chord. Again this is subtle polytonality

What makes Zimmers music so effective is the difference between, on the one hand, the
vast and subtle harmonic complexities and the often inferred and oblique nature of their
delivery, and on the other hand, the texturally soft subtlety of his instrumentation, merged
with the dense undergrowth of his samples. This is what makes the complex seem
effortless; it is what makes the complicated appear simple and it represents perhaps the
enduring aesthetic characteristic of his writing and production.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW Harald Klosser and Thomas Wander

The transcription below (fig.6) is the introduction title music from the film The Day After
Tomorrow by Harald Klosser and Thomas Wander. It works because the slow, deliberate
and ponderous nature of the music creates a portentous, threatening and ominous feel,
which suits the narrative and underpins the seriousness of the subject and the movie. The
music serves the movie narrative well and expertly delivers the context of the film in
music to a watching and listening audience. How does it do this? The first small
observation would be the way the melody line is initially doubled in the mid-to-low
register; normally composers of orchestral music might avoid this as the potential for
lumpy voicing and sonic ambiguity is greater.

The way Klosser and Wander have crafted this iconic and much used track is impressive.
Regarding the use of a low melody, they have avoided any potentially difficult intervals
by ensuring the melodic line sticks, in the main, to primary intervals; however, the use of
the add2 in bar seven works well to soften the edges of the harmony. The add2 on the
lower stave, merged with the chord which accompanies it on the middle stave creates a
rich lush cluster chord featuring (from the bottom up) F, C, F, G and A. Instrumentation,
orchestration and production are dense at first, with the melody line buried within.

Also in bar two we have the interesting issue of harmony by suggestion rather than
action; the low D in the bass does not in itself necessarily suggest the chord of Dm.
Although the low cellos and basses playing the D note does sound ominous texturally, the
note doesnt neccasarily suggest Dm; nor does the first A-note melody vocal line. It is the
Bb which suggests a Dm feel in the mind of the listener; the note of Bb does not feature
in the scale of D major but it does feature in the scale of Dm (melodic). The average guy
in the street doesnt know this and indeed the vast majority of people would never know
their harmonic detectors were being manipulated. The composers subtly suggest Dm
without actually stating it by using a note found in the scale. This is yet another way in
which people who have no knowledge of the intricacies of harmonic interaction are
nevertheless beneficiaries of its effect, and another example of how beneficial it is for a
composer to understand harmony to the degree that allows them to infer chords subtly
rather than state them obviously.

Audio - The Day After Tomorrow Movie - 00.00.25
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



Later in the same piece the harmonic interaction transcribed below (fig 7) appears,
featuring a combination of mid strings, brass and woodwind to articulate a subtle chord
exchange. The really effective part is in bars three and four. Examining why the move
from Am to F is so effective we again come across the issue of the evolving intervallic
context of the lower stave notes.

C (3
) C (5
A (root) A (3
Like shifting sands the change in what
the notes of A and C (bass clef) represent
intervallically and the subtle interaction
this creates is completely key to the
success of this section. Making
something remain physically the same
but change its meaning (almost like a
musical version of an optical illusion)
manages to be both extremely powerful
and extremely subtle at the same time.
Musical reality
Audio - The Day After Tomorrow 2.04 Fig.7
The way we perceive harmony is crucial to the success of most music. This kind of
gentle manipulation is effortless but effective.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The simple chord manoeuvre below (fig.8) is voiced entirely in root position. When
people listen to moving chords they hear the sounds and rationalise harmony by virtue of
easily recognisable note movement; people dont perceive, for example, the changing
context of the note of C as it evolves from being the root of the Cm chord to becoming
the 5
of the Fm chord. But nevertheless the reason the two chords work together is
because they are from the same key centre and share a common note.

But how would you subvert, abbreviate or lessen the absoluteness of the chord changes
above? To see how the chord sequence above could be voiced to extort more potential
from the chords, we turn to a track used in the film, and on the album, called Sam. A
reduction is transcribed below.

The revoicing of the Fm chord (bar one) might seem like an innocuous point but what it
allows for is a smoother transition between the two chords; less movement. Were still
aware the second chord in bar one is a different chord, but the movement between the
two chords is more subtle. The high string note in bar three undergoes a similar
intervallic transformation; in fact, in reality every note in that bar moves. The G to Ab
manoeuvre is an obvious and physical move, but if we examine what happens to the top
C and the bottom C and Eb, they move, but less obviously (below, fig.10)

Cm Fm Bb Cm
The first observation is that the second chord, the Fm, is
not root positioned; it is voiced as an inversion. This
allows the C to form more of a bond between the two
chords than might otherwise have been the case; it
isolates and exposes the bottom C because effectively it
becomes the lowest note we can hear of both chords.
Fig.9 Audio Sam Movie - 00.14.58
One of the fundamental things moving image
composers sometimes dont do is to make
wholesale, complete chord changes. Chord shifts
they employ are not always complete, absolute,
root position-oriented and easily identifiable. By
subtly altering voicings we can make simple chord
shifts appear slightly more interesting.
Cm Fm/C Bb/C Cm Cm Ab/C Ab/C F13 Fm
(#11) (omit 3/7/9)
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The level to which harmonies shape-shift their intervallic meaning is one of the reasons
the following excerpt (Cutting the Rope, from the same film) works so well. This is a
highly emotional part of the film in which Frank, one of the characters, falls through a
glass roof and dangles on a swinging rope attaching him to the rest of his group.
Realising he is jeopardising everyone he selflessly cuts the rope and falls to his death. At
this exact moment the excerpt transcribed below is played, capturing the emotion
perfectly. The real skill here is in the relative briefness of the excerpt, which although
short in length, captures the essence of the moment. Lets look first at the high cello line
which begins on the A note at the beginning of bar one. This is quite high for the cello
which changes the textural character of the instrument, making it sounded more strained,
pained, passionate and exposed. The melodic line runs from the A note through to the F#,
the first being a minor 3
and the final being a major 3
. Starting and beginning on the
ensures a high emotional impact. The fact that the melody line is embedded in the
chords and not a separate line in addition to supporting chords also gives it much more
impact because the emotion is condensed into fewer notes.

The harmonic grouping on beats 3 and 4 of bar two and beats 1 and two of bar three are
quite revealing in that they display the staggered, variable and falling harmonic
movement which can often characterise effective orchestration; the movement of the C#
(maj7 of the D chord) down to the B (root of the Bm7 chord) and then the falling top A
of the Bm7 chord) to the G# (6
of the Bm6 chord) cause tensions which, because
they hit at different times, in a cascading manner, create great emotional impact,
especially because the intervals represent colourful extensions.

Audio, 00.13 Cutting the Rope Movie, 01.19.55



The Eb note
as an interval
goes from
min 3
to 5

The C note as
an interval
goes from min
to maj 3

F#m (9) Dmaj7 Bm7 Bm6
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


CONTACT Alan Silvestri

The following example is from theme the film Contact, with music from the inspired and
vivid imagination of composer Alan Silvestri. Factors under the spotlight in this example
are far more basic and obvious than issues already discussed but the nature of their
function and effect is just as important. Silvestris main theme underscores and highlights
the main narrative of the film; our incurable search for meaning. Both main characters,
Ellie and Joss, are looking for meaning. She seeks proof of extra-terrestrial intelligence,
whereas Joss seeks meaning in his spirituality. Contact references God many times in the
film. At one stage Ellie asks: What is more likely? That an all-powerful mysterious God
created the Universe and then decided not to give any proof of his existence, or that he
simply does not exist at all? In order to take the films theme away from science fiction
and place it squarely in the realms of the frailty of the human condition and the eternal
search for meaning, the theme features a romantic piano solo portraying innocence and
purity. It is a very un-sci-fi theme and as such drives the movie away from extra-
terrestrial intelligence and into matters of belief.

Firstly, the string harmonies on the bottom stave display classic voicing techniques, e.g.
root, 5
and high 3
). These voicings provide a warm, solid sonic bed of sound on
which to build the rest of the piece. The chords are, however, all root positioned which
means the movement between Eb and Ab is quite obvious. One way round this might be
to invert some of the chords to lessen the extremity of the manoeuvres but another way is
to provide an effective counterpoint between the piano line (top two staves) and the string
chords (bottom stave). The violins line (3
stave down) provides an effective bridge
between the melody and supporting chords. It possesses its own movement which is
slower and more languid than the top piano line. This is a perfect example of how and
why effective orchestration can help ease some of the anomalies music structure throws
at us. The melodic line and counterpoint evolve at different rates.

Audio Contact end credits


















How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Voicing chords

ALIENS James Horner

Below I have transcribed a fairly basic chord shift. The chords are all in root position and
there has been no attempt to mitigate the abrupt shifts up and down.

How might these work better?

If we insert pedal notes and slash chords the same chord sequence will work better. We
still have the same movement of chords, but with the subtleties of craft, voicing and
orchestration. Rescoring chords with better structural integrity and more fluid movement
isnt just a good idea; its also the harbinger of drama, spectacle and gravitas.













Gm A Gb Ab
Although there is a commonality between
the C# in the A chord and the Db in the
Gb chord, the actual physical movement
sounds square and parallel

The first and
second chords
possess no
The third and
fourth chords
possess no
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The example below is similar to one of thousands that exist; this chord sequence is from
the movie Aliens, composed by James Horner. The revoicing allows for greater
consistency and stability

KING KONG James Newton Howard

The shifting sands of harmonic accompaniment

I want to turn to one of the main themes from the movie King Kong (below), scored by
James Newton Howard, in order to rationalise some interesting harmonic observations.

Gm A/G Gb Ab/Gb (Ab/Eb Dm)

The inversion in the penultimate chord
allows for a better move to the final
Dm, with which there is no relation
(Eb to D semitone


3rd becomes 5th


Audio, 00.13 LV426 Movie, 00.24.50 & 00.34.20

Audio -King Kong Movie, opening titles
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Just like The Day After Tomorrow, this piece is written low and orchestrated densely. The
low, deep melodic Horn line conjures up a sense of premonition and apprehension. This
line is copied with bassoons for more depth.

Bar seven features trombones and other brass scored low; the C# (major 3
, trombone) is
almost at a depth where the 3
wouldnt work or would become crunchy and lumpy.
Instead here it produces a crisp, penetrative and deep, portentous menacing sound.

There are some other notable harmonic events in this piece which help it function
brilliantly well in the film; the Gm chord stated by violins in bar six is inclusive of its
minor 6
interval (on top of the voicing) to give a tiny whiff of harmonic friction and
significant colour. This is aided by the delightful demisemiquaver line on woodwind and
violins 2, which periodically comes back to the Eb (min6).

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The opening theme appears again later in the film in (below).


Starting with something obvious; there is great interplay and coherence between the
grand opening motif (bars three to six) and the subsequent bar which effectively mimics
the phrase at a quicker pace. The initial melody, grand and majestic, benefits from the
chord shift underneath, between Gm and A, which creates an uplifting feel. The piece
also benefits from the changing context of the note in bars three and five; bar three
features a C# (the maj3
of the A chord) whereas bar five features the same note, this
time functioning as a Db (min3
of the Bbm).

The Empire State, another cue from the same film, is packed full of important nuggets of
information which will help us better understand how film music works, how harmony
functions and how music communicates

Eventually the piece gives way to a nod
toward the classic scary monster
chords - made so by the chromatic
shifts, the low brass, but most of all
because of the lack of maj or min 3rds

Gm A Gm Bbm Gm A Gm A

Strings / Brass
Audio - The Venture Departs Movie, 00.24.15
Audio -The Empire State Building
Audio -King Kong 0.42
G E Eb C
(omit3) (omit3) (omit3) (omit3)
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Consistency in Melodic Contour: looking at the melodic phrasing we can see two distinct
rhythmic approaches. Bars four and five mimic bars two and three but at a more hurried
pace whereas bars six to seven offer a different rhythmic vehicle for the melody.

Consistency in use of intervals (#4): If we look at bars three and four (fig.21) we can see
that the use of the #4 plays a big part in conjuring up the sci-fi-fantasy feeling. The #4 is a
regular favourite when trying to inject a sense of wonderment into a piece. As we will see
elsewhere in the book, one reason for the success of the #4 is that it subtly alludes to a
different key and chord. In the case of bar three of fig.21, the exposed top E on cellos
could be said to sound like the maj3 of the C chord. Strange extensions sound as they do
because of a harmonic interaction between them and the normal components of the
chord but also because they are gently suggestive of other chords.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This piece also benefits from the same notes cropping up in different intervallic contexts.
It allows the piece to evolve its harmonic complexity whilst retaining familiar melodic

8 #4 #4 9 5 5
What defines this phrase harmonically is the expression and colour created by the more extreme intervals
which come midway through the sequence. Below is a line expressing the harmonic contour in terms of
the expressive power and complexity of the intervals used in the cello line. The more complex and
expressive the interval, the higher it appears on the arc. The reason the second #4 appears higher than the
first is because in context of the cue the G cello note in bar four is higher and therefore more exposed and
therefore more intense.


G = #4
G = 9





How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


If we concentrate on the section from bar eight to eleven just prior to the key change from
A to D (bars ten and eleven of the original transcription fig.19) we can identify the
point at which the harmonies create drama, tension and gravity leading up to the key
change. I have transcribed an alternate version below (fig.23). It could be called an easy
listening version, using safe, predictable chords to achieve the key change, in order to
distinguish between it and what was actually written.

The version in fig.24 is the subverted version which contains two chords prior to the
key change which evolve to a dissonant climax (boxed) before the key change. The C#/A
chord is extremely dissonant in isolation, but sandwiched briefly as it is between the
preceding and successive chords, it works extremely well.


Another good example of the effectiveness of harmonic character is contained in the
following short excerpt from the 1979 movie The Long Good Friday, music by Francis
Monkman. By using synths as instruments in their own right, and not simply as a means
to cheaply replicate or emulate acoustic instruments, Monkmans expert and evocative
music (along with, for example, Angelo Badalmentis score for Twin Peaks) helped pave
the way for electronic music in subsequent TV shows such as The X-Files and 24. I will
be covering the iconic main theme from The Long Good Friday in Volume 2, but for now
I use the short piece below (00.03.50 into the film) as an example of the communicative
power of harmony when using only a few notes.

Eb Eb(#5) Eb Eb+
6 3 maj7 3 8 3 9 3 maj7 3 8 3 9 3 10 3
Movie, 00.03.50
The way it might have been The way it might have been
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The richness of the 6
(C) in bar one gives way to more abstract harmonies in bar two,
which offers an Eb(#5) chord underneath a quaver line whos punctuating alternate
intervals are major 7
, 8
, 9
and 10
. The relationship between the Eb(#5) chord and
the D of the melody line is crucial here; if you ignore the bottom Eb root note of the
chord, the melodic line above is now seen and heard in a different context (see below).


I would like to return now to Hans Zimmer and to a big issue this book addresses
elsewhere with other musical examples; the issue of how music leads us into the
temptation to presume one thing and then confounds our expectation by delivering
something else instead. To produce surprise musically by confounding or expectations
is one of the most effective things we can do as composers. It happens everywhere in
music; it is one of the main reasons we enjoy music. As I have alluded to elsewhere, we
do not listen objectively; we listen subjectively and with prejudice. This is not a
deliberate act, it is simply the way human brains store data, classify information and
compartmentalise the world of sound and music. Based on our previous listening
experiences we form comparisons, opinions and judgements. This means that everything
we listen to is heard in context of a generalised formulaic perception which rounds things
up and consolidates information. This doesnt mean we are not susceptible to music
which confounds our expectations; indeed such music excites us. Virtually all the most
successful music, to a degree, subverts the listening experience by confounding our
presumptions and expectations. It gives us something we didnt expect, and we usually
like it. These subversions are sometimes so subtle as to be undetectable to the untrained
ear and eye. This is why people are sometimes left clueless as to why a particular piece of
music seems to engage their responses better than others. People are frequently prone to
focussing on aspects they presume represent the reason they might like a certain piece of
music. Such aspects tend towards simple explanations; things which can be generally
understood without advanced musical knowledge.
Without the Eb root note of the accompanying chord
what we effectively have is a G chord with melody line
intervals now being 5, +5, 7
and the octave. I say this
because at first glance on bar two of fig.25 we assume
the tension is caused by the B natural (the +5 of the Eb
chord), where as in fact the tension is also caused by the
Eb root note, which is a red herring in what is otherwise
a G chord. This subtle interplay and duality of
perception is what makes this work; it has two
possibilities, not just theoretically, but aurally; actually.
This is what causes the slightly abstract qualities.
5 +5 7 8 Fig.26
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


I do not wish to diminish or underplay these responses, merely to expose the way in
which composers (deliberately or unknowingly) play with our perceptions to create music
which is engaging and successful. None of what follows is particularly radical or
profound; they are all subtle, delicate and restrained. The excerpt below entitled
Tennessee is the title track from the movie Pearl Harbour.


When we consider where this sequence might go its tempting to presume, with a G
(chord V) in bar eight that the piece will revert to the tonic chord (C) and repeat the
sequence. But what it actually does is more appealing (see below).

This sequence would not have worked so well if the preceding chord of G had implied a
return to the tonic chord of C. Therefore how the G chord was perceived by the time the
piece got to it is crucial.

Although the key centre is C, by the time the chord of G arrives in bar eight we dont
expect a return to the key centre; we feel comfortable settling on the G chord and using it
as a springboard for the move to Dm, which feels completely natural. Why? This is
achieved by inserting small harmonic signifiers in the first eight bars which subtly allude
to a key centre of G. These are the F# notes in bar two and six. The first F# is mildly
unsettling when it appears but only retrospectively so; the following bar (bar three)
contains an Fmajor7 a chord which wouldnt really work if there was an F# within
earshot. The sequence from Em to Fmaj7 works but the F# melody note over the Em does
raise the tension of that specific two-bar chord sequence. But the real function of the F#
is to prepare us for hearing the G chord in bar eight in a different context, e.g. when the
piece starts we think its in C but by bar eight were acclimatised to the key of G.

Audio -Tennessee Movie, opening credits
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Although the chord sequence and melodic line appear to be romantic and song oriented,
the addition of the F# over an Em prior to an Fmaj7 chord is something you would rarely
find in song this is its filmic element. The melodic line over the Fmaj7 is identical to
bar one, which brings familiarity and prevents the F# lingering. Above all, the melodic
contour in bars seven and eight pave the way for the line to eventually settle on an F note
over a Dm chord. Its also worth mentioning the contrary harmonic motion at this point,
which, typically for Zimmer, is delivered cocooned in lush orchestration.

For maximum impact its often effective if a descriptive and emotional interval (3
) in a
melodic line comes on the second beat of the bar, not the first. If, as in bar one of the
excerpt below, it comes on the first beat, all the emotional potential is released in one
moment; the 3
doesnt react to anything it just appears.

In the second bar the emotional energy is delayed, staggered and spread out. There is a
brief expectancy on beat one which is fulfilled and answered on beat two.

The phrase as used in Hans
Zimmers theme from Pearl
Harbour (right) features the
on the second beat.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Defining moments and hit points in music


Pieces that start with a minor-to-relative-major chord shift are uplifting but comparatively
rare. The opposite way round is very common but minor to relative major is hardly ever
used at the beginning of a piece. Seemingly unrelated, a chord change between C and G
would normally be an unremarkable sequence but preceding it with an Am puts a
different complexion on the subsequent C to G; although we interpret the written form of
music in a sequential linear way, from left to right, start to finish, beginning to end, the
aural effect music has on us is not always the result of a linear listening experience;
music communicates cumulatively. The reason that a two-chord sequence might transport
aurally, aesthetically and emotionally may be because of the totality of the entire
sequence, not just a local, smaller sequence. The reason two chords, halfway through an
eight-bar sequence, work, might be because of the chord in bar one or two and the effect
it has on the chord in bar four or five. The effect of music is cumulative: the C to G will
sound different if preceded by the Am because we will perceive it in a different way.

But the defining moment of the sequence is the transition between G and Em, using the
passing chord of D/F#. Once again Zimmer has started with the presumption of one key
centre (Am) only to deviate to Em within a few bars. The manoeuvre to Em is made more
natural by the initial manoeuvre from Am to C and then to G; by virtue of the route taken
to G, by the time we get there we no longer hear it in context of a chord V. Because the D
chord and F# bass notes are outside the original key centre of C, their use lifts the piece.
This is typical of Hans Zimmer and a major ingredient of his arsenal of successful
harmonic tricks. If we look (below) at the opening sequence from the movie Angels and
Demons we see how effective the whole piece is. This time it is transcribed in its actual
key of B. When trying to rationalise the success of this opening sequence and its
tremendous impact on the film, we tend towards a presumption that it is the sound. We
tend to rationalise according to what seems probable. Because we listen via sound and
not via information, we presume the sound is chiefly responsible. The sounds are
important but the harmonies are crucial. If we examine Hans Zimmers success, above all
it the triumph of harmony.

There are three dynamics at work in the first
three chords. Their effect is collective. The
longevity of the chords and the specific delivery
of the sequence effect our interpretation of it.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


To end this chapter I would like to feature several pieces from the late, great, John Barry.
Perhaps his most well-known music is for the James Bond franchise is analysed in Vol.2.
In this book four themes which are just as powerful and communicative, if perhaps not as
famous, are analysed.

CHAPLIN John Barry

Chaplin is a 1992 biographical film about the life of Charlie Chaplin, directed by Richard
Attenborough and structured around flashbacks as an elderly Chaplin reminisces over
moments in his life. The film highlights the triumphs and tragedies of Chaplins life. The
film opens to silence as Chaplin walks into his backstage room, dressed in his trademark
attire. As he sits down the wonderfully emotive opening theme begins. Immediately the
music transmits romantic and vaguely solemn and somber emotions, communicating and
commenting on the tremendous sadness in Chaplins life.

The transcription below features the first few bars of the main theme, after which we will
scrutinize the complex harmonic patterns, how they communicate and how they are
delivered effortlessly through the prism of effective and sympathetic orchestration which
allows the theme to breathe.

Pieces that start with minor to
relative major chord shifts are
uplifting and rare

The chord change between B and F# would normally be an
unremarkable sequence but preceding it with a G#m puts an
entirely different complexion on the subsequent B to F#.
Audio - God Particle Movie beginning titles 00.00
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


How music breathes

The second chord is a typical John Barry chord and transmits drama, seriousness and
apprehension. How does it do this? Firstly its a distinctive and odd combination of notes.
An Fmaj7 with an augmented 5
is hardly ever heard; it works in this example largely
because of what precedes it; the second chord is transitory and reactive. Played alone
without having something to react to, it loses its impact. This proves yet again that
context is everything. Chords which are distinctive and which provide specific emotional
reactions in listeners usually only do so because they are fed.

In the abbreviated
transcription (fig.33) we
see a classic example of
how music breathes in and
out, or how it has a feeling
of contraction. The melody
line ascends from the F
(root) to E (maj 7
) while
the Cello counterpoint two
notes lower moves from C
) to C# (aug5
Audio Chaplin Movie 00.00.44 Fig.32
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The harmonic dynamics present in that second chord are interesting in that, on closer
scrutiny, we find that the top three notes (from the top, down - E, A, C#) of a 4-note
chord actually represent an A chord; the reason the chord sounds odd is that, essentially,
its an A chord with an F in the bass. What makes it part of the F chord context is that
the preceding chord is an F, therefore we rationalise it as a weird kind of F chord. Barry
restates the augmented 5
in bar two when melody hits the C#. In bar three the piece
breathes in again.

Looking at the isolated melody (below) we can see another one of John Barrys traits; the
use of excessive intervallic leaps.

Isolating part of the orchestration highlights another one of the aspects of instrumentation
which so distinguishes the work of John Barry and others, namely the open-position
trombone voicing (below).

Such open voicing between root, 5
and high 3
) gives space and room for the
individual voices to be heard. What makes a virtue out of it is the texture and timbre of
the trombones and the way Barry draws attention to them. If strings are voiced in this
way, which they frequently are, we hear the richness of each element of the section, but
when trombones and other low brass play the same voicings the sound is so much more
crisp and organic because there are fewer of them.
Bar four contains a leap of a compound minor 2
(or a flattened 9
), something rarely seen in such
an exposed melody. Barry achieves this partly by the use of cotton wool orchestration
instrumentation designed to soften and smooth-out any harmonic tensions. This juxtaposition
between harmony and orchestration works beautifully in shrouding what is a difficult interval.
Again in bar eight (below, fig.35) he uses another interval, not as severe, but still rarely used in
such an exposed melody; the 9
. John Barry makes these leaps sound plausible, effective and even
luscious by clever use of instrumentation and voicing.




The voicing - 1
, 5
and 3

) - highlighted left, is
nothing special; in fact it
represents basic good practice
in terms of effective spacing.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The section below (a continuation of the trombone section from fig.36) again displays the
consistent approach in the trombone voicing.

A great example of how arranging in film music works is the way his theme for Chaplin
is shared by more than one instrument or section. Melody is, more than anything else, a
function. We are used to seeing and hearing melody being impaled on one instrument but
in film music the function of melody is often shared. If we looked at the initial
transcription for Chaplin (fig.32) we would be forgiven for simply seeing the melody on
the top line violins. But Barry, realising that a theme is first and foremost a function and
secondly a tune, places small snippets of the theme on different instruments. What we
might perceive as counterpoint is, in fact, the melody functioning on different
instruments. Below is the same piece from fig.32 but abbreviated to highlight how and
where the theme is shared between different instruments.

The intro to the cue (also found at the
beginning of fig.32) has extra richness
embedded in the arrangement by virtue of
the harp (left) which hits the root, 5

and high 3
). The add9 element
helps, with the open string voicing above it,
to create a luscious and transporting sound.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The final section of the analysis of Chaplin concerns another, more obvious
representation of what is sometimes called the John Barry sound. Look closely at bar
three of the transcription below (fig.40) and look even closer at the trombone and low
strings. Like all great film score composers Barry is fond of inversions.


Although the theme from Dancing with Wolves, below, doesnt have the same odd
intervallic leaps in its melody or indeed any of the distinctive chords from Chaplin, if we
observe the orchestration and chord voicing we see and hear the same approach to
orchestration; namely the open-voiced mid-low strings and trombones, which lends the
piece a real richness of texture. In the example below what also adds to the effectiveness
of the voicings are the occasional low 3
and 7
(highlighted). This draws out and
italicises the richness of the intervals and the instrument textures; they arent so low to
cause sonic ambiguity and lumpy chords but they are low enough to sound rich. Also
highlighted are the subtle descending bass lines, similar to the lines in Chaplin.

F (3)....
D (1)
F (5)
D (3)
F (3)
D (1)
F (5)
D (2)
Look at the way the Dm
chord gives way to the Bb/D
by virtue of the movement
of just one note (the A to
Bb). This subtle shift of one
note in a chord completely
transforms the intervallic
context of the rest of the
Now look at the transcription to the right
(fig.41) in which, in the first bar, we see the
sequence seen in bar five of Chaplin (fig.32).
I have added the Dm6 to show how easy we
go from Chaplin to perhaps the greatest John
Barry piece of all.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Looking at the strings and trombones in particular its interesting to see not only the style
of voicing but also the consistencies. In bars one, three, four and five the trombones are
voiced with the distinctive warm and descriptive 3
on top, ensuring the richness of the
chord is heard. The Bb7 is scored effectively with the mild tension of the 7
and octave a
tone apart but with the rich low 3








Audio Dances with Wolves main theme
































How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



It is worth mentioning again the issue of what the role and function of the music is.
Out of Africa is an adventure film based loosely on Karen Blixens famous book. The
film is set almost exclusively in Africa and yet the most enduring and endearing music is
itself set firmly in context of the European classical romantic tradition. This is because
the music is not playing the location or even the historical context; it plays the romance
and the drama portrayed in the story and by the lead characters. Two distinctive and
iconic themes from Out of Africa are transcribed and again these feature some typical
John Barry traits.

Audio - Flying over Africa

The tension caused by the use of the maj6
and maj7
(over the Am chord) is very
suggestive of emotions such intrigue, mystery and conspiracy, which is why these chords
are used heavily in John Barrys Bond scores. Why and how does the use of a maj6
cause these feelings?

The intervallic relationship between the A note (root of the Am) and the F# / G# are a
and maj7
respectively. These are effective intervals but the main reason the F#
and G# penetrate so much is actually because of the relationship between the C note (min
of the Am chord) and the F# / G# (#4 and #5 respectively). The 3
is an extremely
colourful interval; a defining interval which literally defines a chord as major or minor.
Therefore the way in which extension notes interact with the 3
is important. The
specific tension created by these harmonic dynamics is responsible for their

In order to contextualise this point, look at the two bars transcribed below.


With an Am6 there are two points of harmony which
colour the chord; firstly, the relationship between the low
A and the F#(maj6
) but secondly and more importantly
the relationship between the C (min3
) and the F#(6
which is itself an augmented 4
. This is more important
because the 3
is the all-important descriptive interval;
any relationship with this note will be more acute.
#4 #5

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The same applies in the relationship between the min3
and the maj7
(G#). This chord
communicates vividly and dramatically because of the wealth of information and
harmonic dynamics available to the listener. The G# is maj 7
apart from the root but
also it lays an augmented 5
above the chords min3
. Add to this the usual Barry
propensity for open trombone voicing which emphasises the richness of the chords and
creates a crisp penetrative sound, and we have the sound John Barry is so famous for. The
next section of this track (below) contains some interesting and effective arranging.

Audio - Flying over Africa - 01.48


Tension between
the C and the
lower B
Tension between
the C and the
lower B
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


There are two seemingly innocuous aspects of the first few bars of Flying over Africa
which are extremely effective in making this piece sound as striking as it does. The first
is the descending 2
Violin line which cascades due to the downward arc but also due
to the off-beat rhythm. If the descending 2
violin had been on the beat it would not have
been as effective. This phrase is more obvious when it comes again an octave higher in
bar nine. Once again, as with many other pieces this book highlights, we see the
seemingly small decisions having such a good effect because, very slightly and almost
imperceptibly, they alter what we expect and cause momentary surprise. The second
event is the slight and almost unnoticed tension between the carried over C melody note
and the chord underneath (which is an Em, bars two and ten) - i.e. the clash between the
B notes and C note). The final piece (below) from Out of Africa is the main theme itself,
which once again has John Barrys fingerprints all over it. Firstly we have the rhythmic
interplay created by the off-beat phrases (highlighted *). Secondly the held high octave
string note of B creates slight tension in bar five/six and nine/ten when it becomes the 9

of the Am chord. From bar eleven (over a Gm chord) we hear an effective octave
descending line, the fourth note of which (the E) hits the 6
interval a distinctive and
colourful interval we see in other John Barry pieces, not least, as stated before, his music
for James Bond.

* * *
* *
Out of Africa main theme 00.00
* *

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


What makes the E note (bar twelve) even more effective is how it evolves from the 6

interval of the Gm chord to the 2
of the D chord; the real effectiveness in bars
twelve/thirteen and sixteen/seventeen lies in the chord shift and the intervallic shift of the
held note.


One landmark 80s film, similar to The Long Good Friday in terms of the distinct musical
approach, is Defence of the Realm, scored by Richard Harvey. The film tells the story, set
among the political tension of the 1980s Cold War era, of a reporter who stumbles on a
story linking a prominent MP to a KGB agent, which in turn leads him to discover a near
nuclear disaster at a UK American air base. The tagline of the movie was just how far
will a government go to hide the truth? and the air of apprehension, fear and paranoia
runs through the movie. Just like Monkmans score to The Long Good Friday Harveys
edgy score complemented the movie well, using a combination of synths and traditional
instrumentation. The transcription below is from 00.00.40 into the movie during the
opening credits. The main theme is established via a combination of synths, orchestral
instruments and various successful and communicative combinations of broken or
incomplete harmonies and extensions. When composers use broken harmonies (by which
I mean ordinary chords with one or more important elements missing) they can succeed
in creating a slightly uneasy harmonic feel. Taking a 3
or 5
out of a chord might seem
an ineffective thing to do but even the slightest change to harmony as we know it can
create tension.

The addition of extensions (with perhaps one of the primary intervals still missing) can
often be unnerving and disturbing. To take an important primary component out of a
chord effectively gives you an alternative version of that chord.
maj6. maj2 maj6. maj2
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


For example, if you think you know what kind of distinctive sound a maj7 chord makes,
take the 3
out of it. The remaining intervals are still there but their main relationship
was with the 3
; taking it out changes everything. The notes are still the same and their
intervallic relationship with the root note is still, intact, but the effect of the missing 3

radiates through the chord.

Cmaj7 (with 3
) Cmaj7 (without 3

The transcribed section below (fig.48) enters just after we see the title card Defence of
the Realm on the screen (accompanied by a dissonant chord). The music drifts into bar
one of the transcription, which offers an incomplete Eb chord with a 7
(Db) melody note
on the top stave. Although there is no betrayal of whether the chord is major or minor,
minor is slightly and obliquely hinted at by virtue of the Db melody note; this would be
found in a scale of Eb melodic minor but not in an Eb major scale. Harmony by innuendo
and suggestion is a powerful approach. The addition of the note in the melody is gently
suggestive of minor via the power of suggestion. The bareness of the supportive
harmonies are broken by the comparatively strange and brief F/C woodwind chord (bar
seven) which resolves back to the bare 5
and octave of the Eb (bar eight). Bar ten
contains two suspensions, the sus2 (F) and sus4 (Ab).

Right up until bars eleven and twelve the harmony has been a mix of broken harmonies
with added extensions and suspensions, offered through the textural prism of distinctive
and occasionally slightly ghostly 80s synth sounds. It is this specific combination which
creates a distinctly troubling and disconcerting vibe.

Movie: 00.00.40

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Harveys brilliantly ironic nod to Britishness via his reference of the Haydn Horn
progression in bars nineteen and twenty is inspired, as is the quirky, brief and disturbing
dissonance which follows in the last two beats of bar twenty, where the Ab melody note
) and the Gb (flat 10
) clashes with the major 3

Haydn horn

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The synth/string harmonies on the middle stave from beat three of bar twenty, right
through to the end of the transcription have their own journey, their own emotional
contour and sense of drama (transcribed separately below), as the chords pass through an
inversion, a diminished chord, a 7
chord, a slash chord, sus4, major and minor.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013




The history of music is the history of the world through music. Music is a product of its
time. If you look hard enough music tends to be littered with clues betraying the age it
was created. That said, film music, especially orchestral film music, could be considered
to be almost timeless; if you watched ET: The Extra Terrestrial, a film from thirty years
ago, what dates it is not the music. Thirty six years after Star Wars was made, it is not the
music that dates it; orchestral film music is generally speaking ageless and enduring.
Music composed for TV, however, is much more a product of its age and, one might say,
a victim of its age. Quite often if you play old TV themes, the music will take you back to
the era in which it was written. That is because the music is usually drawn from what was
culturally and stylistically popular at the time. There are other important distinctions
between television and film. Movies are scaled toward big images; television is a more
intimate experience. In movies the on-screen drama is a shared experience between the
movie and its captive audience. Distractions are few. In television the images are smaller
and TV shows suffer the disruption of ad breaks and a much smaller, less attentive
audience, some of whom might get up and leave the viewing during the show. Thus,
composers sometimes have the option to be more subtle in film than is possible in most

As TV drama budgets have grown some TV shows have become more filmic. Big budget
shows like Lost and 24 tend more toward a filmic approach in music, which sometimes
makes it more timeless, unique and less wedded to the age in which it was created. That
said, the time given to composers of TV shows is even less than that given to film
composers, with writers often expected to turn round an hours worth of TV music in a
week; there is little time for deep conceptualization or for composers to get all their
points across, so they are more wedded to stylistic, generic writing to achieve their point.
Also the scale of instrumentation and time given to production is generally inferior in TV
music. So despite a more filmic approach being encouraged, television will always be
television. Also, whereas film music has stayed reasonably loyal to the orchestra as the
main vehicle for musical expression, again, TV music is often a snapshot of our time.
This chapter will analyse the compositional styles and emotional impact of music from a
wide and diverse range of TV shows. The aim is to expose specific consistent stylistic
and compositional methods and to analyse and interpret how music communicates in TV.

Music Analysed: Black Beauty (Dennis King) Coronation Street (Eric Spear) The
Avengers (Laurie Johnson) Tomorrows World (1980s) (Paul Hart) Mr Benn (Don
Warren) Father Ted (Neil Hannon) The Simpsons (Danny Elfman)
The Life and Times of David Lloyd George (Ennio Morricone) The Sweeney (Harry
South) Tales of the Unexpected, Man in a Suitcase & Dr. Who (Ron Grainer) The
Persuaders (John Barry) Kojak (Billy Goldenberg) Ironside (Quincy Jones)
Chapter 8
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Starsky & Hutch (Tom Scott) The Streets of San Francisco (Pat Williams) The
Professionals (Laurie Johnson) Hill Street Blues (Mike Post) Harry Game (Ciarn
Brennan and Pl Brennan) Emmerdale Farm (Tony Hatch) The X Files (Mark Snow)
Soap (George Aliceson Tipton) Brookside (Dave Roylance) EastEnders (Simon May)
Bouquet of Barbed Wire (Dennis Farnon) Owen MD (Johnny Pearson) The Odd Couple
(Neil Hefti) Match of the Day (Barry Stoller) Dynasty (Bill Conti) Blakes 7(Dudley
Simpson) Thriller (Laurie Johnson) Keeping up Appearances (Nick Ingham) Red Dwarf
(Howard Goodall) Poirot (Christopher Gunning) ER (James Newton Howard) Zen
(Adrian Johnston)


The Life and Times of David Lloyd George was a political drama series broadcast in
1981. Arguably it was more famous for its evocative, haunting theme, which entered the
British pop charts and its cultural consciousness. Since then the theme has been used on
numerous productions. It has achieved the kind of following and longevity the show itself
never managed. As ever the most important aspect for us is how the music manages to
create and convey the right emotion. Below is an abbreviated transcription.

Audio - The Life and Times of David Lloyd George
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


There is more than a nod toward the recognisable harmonic characteristics of Baroque,
but beyond this obvious observation there are a couple of other characteristics which
make it distinctive and memorable. There are two interesting melodic points where the
melody line hits intervals which are crucial in articulating the emotional content of the
music. First of all the first melodic note of bar five and six states the A note (the
important and descriptive min3
and 7
respectively). The harmonic interaction between
the two A notes is notable due to their changing intervallic contexts.

What is also notable here is the A melody note over the Bm chord dropping to the D
melody note on beat two. This interval of a bare 5
would normally sound quite stark but
representing as it does the 7
leading to the min3
the melody displays emotion. The A
to D transition therefore sounds simultaneously both warm and striking. Also the tension
and release between the C#sus4 and C# chords is particularly poignant given that the sus4
chord lasts an entire bar before it resolves. Running through all the points mentioned is
the exquisite instrumentation (piano, harp and strings) which breathes life into the various

One of the most effective aspects of the first few bars of this piece is the cross-rhythmic
piano part (lower stave, fig.3), which plays six continuous straight crotchets per bar
underneath the other parts which play the more standard 12/8 oriented rhythms. Although
mathematically the six crotchets stack-up to the 12 quavers in each bar, they repeatedly
create a mesmerizing sense of unease. The top two staves (piano and harp) line up but
of the six crotchets in each bar on the bottom piano stave, only two line up (underneath
the first and third group of three quavers). Although these cross rhythms do not create an
uncomfortable listening experience they do very subtly and slightly skew our aural
perception. There are, effectively, two separately functioning rhythmic entities. One is
triplet-based and has real momentum and inertia, whereas the bottom stave cross-beat
piano part has an entrancing exquisite monotony.



How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Television as Patrons of Music

In the same way the Church was the biggest patron of music centuries ago, and illegal
drinking venues were the patrons of early Jazz, so TV and Film have become and still, to
a degree, remain the main commercial patrons of instrumental music. Composers of
many of the 1970s TV shows had studied music academically and had a thorough
knowledge of the essentials such as harmony, counterpoint, orchestration and arranging.
Although many of the themes were cheesy by todays standards, this was simply
because it mirrored the styles and approach of music popular at that time. Many of the
TV composers in the 1970s wrote copiously for library music companies and some of
them played with the leading big bands, groups and orchestras around at the time. The
biggest single stylistic influence in film music over its history has been the classical
tradition, but certainly one of the biggest influences in television music in the 60s and 70s
was jazz; many of the great TV composers were jazz musicians, composers and
arrangers. The excellent musical pedigree lots of them shared came to the fore in the
memorable themes and incidental music they created for many of the landmark shows of
the time. Music for the moving image is rationalised often not by how good the themes
sounded as music but what the function of the music was and how well it addressed and
served that function. The main prerequisites in TV were, and still are to an extent, that the
images and characters are brought instantly and vividly to mind by the music. Essentially
music functioned as a second way of remembering TV shows. Hearing the music would
trigger a memory of the characters, pictures, context and narrative. Back in the 1970s
musics function was also largely duplicative; music sounded exactly how you might
imagine it ought to sound for the scene and for the show. For this and other reasons many
of them passed into public consciousness. Today music is sometimes less obvious and
more oblique in its function but back then most things were on the nose.

One important reason thematic music was remembered was partly due to the fact that it
could be hummed or sung, and in some cases it could even be sung to the name of the
show. Many themes from the 1970s and 80s have remained unchanged over the years,
save for a few new arrangements; Dr Who being perhaps the most obvious example. But
also, who doesnt envisage Bodie and Doyle driving a Ford Capri through a plate glass
window on hearing the Professionals theme? Music heightened the drama and tension of
countless television shows, underscoring but essentially duplicating what was happening
on screen. Television companies went to large expense to employ large orchestras, jazz
orchestras and other ensembles to ensure the music was as effective as it could be. Music
budgets were in most cases and in real terms, higher forty years ago then they are now.
Composers, orchestrators, copyists and musicians were paid well for their services. The
advent and impact of technology over the past thirty years has led inevitably to the trend
of one person or only a few people being required to create music. Some have suggested
that because of this music has lost a lot of its cultural and aesthetic meaning, but this
could be seen as a simplistic and flawed argument based on a reluctance to change and
evolve. In financial terms it makes little sense nowadays for a production company to pay
for a large orchestra score when similar results can be gained with sample libraries.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Many of the television dramas and even documentaries are now lavish affairs which cost
many times more to produce than their 1970s counterparts, but the music budgets often
remain stubbornly low. The value people hold in music and the amount they are willing
to pay for it has reduced. It remains rare for large combinations of real instruments to be
used in many television shows, most of which tend to use samples instead, often to
emulate an orchestra. If you were to watch many TV documentaries, they appear almost
to have generated their own much-copied style of musical approach, one which is typified
by the stark, garish immediacy of the music, the cheapness of the sound and production,
and the duplicative nature of its function. Most science documentaries mimic games in
that they are accompanied by a loud cacophony of continuous music which often bares
scant resemblance to the subject or the film. Nature documentaries tend, on the whole, to
be accompanied by large, lavish and loud climactic orchestral music. The music for
many of the lavishly scored television dramas of the 70s which use real instruments has
an air of authenticity hard to achieve with the often sterile digital domain. That said,
sequencing and digital technology has enriched music insofar as more people have access
to composing. Composition is no longer a preserve of the chosen few. Technology has
democratized music and perhaps history will look kindly and record this as its biggest
cultural contribution. With all this in mind I would like to look at music from the
television show The Sweeney.


The Sweeney was a 1970s British television police drama focusing on two members of
the Flying Squad (aka Sweeney Todd), starring John Thaw and Dennis Waterman. It
was an enormously popular show which was broadcast during a period of considerable
upheaval and notoriety for the real life Flying Squad, during which they were accused of
corruption.The arrival of The Sweeney completely overhauled TV police drama. Gone
was the previously consensual cosy world of shows like Z Cars (once held up as an
exemplar of realism). Harry Souths piece speaks the name of the show in its melody
line. Its a very jazz-orientated piece, but not the lush international jazz orchestration in
films; more of a rough, rock-orientated smaller front-line feel.

Gtr / Synth
Gtr / Synth / Sax
Audio - The Sweeney opening title theme
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Apart from the rugged orchestration there are other harmonic signifiers that help this
piece function as the theme for The Sweeney: the consistent downward arc of the bass
line (aided by careful use of inversions) lends the piece a kind of separate dramatic
harmonic identity. These kinds of devices and approaches help give listeners almost an
alternate, simpler melody line which stretches the length of the phrase, unlike the
melody itself, which exists in small statements. In this case we have the obvious tune
but a separate, less obvious counter-melodic bass line with a separate, consistent identity.
Also the piece has what has often been called a bulletproof melody line; the line is bold,
obvious and unambiguous and would probably transport emotionally almost as well even
without the accompanying harmonies, such is its strength.

The theme traditionally came after an opening scene which lasted a couple of minutes.
The contrast between the tense ending of a scene, the brief silence and the high-octane
opening thematic statement worked brilliantly. The piece finishes on an incomplete non-
chord which leads effectively into the next scene. Also the swung quavers in the melody
and bass accompaniment lend the piece a stylish jazz feel. The melody is also bulletproof
in that it is clear, defined and can be transported onto another genre with ease, as we can
see from the end titles theme below.

Gone are the swung quavers and the intense jazz/rock feel. In comes the delicate
instrumentation of Cor Anglais and flugelhorn. This more sedate version perhaps allows
us to appreciate the contrary motion movement between melody and counterpoint
(highlighted). Also whats noteworthy is how, from bar ten, the countermelody is
prominent by being on top and the actual melody is underneath. Its worth remembering
that melodies and countermelodies are not real; they are simply classifications,

Audio - The Sweeney opening title theme Fig.4
Cor Anglais
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


In songwriting there is an obvious relationship and hierarchy between melody and
accompaniment where one is dominant. But in music to picture, whose primary
motivation is literary and whose function is to support a narrative, the boundaries are less
obvious; melody is switched and shared between different instruments.


The following three tracks are notable for many reasons, not least the fact that theyre
written by the same person. This is an important point because once again it underscores
the considerable dexterity and skillfulness required by TV composers. In an era when
film composers are famous for possessing a specific and immediately identifiable style or
voice anyone hearing the themes from Tales of the Unexpected, Man in a Suitcase and
Dr Who could be forgiven for presuming they came from three different composers. Ron
Grainers eclectic and fertile imagination was driven by a simple Chameleon-like ability
to adapt radically to different narrative or stylistic contexts. The style and approach of the
music Grainer composed was often governed by quick decision-making aided with a
fantastic knowledge of musical structure and pastiche, together with a meticulous ear for
detail. Given that most people imagine composing to be a slow, cumbersome, pedestrian
process governed by great pontification and conceptualization its refreshing to note that
most of the greatest film and TV music is written against a backdrop of incredibly tight
deadlines and ridiculous pressure. Indeed it is most probably the case that far from
ruining the creative process, the lack of time creates its own dynamic; stress can inspire

Tales of the Unexpected was a British television series from the late 1970s. Episodes
were initially based on short stories written by Roald Dahl which were usually sinister
and generally had a twist ending. Two of the main aspects of Tales of the Unexpected in
the opening title sequence were the James Bond imagery (a gun, playing cards and a
silhouetted woman dancing) and the instantly recognisable Carousel-like theme by Ron
Grainer, which simultaneously exuded the twin characteristics of childlike innocence and
menacing intrigue. How? How does it do this? How is the music so precise that it
conjures up such precise descriptions from people who hear it?

The piece possesses characteristics which create within listeners a mesmerizing and
hypnotic feeling; these are meanings it creates within us which make it instantly
memorable and make it such an emotional experience. What characteristics of a piece of
music make it a memorable, mesmerizing and hypnotic experience for listeners? As
always the answer lies in a combination of the sound and music; the sound lay in the
specific instrumentation, orchestration, textures and timbres and the music is dictated by
the specific choice of melody and harmony. The track features a simple drum kit, piano
and sax but there is an underlying synth which copies the sax melody. Also the piece uses
a combination of high steel pans, chimes and balalaika. This is one reason for the
mesmerizing Carousel feel.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The other reason for the exquisite and entrancing monotony, inevitably, is the physical
melodic line juxtaposed by the varying intervallic context of the notes. As highlighted
below (fig.5) the melodic line in bar five, six & seven is musically identical to bars nine,
ten & eleven but has a different intervallic context.

The melodic hit point in the piece is each time the Ab melody hits the 7
of the Bbm7
chord (circled). Alone this is nothing special but reacting as it does to the first Ab note
(the root/8
of the Ab chord) creates a different, less obvious, softer interpretation. The
intervallic context of the melody note in the sequence moves from 8
to 7
the note itself remains the same and the accompany chord underneath goes upwards from
Ab to Bbm. This specific harmonic dance of melodic reality and intervallic context
creates unique harmonic qualities which affect our responses.

We can try this by playing any major chord with the root/8
as a melody, then follow it
with the minor chord a tone up with the same melody note, which now functions as a 7

8 maj 7


8 maj 7

Note: Ab Ab

Interval (8) 7

Chord: Ab Bbm
Contrary motion
Audio Tales of the Unexpected
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The contrast between the two perspectives of the note tends to provoke a slightly dreamy
emotional response. There are other small and subtle harmonic factors which combine to
further create a slightly uneasy feel in the piece: the melody begins on the 9
accompanied by an Ab chord inverted over the Eb. This initial mild distortion of
expectation gives way to a normal Ab chord (root-positioned with Ab melody note)
before repeating the chord in bar 1. The resulting contrary motion between melody and
bass adds to the Carousel feel. In essence what the composer has done is take a chord and
change it in two ways, firstly by inverting it and secondly by adding the 9
by virtue of
the melody line.

From a simple, pure structural perspective the majority of the melody consists of a four
bar phrase (three dotted minims followed by three crotchets). This lends the piece another
of its mesmerizing Carousel-like features because although we see and hear the four-bar
phrase in 3/4 it also functions almost as an entire bar of a much slower paced 12/8.


The second piece by Ron Grainer is the highly successful theme to the 1967 British crime
drama series Man in a Suitcase (used more recently as the theme for the British show TGI
Friday starring celebrity Chris Evans. Here Grainer taps into his big band knowledge and
understanding of jazz orchestration and phraseology. This is an important example of TV
music for crime drama. Written around the same time as the Avengers theme, this was a
much more rugged and earthy approach and would set the tone for other crime dramas
whose music followed similar orchestrations, notably The Sweeney and The
Professionals. The impact was swift, immediate and pulsating, beginning with a dramatic
chromatic piano motif. If we look at the off-beat nature of the tune from bar three right
up until the chorus at bar twenty, we can see it is extremely rhythmical and anticipated,
which gives it a dramatic, panic-stricken air; in fact in bars three-six the melody is, in
effect, an answering phrase to the chord. Saxes bring in a counter melodic figure in bars
seven-ten but still in essence these are lines which italicise the rhythm section
instruments rather than dominate them. In addition Grainer uses the well-known #5 to
heighten the drama through harmonic tension. This is all delivered via a big band sound
with the Honky-tonk pub piano sound. This precise choice of sound bought into the
main characters working class image, as opposed to the sleek sophistication of The

Note the intensely anticipatory nature of the big-band sound leading up to the chorus (at
bar nineteen). This dramatic lead up delivers us expertly into the chorus, which is a
restatement of the opening motif but with full big band brass and sax section. That this
came from the pen of Ron Grainer is testament to the eclectic nature of his writing and
his ability to compose and arrange music which captures the shows perfectly. The
difference between this and Tales of the Unexpected couldnt be greater.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


DR WHO Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire

The triumph of sound over music

This third and final offering from Ron Grainer again underscores how varied and
multifaceted he was. He wrote the theme from Dr Who in collaboration with the BBC
Radiophonic Workshop. Grainer wrote the theme but it was Delia Derbyshire whose
realization of it made it one of the most distinctive, memorable and haunting pieces of
music in the history of television. Using technology new to the era she laboriously cut-up
and used tape recordings, utilized special effects and used sine-wave oscillators. Grainer
was amazed at the results and famously asked, Did I write that? when he heard it.

Audio Man in a Suitcase
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The BBC prevented Grainer from securing Derbyshire a co-composer credit and thus half
the royalties for reasons which effectively amounted to BBC protocol and petty
beaurocracy. Derbyshires spectacular use of sound over composition mirrored similar
experiments happening in mainstream pop at the time, where the sound was taking over
from the supposed art of music and song structure.

Try playing this transcription of Dr Who on a piano or any combination of real
instruments and youll quickly realise that this theme is a brilliant example of the triumph
of sound over music. The specific textures created by Derbyshires evocative and
wonderfully crafted sounds are absolutely pivotal to the success of this piece. That said,
some of the electronic sounds themselves create harmonies which affect the overall
complexion of the theme, which proves that ultimately sound and harmony are simply
two sides of the same coin.

Audio Dr Who theme
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



The Persuaders! is a 1971 action/adventure series, once referred to as the most
ambitious and most expensive of Sir Lew Grades international action adventure series.
Its two main actors were Roger Moore and Tony Curtis, famous British and American
actors of their generation. Moore would go on to play James Bond. Because of its exotic
European locations the show was popular worldwide and appealed to a wide and eclectic
demographic. The evocative and strikingly original music for the show, which spent time
in the UK Top 20, was progressive for its time. Its 3/4 waltz time and instrumentation
created a distinctly European feel. The harmonies and melodic line were instantly
recognisable and also helped create the European detective sound, along with the
instrumentation, which included a harpsichord and balalaika. Understandably perhaps
elements of the music possessed a Bond-feel.

If this piece conjures up a specific feel and even meaning via the way its harmonies are
interpreted by us, then how? Which chords or melodic lines give it a particular flavour?

Audio The Persuaders opening title theme
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The major 7
interval over a minor chord appears in the melody and also in the
counterpoint (boxed). How does this chord create a specific flavour? The chord
(transcribed below) transmits in two distinct ways. Firstly there is a dissonance created by
a combination of a minor chord and a major 7
. Each of the intervals independently is
perfectly normal, but the combination is odd; if we look at the chord in bar one, below,
we can see it is a polychord. The top half of the chord constitutes the root and major 3

of a B chord, whereas the bottom two notes represent the 1
and minor 3
of an Em

It is precisely the fact that the Em (maj7) transmits in several different ways that makes it
an odd chord. This is a classic Bond chord that John Barry used liberally in his
numerous 007 scores.

The add2 melodic flavour (circled in the transcription in fig.9) creates harmonic tension
which, combined with the instrumental textures, is extremely effective. The melody hits
crucial intervals: firstly it regularly hits the major 7
over the minor chord. Also the
melody encompasses a 6
and potentially odd maj7
interval (highlighted by a perforated
lined box). These are particularly effective because the intervals are quick (semiquaver to
dotted minim). The intervals effect is emphasized and italicized by the distinct

MR BENN Don Warren

We are told that childrens music is often more about the sound (the orchestration,
instrumental textures) than it is about the music. We are told that children dont respond
to subtle chord changes but they respond instead to obvious stimuli, such as comical
orchestration instruments that stick out. This is true to an extent but to believe that
kids dont respond to specific harmonies is misleading. Studies have proved that young
children respond more favorably to consonant harmony than dissonant harmony.
Within the chord there are several intervallic dynamics present.
The ones to watch out for, the ones which offer a specific flavour
and colour are between the bottom E and top D# (maj7
) and
between the G the min3
(descriptive interval) - and the D#
). Crucially the interval between these two is itself a #5,
an interval which evokes real drama.
If we now look at the figure to the right (which has
the original chord in bar one and a chord in bar two
featuring two notes extracted from the original
chord) we can see that, isolated, the G and D# (Eb)
work as a major 3
and root of an Eb chord..
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Even with no baggage in terms of what we expect even when listening as children we
are still, to a degree, programmed to expect normality and tradition. With this in mind we
now examine the theme music from the highly successful and long-running animation
series Mr Benn. Mr Benn is a character who wears a black suit and bowler hat. In each
episode he visits a fancy-dress costume shop where he is invited by the shopkeeper to try
on a particular outfit. Through a magic door at the back of the changing room he enters a
world appropriate to his costume, where he has an adventure (which usually contains a
suitable morally inclined message) before the shopkeeper reappears to lead him back to
the changing room, at which point the story comes to an end.

One of the best ways of listening to the development of TV music and how it seeps into
the public consciousness is through the prism of childrens television. Kids TV music
has to create emotions quickly and obviously. Because of this many kids TV themes are
rather caricatured. Allegedly when foreigners first heard the music to Postman Pat they
presumed the BBC was simply trying to be ironic, or that there was a hidden meaning.
There was no hidden meaning; the BBC meant it. Childrens TV music themes are often
performed by accomplished session musicians who would be also involved in high-
profile work. As an example, the musicians on some of the Mr Benn sessions included
legendary jazz organist Harry Stoneham and famous jazz trumpeter Kenny Wheeler.
When one listens to the theme from Mr Benn its probably one of the few times youll
hear a bass clarinet playing the melody. But the bass clarinet is key to the melody being
transmitted in a physical, textural way; in this context it possesses a comic quality few
other instruments have. But the bigger issues are the intervals contained in the theme.

Audio Mr Benn
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


As we can clearly see and hear, the Mr Benn theme tune trades heavily on the subversive
characteristics of the #4. The crucial hit points in bars one and two the longest and most
exposed notes are impaled on the #4 interval. This, together with the playful rhythmical
nature of the bass clarinet/xylophone melody, played three octaves apart, creates a very
specific environment. Once again we have the bulletproof melody line, e.g. a line which
communicates a specific harmonic identity without its accompanying harmonies. In this
particular example the accompanying chords are brief, offbeat and low in the mix; the
melody really is everything. Apart from the #4, when the theme modulates to Eb the
melody line hits the 7
hard the bar before (the Ab) to accentuate the move. The precise
characteristics of the #4 are dependent on surrounding contexts. In certain environments
the #4 can exude feelings of mysticism and intrigue, which is why it is so used in science
fiction film music. In some situations it can appear to be merely exciting and in certain
precise situations it can be comedic and childlike. Intervals themselves do not always
create a precise meaning; they normally require the addition of skillful environmental
treatment, such as instrumentation and orchestration.


Tomorrow's World was a program that showcased new developments in the world of
science and technology. The choice of music for this show has always been effective.
Producers tried to commission music which was edgy and exciting, to mirror the context
and narrative of the show. For many years the show opened with a brilliant modern jazz
piece written by legendary composer and musician Johnny Dankworth. His theme, an
apparent homage to the textured arrangements of the Miles Davis/Bill Evans era, worked
brilliantly in underscoring the shows progressive and technological context. The theme
was replaced by a piece written by Paul Hart, which is transcribed below.

This time, rather than go for something which was edgy and at the forefront of music,
they went for a piece which possessed distinct filmic qualities and characteristics. The
piece is less striking and innovative than the Dankworth piece but it appropriated many of
the popular filmic traits of the time which gave it a kind of science-fiction lite feel. As
with Mr Benn and other shows, the #4 is critical and crucial in relaying the mystique and
intrigue of technology. Its well-known science fiction qualities are being utilised.

Audio Tomorrows World theme
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



The Simpsons was the first successful animated program in American prime time since
the 1970s. Pundits had considered animated shows as only appropriate for children. They
also presumed animation unsuitable for prime-time television. The Simpsons changed all
that. The cultural and societal impact of the show has been far-reaching. The wonderfully
crafted incidental music is written mainly by Alf Clausen but the iconic theme tune is a
product of the fertile imagination of film score composer Danny Elfman. Below is a brief
transcription of the opening few bars of the distinctive theme, which transmits its
exuberant playful comedic characteristics effectively. In many ways the theme is a
deliberately tongue-in-cheek pastiche which appropriates the distinctive style of many
60s sit-com themes. As we can see, again, the power of the #4 is fundamental to the
success of this piece. Its involvement is crucial to the success of the piece in relaying the
comic characteristics of the show in a similar way to the theme from Mr Benn. Both use
the #4 as a central defining characteristic and also both use octave woodwind to articulate
the theme.

(#4) (#4)
(#4) (#4)
Audio The Simpsons theme
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


FATHER TED Neil Hannon

Another show whose theme music trades heavily on the potential comedic qualities of the
#4 is Father Ted, music by Neil Hannon. The hilarious show follows three Roman
Catholic priests on the fictitious Craggy Island, located off the west coast of Ireland.
The theme tune for the series was written and performed by Hannons band The Divine
Comedy. The band also contributed most of the shows original music, including My
Lovely Horse used in the episode Song for Europe. Below is an abbreviated
transcription of the theme. Once again note the crucial inclusion of the #4. The theme
tune is sixteen bars long; the #4 comes in at the end of the first 8 bars, a crucial structural
point linking the first and second parts of the theme. The #4 in this context highlights the
shows comedic, subversive, abstract and mysterious qualities.


Black Beauty was not an adaptation of the book by Anna Sewell, but a continuation
featuring new characters created by TV producer Ted Willis. The theme tune, Galloping
Home was written by Dennis King, one of the most talented composers of his age. This
is one of the most iconic and instantly recognisable television theme tunes in the world.
The rural characteristics are almost entirely products of instrumentation and
orchestration, particularly the use of French horn. Also the opening semiquaver string
phrasing and timpani accompaniment is closely associated rhythmically with the concept
of a galloping horse. The opening pictures of the show, accompanied by the semiquaver
strings, featured images of a galloping horse. The music, which was described as very
English and pastoral sounding, appealed to all ages, which was also part of its charm.

Audio Theme from Father Ted
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


When people remember the television series Black Beauty, what they remember firstly is
the music. Why? How and why does a piece of music so engage its listeners? The theme
transmits emotions which create feelings of strength, heroism and romance. One of the
best ways to analyse music is to ask yourself, how does it make you feel? Having
established the emotional feel or meaning the music creates within you, ask yourself,
how does it do it? What youre dingo is deciding which musical conventions, harmonic
tricks or other characteristics, do the job. Youre listening to the music and decoding how
and why it makes you feel a certain way. In a way youre doing what a composer does
but in reverse order; the composer structures the music to illicit general, and in some
cases, specific reactions from you.

Looking at the abbreviated transcription below, in which the power intervals (root-5
) and the evocative descriptive 3
interval are highlighted we can see how
different sections of the piece exist structurally, in relation to each other. The 5
is used in hundreds of films, perhaps notably Star Wars and Superman, to evoke drama,
strength, valour, fearlessness and courage. To exaggerate the use of bare 5
intervals and
the more descriptive romantic 3
interval, I have placed heart icons over the 3
and an
explosion clipart image to accompany the 5

Power, strength, drama Emotion, romance
Audio Theme from Black Beauty
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


In order for intervals to maximize their potential they have to be contextualised properly
rhythmically. In this context the first group of quavers (bar four) begins and ends with a
(this pattern is repeated in bar thirteen) whereas the much more powerful and
dynamic fifths have longer note values to accentuate their meaning and maximize their
impact. As we can see from the transcription the dramatic root-to-5
intervals come at
crucial points; chiefly at the beginning of phrases (bar three and bar twelve after the key


Coronation Street is a long-running British soap. It serves to illustrate the cultural
importance of TV in the past half-century and more specifically the use and function of
music in television. For many people TV replaced books, magazines and newspapers; for
many it was a form of cultural democratization. Coronation Street is still the prism
through which many people view the north. The theme and instrumentation of the
music reflects the northern working-class; the use of the Cornet and clarinet counterpoint
links it both to Brass Bands and Dance Bands of the 50s and 60s, as does the slightly
slow swing foxtrot rhythm, which was big in the 1950s dancehalls. The theme is
comforting and local. It is one of only a handful of themes which have lasted, relatively
untouched, for over half a century. Although it has been rerecorded over the years the
arrangement has never significantly changed.

Audio Theme from Coronation Street
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


We understand how the orchestration encapsulates the northern aspect of the show but
how do the chords, melody, counterpoint and voicing allude to this? The sounds are
nothing if what they play doesnt also suggest a northern feel. Each of the first two
phrases begins with maj7
, 7
and 6
chord sequence (highlighted with perforated
boxes). These are traditional sequences which to some degree speak of a past generation,
especially when contextualised with sounds from the 50s and 60s. Major7 chords create a
jazzy sound, as do softly voiced maj6
chords. The use of maj7, 7 and maj6 represent
several mini harmonic journeys within one short piece. Each of the first two 2-bar
sequences works alone so the piece can be easily distilled and remembered. You could
conceivably start listening at almost any part of the piece and still get it. The trombone
closed-style voicing and rhythmic articulation also encapsulates the same dance band
aesthetic. The players are pulling back on the beat significantly, resulting in a laid-back,
relaxed performance; again, this is symptomatic of the style and era alluded to.

THE AVENGERS Laurie Johnson

The theme from The Avengers is another one of a select few pieces which can be quickly
recognized; perhaps not as readily as Coronation Street but then The Avengers never had
the constant exposure of Coronation Street. The music and the orchestration are heavily
symptomatic of the lavish swinging 60s era. For its time the music was sophisticated,
stylish, classy and chic. The high strings, written in closed-part voicing, encapsulate the
rich sophistication found in the Bond scores of the era. The melody and instrumentation
in many ways reflects the glitzy sexual revolution of the 60s through music. In the same
way The Simpsons tapped into nostalgia in the 90s and Dallas & Dynasty tapped into the
greed of the 80s, The Avengers encapsulate the swinging 60s.

The distinctly decadent international sound is helped by the bluesy harpsichord riff which
runs throughout. Many theme tunes of the 60s and 70s used a wide variety of
instrumentation to achieve a certain aesthetic. We looked earlier at The Persuaders
theme, which made brilliant use of the harpsichord. The Avengers was written by the
consummately talented master of character and style, Laurie Johnson, who would go on
to create, amongst others, the theme from The Professionals. There is a playful
exuberance which runs through many of his themes, which has helped them become part
of the fabric of 60s, 70s and 80s pop culture. Like The Sweeney and others, part of the
theme (the intro, in fact) can be sung to the name of the show. The Avengers spanned the
post-war austerity and gloom of the early 60s right through to the psychedelic
transatlantic exuberance of the late 60s. TV shows which, unlike one-off films, run for a
number of years can represent a fairly accurate reflection of societal change.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


One of the most notable aspects of this theme is that the melody is the chords. Although
listeners might rationalise the top note of the chord as the melody, it is only so recognised
and iconic because of the grouping it belongs to. This classic lush string writing, where
the top note is duplicated at the bottom of the voicing, instantly communicates the type of
chord it is but also gives it strength and character. The instrumentation embodies the
glitzy culture 60s culture and is very Bond-like; trumpets, low brass and lush strings. The
chords are jazz-orientated and the potentially dissonant passing chord of A/C is not heard
as dissonant because of the context (e.g. its briefness, what comes before it and after it
and the 60s slide up to the chord). Instead it is heard as stimulating, suggestive and

Audio Theme from The Avengers
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Other subtle harmonic signifiers are the various slight dissonances which subvert the
harmonic flavour, seen below (fig. 19, boxed) in a continuation of the theme from fig 18:
firstly we have the B natural against the C7 chord, then E against a Bb/C chord and the A
against the Ab/C chord

These subtle harmonic distortions and nuances, small though they are, juxtaposed by the
soft orchestration, give the piece subtle but real distinction. The descending harp line in
bar sixteen of the transcription is particularly effective but played in isolation is simply an
arpegiated Db chord. What gives it its effectiveness is the hangover of the G bass from
the previous bar; thus the effect is created not by the one particular bar but by the
memory of what happened in the bar before.

Audio Theme from The Avengers (cont.) 00.23








7 #11
Fig.20 features bar eight of fig.19; we see
the harmony is horizontal, not vertical.
Because of this the effect is slightly more
gradual and cumulative. The top row of
intervals contextualises the notes as
belonging to a Db chord but the bottom
row of intervals placed underneath the
notes is written in context of a G chord.
The complexity and colour of the intervals
reflects how we hear them.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This is an important observation; it shows how music is rationalised cumulatively; it is
the sum of its parts, not just something we can contextualise and rationalise in terms of
one bar in isolation. Its delivery is linear but the effect is cumulative. If we were to fuse
together the notes in fig.20 over a G bass we would suggest, rather than state, the chord
of G . The transcription below, abbreviating the sequence from one to six of fig.19
shows the drama of the chords: the movement of the chords is downwards whilst the bass
note remains on C. But what the C constitutes as an interval rises creating an insatiable
feeling of contracting harmony which in turn causes a kind of inexorable inevitability.

American composer Mike Post said I use pedal points a lot, adding that they were one
of the three or four great tricks of all time.


The music for Hill Street Blues was laidback and understated; unassuming and
unobtrusive. The show itself was a major departure from the type of cop shows that had
gone before. Gone were the heroes and anecdotal stereotypes. Some of the camera action
was rapid and handheld. In fact it was the first mainstream TV drama to use handheld
cameras; something that lent the show a documentary-style gritty realism. Each episode
featured a number of intertwined storylines. Much was made of the conflicts between the
work lives and private lives of the individual characters. The show dealt with real-life
issues much more than previous shows in the TV Cop genre.

Bass movement
Bass interval
Chord movement
Audio Theme from Hill Street Blues

The Avengers
depends heavily
on the concept of
the consistent
pedal note. The
dramatic effect of
pedal notes can
be heard on
hundreds of TV
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The key question is, how does the style of the music in terms of harmony, melody and
instrumentation, effect and engage with the narrative of the show? Why and how do we
associate the show with the music? The pedal note is prominent throughout. Few bars
have entirely root-position chords; the piece is built around either slash chords or
inversions. The first few bars are entirely worked around the pedal note.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The transition and interplay throughout the piece centres around the concept of the right-
hand chord movement whilst the left hand remains on one note. The exchanges are not
dissonant but contain soft harmonic tensions. This is delivered through the soft textures
of piano, Larry Carltons distinctive guitar plus bass and drums with a small string
section also. The pushed rhythmical colour is created by a sequence which contains a
dotted quaver followed by a semiquaver tied to a dotted minim. Were it not for this
rhythmical sequence the slash chords and pedal notes would not have the same effect.
One works with the other. They work together to deliver the context. This is the hallmark
of good writing; different elements of the compositional process work together because
they are normally conceived together. From bar thirteen to fifteen inversions play a
crucial role in building drama in this piece by virtue of the ascending bass line, which
creates emotion and a sense of growing, impending momentum.

KOJAK Billy Goldenberg

Billy Goldbergs iconic theme tune to this successful American TV detective show makes
expert use of the pedal note too, in the opening of the theme; especially the penultimate
bar of the phrase, which displays considerable but flirting dissonance. The modern jazz
orchestration, dissonances and pedal notes which act as a harmonic gelling agent for the
phrase, combine to create a memorable intro. The intro creates a specific, identifiable and
definable harmonic flavour which is exciting, unsettling and dramatic. These types and
styles of themes were the hallmark of 70s American cop shows.

IRONSIDE Quincy Jones

The jazz orchestra and dissonance were regular features in a host of successful detective
dramas in the 70s. The opening theme for Ironside was written by Quincy Jones and was
one of the first synthesizer-based television theme tunes. In the transcription below we
can see how the composer has used dissonance to convey the urgency and gritty drama of
the show. The piercing trumpets and soft horn counterpoint works well in articulating the
dissonance. There is subtle harmonic tension on bar two of the excerpt between the top
trumpet on Eb (min 3
) and the D (2
). In the same bar we have the (Gb) flattened 5

horn note. This trend of added 2
and flattened 5
continues throughout with the trumpet
melody stating the 2
on bar four and the flattened 5
appearing in bars four, five and

Audio Theme from Kojak Fig.23
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


If we look closely at the rhythmical elements of melody and counter melody we can see a
consistency and similarity (highlight) in the direction of the movement


Starsky & Hutch was a successful American cop thriller television series. The hugely
successful theme tune Gotcha was composed by iconic jazz saxophonist and composer
Tom Scott. It capitalized on the success of jazz-funk and its energy and rhythmic vitality
captured the time and narrative of the show perfectly. The show was cool and so was
the music. Nowadays the show seems dated and so does the music, because it is so much
a product of its time. Music from shows of this era locked into the spirit of the time just
as much as they did the narrative.

Audio - Starsky & Hutch theme 0.30

Audio Theme from Ironside Fig.24
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Funk depends on syncopation; specifically it relies on the interplay between syncopation
and what we might call non-syncopation (on the beat and in front / behind the beat). If we
look at the bass line in the opening 12 bars of fig.25 (boxed) it is entirely pushed. This is
one of the distinctive hallmarks of Funk. However, if we look at the sax part, ( ) one of
the specific identifiable and memorable points is that the phrase arrives on the beat for
nearly the entirety of bar one. It is the interplay between syncopation and non-
syncopation that creates the groove. You cant have one without the other. The ordered
way syncopation and non-syncopation thread together is something that defines Funk and
it is the central to the success of this theme. Even with Jazz-Funk fusion there is a plan,
an order, something we can rationalise, understand and emulate. The Alto sax line is
strengthened and exaggerated by the clever use of parallel 4
intervals between it and the
line underneath. This gives the section a clinical, mechanical, square, chromatic edge.


Truly one of the original American cop shows, this show revolved around two cops and
centred around crime in San Francisco area. In keeping with almost every cop show
theme tune from the 70s, the music encapsulated elements of progressive jazz and rock,
fused together in a way which brought originality and urgency to the TV cop genre. Jazz,
Blues, Rock and Funk were fused together in the theme from The Streets of San

From an instrumental perspective the Jazz-Funk aspect is
immersed in the rhythm section, distinctive percussive
piano, synth and Tom Scotts Alto sax.

From a rhythmical perspective there are interesting
characteristics which help us identify how Funk works.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The stabbing bass (on bass guitar, baritone sax and bass trombone) displays two
important points: firstly the syncopated nature of the second and third note is implicit of
the Funk element; secondly it shows attention to detail when it comes to overall
architecture and placement. The bass and harpsichord lines are effective phrases but the
reason they sound great is because of where they sit in relation to their counterpart. The
two phrases are the introductory tune; without the bass motif the harpsichord line would
be rhythmically lost. The harpsichord line is delivered in a rhythmically cross-beat,
anticipatory way which lends it a tremendous sense of urgency. But it needs the initial
on the nose bass figure in order for it to work. In bar six to the harpsichord Bluesy
phrase is delivered over two-bar time scale; from bar seven to eight the phrase is shorter
before returning to the initial two-bar phrase in bar nine to introduce the main theme at
bar eleven.

The intro therefore is a ten-bar phrase, which, being a little odd, injects more urgency into
the phrase and the inexorable inevitability of the theme which follows

Audio - Theme from The Streets of San Francisco

1 m3 #4 5 #4 4 #4 4 m3
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



The change to double-time swing at bar fifteen is an excellent piece of Big Band jazz
writing; the horns / melophoniums are playing a cross-rhythmical anticipated line which
is harmonically as diverse as it is rhythmically.

As we can see from the isolated example transcribed in fig.27, we see the horns /
melophoniums as quavers grouped in 2s and 4s. However, we feel them is in groups of
3, which creates a wonderful anticipated pushed feel, added to by the trumpets, whose
second anticipated chord falls on 2
beat of bar two.

The effective but brief clash between
the 5
and #4 is probably the most
memorable dissonance in the piece,
and again it displays the Jazz
5 #4 4
Double time
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



The Professionals was created by TV drama legend Brian Clemens, one of the driving
forces behind The Avengers, whose composer, Laurie Johnson, was asked to provide a
theme for the new venture. The show featured three main characters; Bodie, Doyle and
Cowley and centred round the activities of government department CI5 (Criminal
Intelligence 5).

Just like other iconic TV themes, The Professionals was a product of its time and its
culture. Arriving in 1977 it encompassed elements of 70s pop music, including Disco.
The music is perhaps notable for two other things; firstly although it had Disco
characteristics (wah-wah guitar, high hat 16s) it also added blue notes into the melody
line. Also there were no accompanying chords for the most famous section of the piece
(fig.27, above). The piece was entirely dependent on the archetypal bulletproof melody
line e.g. one which was strong, simple and suggestive of supportive chords which
didnt need to be stated because they were inferred.


The crunchy dissonance of the 2
, 3
& 5

Audio Theme from The Professionals Fig.28
We see and read the horns as
quavers grouped in 2s and 4s but
(because the high trumpets accent
and italicise specific beats) we
feel and hear the horns in
groups of 3

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


From a rhythmical perspective the piece is reliant on syncopation; arguably the most
crucial notes are the third ones in bars one and four, which are syncopated.

HARRYS GAME Ciarn Brennan and Pl Brennan

Harry's Game was a British television drama made by Yorkshire Television in 1982. It is
based on a book by TV journalist-turned thriller writer Gerald Seymour, which was
published in 1975. The TV series wasnt an enormous success but the music lived on and
has been used on numerous projects. It was written by the main composers from the vocal
group Clannad, which featured the then unknown Enya. The music has been used in
movies too; most notably Patriot Games. In addition, and more recently, it has been
sampled and used in dance music (Chicane Saltwater).

Again, many people remember the music before they remember the film that it was
written for. Why? What sounds, textures, harmony, melody, orchestration and voicings
are instrumental in making this music sound so evocative and emotive? From a sound
context the mixture of the warm 70s analogue synth sounds filling the bottom register,
together with the atmospheric textural qualities of the voices is crucial.
Audio Theme from Harrys Game Fig.29
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


One cannot imagine this music being played by any other instruments such is the degree
to which the sound matches the music. Play these harmonies on a piano and they lose
most of their meaning. This of course is not to deny the power of harmony and voicing,
without which the music would not exist in the first place. The solo voice section right at
the beginning is effective to be sure, but only in contrast to what comes on bar seven.
Music is built on a series of actions and reactions. Listening is a reactionary pursuit. All
roads in this piece lead either to or from bars seven to ten. This is the section of the piece
that comes again and again and to which people gravitate when listening. If a few
seconds of this song is used for a film or other project such as dance music, it will be bars
seven to ten. Everything is heard in context of this short section. In terms of analysis the
first thing is to look at is the subtle difference in voicing between the synth and vocals.
The subtly different voicings and inversions mean that both sounds dont occupy exactly
the same harmonic and sonic territory all the time, which means their various textural
qualities still penetrate individually. The sounds are similar but not identical,
complimentary but not indistinguishable.

Given that bars seven-ten are the song its interesting to note that, in all probability, bar
eight (boxed) is the epicenter of this section. It displays the most extravagant harmonies
and is the longest and most exposed chord; vocals state an inverted major chord with an
added 9
whilst the synth plays a low-voiced min7. The two chords are similar versions
of each other and work beautifully together. The top B vocal note represents the highest
note in this small section. The top vocal line following the long B, are B, A and G#. This
maneuver has inherent warmth because it ends on the major 3
of the E chord. The vocal
hasnt hit the major 3
up until that point.

This might seem like spectacularly indulgent analysis but these are the reasons music
manage to create a sense of emotion and meaning. We all respond in different ways to
music but there are inherent similarities in the way we all react to certain things and the
way we experience some elements of music. To understand these is to understand how
music communicates.
Root Root 1
inv Root

Root 1
inv Root 2
inv 2
inv Root 1
inv Root
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



The original theme was beautifully and expertly arranged to capitalize on the rural feel of
the music. Unfortunately various reinterpretations over the years have brutalised the
original theme to the point where essentially they represent different experiences. Music
is a product of its sound and what it is e.g. the music itself. The theme from Emmerdale
Farm (later to become simply Emmerdale) has been rearranged to the point where the
original intricacies and nuances which defined the music have been all-but lost. The show
is a popular and critically acclaimed long-running British soap drama broadcast since
1972. It is set in a fictional village in West Yorkshire, England. Music for the show was
written by prolific composer Tony Hatch. Key to the success of the music is the way it
reflects the rural nature of the show. How does it do this? Once again its a combination
of sound and music. The rural instrumentation lay in the use of strings, piano and oboe
as the lead instrument. This accords the piece a Pastoral air. The gentle lilting pedestrian
nature of the orchestration also helps. But if this is the case, what gives the piece its
dramatic edge? This is, after all, a drama, not a farming documentary. Tony Hatch
carefully weaves a collection of lines and contours that hit specific intervals which have
subtle but definite characteristics. A surface level analysis reveals a two-bar motif which
basically drops a tone each time, excepting a couple of note changes. The oboe melody
effectively takes off where the distinctive arpegiated piano intro leaves off at the end of
bar one. On beat three of bar two the accompanying chords raise to a 1
inversion, which
they do again in bar four. This heightens the drama.

Audio - Original theme from Emmerdale Farm

However, a more thorough analysis reveals that the theme features some unconventional

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Over a Dm chord (bar two) the lead line settles for the longest amount of time on the 4th
(the G). It could be argued that this is not conventional and represents one of the
ingredients which create a slight and almost imperceptible drama. Then over a C chord
(in bar four) the melody settles briefly on the 4th again, which this time is the note of F.
This is particularly interesting because it is not a sus4 but an add4; the 3
exists in the
accompaniment. This is theoretically the most dissonant aspect but shrouded as it is in
cotton-wool orchestration, this slight and brief ambiguity adds to the overall drama and
romance of the music without creating real dissonance.

The 4
appears again in bar six as an Eb. This great chord change from a root positioned
Bb to a 2
inversion D chord is exquisite, more so because the Eb melody line bleeds
over into the D chord, functioning eventually as a romantic b9. The descending bass line
(root of the Bb down a semitone to the A of the D chord) works well too, creating its own
journey. The bar after each statement of a 4
the melody line resolves to a major 3
highlight and consolidate the romance of the theme. So not only is there rhythmical
consistency in the melody; there is also harmonic consistency; the 4ths are highlighted
below by circles and connecting lines. The equally prominent major 3rds are highlighted
by triangles and perforated connecting lines.

The arpegiated piano intro is dramatic and provoking, bleeding into the melody itself in
bar two. Indeed the arpegiated line works in a similar way to the drums at the beginning
of EastEnders in that it functions as an ear-catching sonic logo. Whenever you dig deep
into a theme or a song that has captured the imagination and attention of millions of
people, there is always something there which you wouldnt expect. It is usually this that
gives the piece distinction. This is not to say that something that gives a piece specific
distinction is always odd or weird or off the page. It could merely be a particular group
of intervals used in certain way; it might be slightly odd intervals juxtaposed by soft
orchestration and pedestrian delivery, which is essentially one of the endearing aspects of

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


As I said earlier various re-arrangements and re-imaginings of this theme have been
commissioned over the years, so much so that it has lost much of its initial impact.
Some of the internal harmonies and counterpoint have been lost to history in the remakes,
as has the distinctive Pastoral orchestration. Worse still newer versions have increased in
speed. Diversely different figures in music, Bob Marley and Beethoven, both said that
music dictates its own speed, meaning that there is an ideal, almost natural equilibrium
in music a speed at which a piece will work and sit. This is usually the speed it has
been conceived at. The arpegiated piano intro is one aspect which has been retained in the
newer versions.


The X-Files is an American science fiction television series created by screenwriter Chris
Carter. Seen as a defining series of its era, The X-Files tapped into popular culture and on
a different level to a general public mistrust of governments and large institutions. It was
perhaps the ultimate conspiracy theory TV drama, the central tenant of which was the
crusade to uncover the existence of Alien life. Mark Snow composed the music for all the
X-Files television series and films and has been nominated with over twenty awards and
nominations. Why? This music is perhaps one of the most widely recognised television
themes of the 1990s. It is utterly distinctive and instantly recognised. What aspects of the
music make it so potent?

Audio The X Files theme

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Snow created some arpeggios through an echo device. A melody line was quickly
generated, whistled by Snows wife and doubled up with the whistling Joe sound patch
from the Ensoniq Proteus synth module. The resulting piece of music, received at first
with great uncertainty at Fox, became iconic and one of the key selling points of the
show. Why? Melody is how we hear music; it is how we engage on a peripheral level.
But what we listen to, what affects us deeply, is often something were not aware of,
cant rationalise and therefore presume isnt important. With this in mind forget the
whistling melody, effective though it is. Counterpoint is everything in this theme. Lets
look at the arpegiated sections below. The reoccurring counterpoint melodic pattern is a
classic example of the effectiveness of horizontal harmony. It is delivered in a linear
sequential way but we listen to the cumulative effect the implied chord.

To the left we have what the sequence would
look like if the top interval of the arpeggio was
the octave. Its dull, traditional-sounding and

The major 7
on top of the minor arpeggio is
arguably too jarring; too dissonant for thematic
material. It overstates the case.

The implied m7 chord is too loose, jazzy and

The maj6
in context of a minor arpeggio is
perhaps to too filmic and overcooked.

The min6 does something different - it exists in
the middle of the extremes. There is a dissonance
at the top between the 5
and minor 6
but it is
not extreme and grating. The semitone between
the 5
and m6
sounds strange and, given the
texture of the sound, almost dreamlike.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


It is faintly discomforting, which works to create suspense and intrigue. These two
intervals would normally not be found occupying the same chord. If they were it would
normally create rather obvious tension. If, however, they appear side by side in quick
succession, a slightly different context and dynamic has been forged. You have gotten
inside the cracks of harmony. The great thing about how arpegiated horizontal harmony
functions is that its effects are graduated, subtle and understated; inferred rather than
stated. Normally all the notes in a chord are stated at the same time. However, ask
yourself which bar below (fig.35) you think works.

Obvious Less obvious and more subtle


When creating music for comedy TV shows composers are usually attempting to italicize
and exaggerate the comedic elements or are instead playing it straight; juxtaposing the
visual and narrative comedy by writing music which plays the drama and ignores the
comedy. There is obvious comic potential in certain instrumental characteristics. For
example, earlier we looked at Mr Benn, which makes excellent use of the Bass Clarinet.
Also some instruments assume a comedic quality when used out of their natural
environment. Thus it is the context which is funny, not the instrument per se.

There are some harmonic sequences, characteristics or situations which display natural
comic potential because their oddness is more quirky than unsettling. In the next few
examples we will look at instances where the harmony, melody and/or instrumentation
have created comic effect and we will analyse why and how this is achieved.

SOAP George Aliceson Tipton

Soap was an American sitcom, created as a parody of daytime soap operas, presented as a
weekly half-hour prime time comedy. Openly controversial and addressing a number of
taboo subjects, it poked fun at the whole Soap Opera genre but played it straight. The
music wasnt overtly comic from an instrumental perspective but with the chord
sequences created a kind of playful sardonic humour. How can harmony do this?

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Seen in the correct harmonic environment with Bb as the key centre, below (fig.37) we
can see the chord possibilities in this key. As described in much greater detail in the
chapter entitled Music Theory in Action, the perforated circle contains the usual
suspects; the chords usually found in the majority of music relative to the key centre.
Chords outside the perforated circle to the left or right represent those which work in a
less obvious way.

With this in mind, look again at the chord sequence in the theme from Soap. The first
chord change from Bb to G takes the song outside its key centre. This in itself is not odd
or particularly noteworthy, except that this chord change is the first one in a cyclical
series (the whole sequence is Bb, G7, C7, F7 - Bb) which delivers the chords in a seesaw
motion, (a 4
apart each time) as it travels back to the centre chord.

G C F Bb Eb Ab Db

Em Am Dm Gm Cm Fm Bbm
Audio - Theme from Soap
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


There is a light-hearted unavoidable inevitability to the sequence. It is a colourful and
unsubtle sequence but one which finds its way into jazz, blues and Gospel music. The
semitone movements (highlighted in the perforated boxes) capitalise on the jazzy / bluesy

RED DWARF Howard Goodall

If we look at Howard Goodalls theme to Red Dwarf, below, the relationship and effect
of the C to A7 (via Gm/Bb) has a similar effect to the Bb G sequence in Soap.

Audio Theme from Red Dwarf


The following sequence is from British comedy Keeping up Appearances. The show
centres round social-climbing snob Hyacinth Bucket (who insists her surname is
pronounced Bouquet). Bucket is an insufferable name-dropping bragger who likes to
pretend she is better than everyone else. Over and above the obvious slightly comic
woodwind (including the ascending bassoon line at the start) and the jaunty rhythmic
nature of the melody, harmony and counterpoint, are there any other comic signifiers in
this piece, part of which is transcribed below?

Audio Theme from Keeping up Appearances

Audio Theme from Keeping up Appearances Fig.39
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Think back to the areas where we have discussed how the denial of expectation affects
the listener. We have previously looked at this concept in connection with dramatic music
for big films, but one of the ways comic music communicates is by replacing something
we expected with something we didnt; catching us unaware. You might ask how can
replacing something with something less expected work well in straight drama and TV
comedy? The answer lies in the overall context in which the denial of expectation is
delivered. Music that might be somber and heavily textured which suddenly does
something odd or abstract will create surprise. Whereas if we have something jaunty and
traditional and very British, which suddenly does something a little out of harmonic
character, the surprise we experience will be different; the context will make it lighter,
more open to comedic interpretation.

Consider the piece below, which is a transcription of what the Keeping up Appearances
theme might have been like if the composer was playing it straight. If the composer had
been trying to evoke authentic pomp and ceremony and not illicit irony or comic effect,
this is how he might have written it. The delicate quaver melody is not interrupted by a
2/4 bar. Also, other than the passing chords, the harmonic structure is rooted to the C


The actual theme, below, is skewed in the third bar of the melody by the chord of G7 (made
more obvious by the prominent B note*) and by the fact that most of the quaver woodwind
parts dont correspond to the G chord underneath. It is the harmonies in this bar which
illicit some of the comedic effect of the piece because they represent a skewed, almost silly
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



The Odd Couple was a film and TV comedy based upon the play of the same name
written by Neil Simon. Felix and Oscar are two divorced men with opposing lifestyles
who live together in an apartment. The theme is a curious melancholic mix of humour
and sad resignation, which is a spectacular success because thats an exact copy of the
Odd Couple narrative. But how does music achieve this? Can music really create within
listeners feelings such as sad resignation?

Audi The Odd Couple theme

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


First lets look at the light-hearted elements, which are essentially created by the playful,
jaunty animated theme, played in octaves the first time round and playing a 4
apart the
second time round. The dotted quaver/semiquaver rhythm of the melody is easily
digestible, creating a happy, bouncy feel. Bars eleven, thirteen and fifteen have the
gorgeous empty beat at the beginning. I say gorgeous because a piece like this proves the
old notion that empty space is music if it exists in a musical context. This is probably the
best example out there of an empty beat being so poignant and important (the other one
might be the end of the iconic brass fill in Rosanna by the band Toto). On bar eleven /
thirteen / fifteen the first beat is empty with the emphasis on the second beat; this is
made more effective by the fact that the preceding phrase leaves nearly two bars melody-
free prior to the empty beat thus making it more pronounced and exquisite. Looking
toward the harmonic accompaniment, below, we observe what may account for the
melancholic poignancy of the harmonies. The Fm7 to Bb9 chords (bars three to ten) lay a
apart but in the specific tight sax voicing of bars one-eight, only one note physically

What is without doubt is that the Bb9 is an extension heavy chord; it has a higher than
normal number of extensions in ratio to primary intervals. When extensions begin to
outnumber primary intervals chords can sometimes lose tiny elements of their basic
identity which can create a slightly entrancing and absorbing sound.

Most of the five notes of each chord do not move physically but move in terms of what
we perceive to be their intervallic context. On surface level we hear static notes which
appear to work as two completely different chords. This sometimes creates a slightly
mesmerizing feeling. The Bb9 is, effectively, in terms of voicing at least, simply an Fm6
over a Bb bass played by the bass guitar. So in essence we can hear the Bb9 as a Bb9 or
an Fm6, which means it slightly blurs the usual harmonic certainties which pervade

Fig.44 shows the intervals
belonging to a Bb9 chord,
whereas the self-same notes
in fig.45 now belong to an
Fm6 chord.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Fig.46 shows how the intervals in the chord change of Fm7 to Bb9 evolve independently
of the notes themselves, most of which remain physically static.

Similar movements happen in the second half of the piece although the chords are more
varied this time. Bar nine (of fig.42) enjoys some spectacularly effective voicings with
minimal movement; although the chord and intervallic qualities of the notes change
significantly, the notes are absolutely static. In other words, what forces the intervallic
context of the notes to change is the bass underneath that moves from Ab to Db.

The sound The note movement The interval movement

Ab (3
) to Ab (7
F (root) to Ab (5

C (5
) to Ab (9
Ab (3
) to Ab (7








F (13
) to F (b10
C (3
) to C (7
Gb (7
) to F# (3


The contours underneath displays the notes as
intervals relative to the chord the chord
The contours underneath displays the
individual note movement from the saxes
during the Fm7 Bb9 manoeuvre




F (13
) to F (b10
C (3
) to C (7
Gb (7
) to F# (3






How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


BROOKSIDE Dave Roylance

Brookside became notable for its tackling of realistic, controversial and socially
challenging storylines and was most popular in the 1980s and the early 1990s. It is
especially well-known for broadcasting the first pre-watershed lesbian kiss on British
mainstream TV, as well as a domestic abuse storyline resulting in the abuser being
murdered an buried under the patio. The theme music was dramatic and powerful. The
harmonised melodic figure in particular carried the main thrust of the musical drama by
implying Ab and Gb chords over an Ab chord in the first two bars. This brief, almost
imperceptible tension nevertheless creates a real identity. The same characteristic is used
in reverse in bars five and six, where the Ab is implied by the harmonised melody, this
time over a Gb chord. The overarching net harmonic result is a slight blurring of Ab and
Gb chords.

Audio Theme from Brookside

If ever we needed proof that TV music is a product of its time we can see the uncanny
likeness between Roylances theme and a Jean Michelle Jarres tune from his
internationally famous Equinox album. I do not for a moment suggest plagiarism, but I do
suggest influence in order to draw on dramatic instrumental popular music of the time.

Audio Equinox (part five)

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



EastEnders is a long-running British television soap which began in 1985. It has always
drawn millions of viewers and is one of the most watched shows in the UK. Storylines
chronicle the domestic and professional antics of people who live in a fictitious Albert
Square, in the equally fictitious London Borough of Walford. The theme tune is heavily
based on a synth / piano melody with percussion elements too. A 2008 poll by the PRS
said the theme was one of the most recognised tunes in Britain, beating the National
Anthem. It was nominated for an Ivor Novello Award in 1985 for Best TV Theme.

Audio EastEnders theme

Easily the most distinctive elements are the famous drums in the bar before the melody
starts. These are practically iconic and have become immersed into popular culture.
Similar but more dramatic, the function of the drums is to prepare the listener for the
tune in the same way the arpegiated piano prepared listeners for Emmerdale Farm. The
drums are dramatic obviously because of their sound but also for another reason: the pace
quickens through the bar the first two notes are worth a 1 quavers, the next three are
worth a quaver each and the last four notes are semiquavers. The size the notes get
progressively less as the bar progresses (see fig.51).

Many commentators have derided the theme for its simplicity, as if simplicity is
demeaning or in some way not worthy. But dont be fooled: this piece comes from the
pen of one of Britains foremost composers, Simon May, for whom there are no
accidents, no mistakes and no coincidences. Everything is there for a reason.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The melody itself is stark, scalic and ascending which means it communicates instantly.
Audience perception and rationalisation is instantaneous. However, if the piece remained
this simple throughout it would not sustain peoples interest or work as a musical mirror
for the visual drama. The melody contains two 9
intervals in bar five. This harmonic
element acts to soften the melody up, shave the edges off and make it more appealing.
The major 7
in bar 9 does the same job, creating an almost relaxed feel. The final piece
of the dramatic jigsaw that makes the piece exciting is the inversions ( ) which work to
allow a distinctive steppingstone-like dramatic ascending bass line. There is nothing quite
like an ascending bass line to add drama. It gives the bass its own narrative function; its
own journey. Its almost like an alternative melodic arc which fits under the actual

THRILLER Laurie Johnson

An important British television drama from the 1970s was Thriller. Stories were usually
set in the affluent English home counties and most episodes featured at least one
American character so as to appeal to the American market. The original introduction
featured a sequence of shots through a fisheye lens, bordered in bright red. A trademark
of director Brian Clemens work was to hook the viewer with a simple yet totally baffling
situation, something later done to some degree in Jonathan Creek. Clemens cited
Hitchcock as a major influence and the shows definitely possess an eerie strangeness.

Audio - Theme from Thriller

The music, by Avengers composer Laurie Johnson, featured an array of percussive
instruments which gave the music a sound which took it outside the boundaries of most
conventional TV drama themes. The instrumentation made it cold, quirky and abstract
but the harmonies also contributed. The first chord of each bar was the classic minor
chord with a major 7
. This unique chord tends to create tension because two distinct and
normally separate elements fuse together.

Traditionally a major 7
interval normally creates a slightly easy listening feeling. This
is because of the relationship between the major 3
and the major 7
. If you replace the
major 3
with a minor 3
, the interval between that and the major 7
is an augmented 5
To add to this Johnson has placed a 9
at the top, octaved by a 2
at the bottom. This
creates extra tension between the low D and the note a semitone up, the minor 3

Harpsichord /
Synth /
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Also there is more than a whiff of polytonality; the top stave in bar two features the Cm9
chord but without the Eb the chord would be an inverted G chord. Thus we have a chord
which sounds slightly like a completely different chord.


Based on the successful Andrea Newman book of the same name, this is another classic
British middle-class television thriller, this time set around the uber-dysfunctional
Manson family, which is torn apart by daughter Prue, who becomes pregnant at
University. Prues worryingly unhinged father has an obsessive, unhealthy and ultimately
destructive love for his daughter which creates tensions which lead to violence and
tragedy. As if that were not enough Prues lover begins an equally steamy affair with
Prues own mother. The critic Clive James famously wrote by the end, everybody had
been to bed with everybody else except the baby.

Audio Theme from Bouquet of Barbed Wire

On surface level the theme reflects the sensual, sexually charged narrative of the drama
perfectly by virtue of the Fender Rhodes piano, electric bass and major 7
everywhere. But, as always, if we are to probe how and why this music was so fitting for
Bouquet of Barbed Wire, we have to penetrate the harmonies beyond surface level
analysis. The major 7
chord is voiced slightly dissonantly with a semitone between the
low C# and D of the piano chords. Bar three also contains the same style voicing, this
time with the semitone interval between the F# (major 7) and G (8) of the Gmaj7 chord.
The point is that it is slightly unusual to score the major 7
a semitone apart from the
octave. Normally, but by no means always, we would try and score it a little more
sensitively to capitalise on the warmth of the maj7

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


In addition to all this we have the continuous, unbroken and incessant bass riff. The bass
riff is interesting not just because it creates a slightly mesmerising quality in the sound
but because it also creates a little harmonic ambiguity in bars three and seven. The chord
of Gmaj7/D is punctuated by the D bass riff moving upward from the D to the A.

Normally inversions sound sonically compact because one chord is played over one bass
note from the chord. By playing a root-and-5
bass riff we effectively hear a Gmaj7 over
not just a D bass note but the root and 5
of what would be a D chord. Thus there are
almost too many notes. This means the chords in bars three and seven are not absolute
or completely defined, but temporary, transient and to a degree, ephemeral and

OWEN MD Johnny Pearson

Owen M.D. was a spin-off of The Doctors series and ran for two years from 1971 to
1973. The music was by Johnny Pearson recorded as library music for KPM.

Audio Sleepy Shores - Theme from Owen MD

Ac. Gtr
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


There are a few aspects, characteristics and features which make the heavily romantic
theme from Owen MD so effective. Post intro, the melody essentially breaks down into
four motifs which together constitute the theme. Within this the melody explores a
regular lilting triplet feel and a more extravagant semiquaver feel. As I have stated
elsewhere, we tend to assume that the most important aspect of a piece of music is the
aspect we can most easily rationalise. The melody in this piece is easily the most visible
and audible aspect; it has an intoxicating lyrical structure which ebbs and flows; but it is
by no means the only reason this piece works as well as it does. Leaving aside the leaps
in the bass part, the harmonic direction of each 4-bar phrase is distinctly downwards. It is
this harmonic characteristic, this momentum, inertia and inevitability which creates a
major captivating element.

The bass line from Owen MD

4 4
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This captivating element (the downward trajectory of the bass) allows for the kind of
indulgent melody that wouldnt be possible with a more static or uneventful bass line.
The same type of upward or downward bass movement has effected hundreds of theme
tunes over the years, because it remains a great way to create drama, independent of, and
as well as, the actual melody. We can see this characteristic at work in the following,
rather different, theme.

BLAKES 7 Dudley Simpson

Blakes 7 was an iconic and popular BBC science fiction drama series, chronicling the
exploits of a group of political renegades, consisting of characters Blake, Vila, Gan,
Stannis and Avon. They occupy an abandoned spacecraft called the Liberator with,
perhaps inevitably, a computer called Zen. The series never quite achieved the iconic
status of Dr Who or Star Trek but ran for a number of years, generating a loyal fan base
in the process.

Fig.56 Audio Theme from Blakes Seven
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Although we rationalise the dramatic and majestic trumpet melody, what creates a sense
of inevitability and structure, and therefore what contextualises the trumpet solo so well,
is the ascending bass momentum.

If we look at the melody line itself we can see how it generates feelings of romance and
drama. The rhythm of the melody on bars two to nine is dotted quaver followed by
semiquaver, giving the theme a clipped, militaristic air. The melody line goes from F to
E in bars two, three, four and six, but each time the accompanying chords give a different
intervallic meaning to the notes, as detailed below.

DYNASTY Bill Conti

Legendary TV Producer Aaron Spelling, who also produced Starsky and Hutch,
Charlies Angels, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Hart to Hart and many, many others,

brought substance to Esther Shapiros original idea of the complicated life and times of a
rich and powerful American oil family. Shapiro claimed that an inspiration for the show
was I, Claudius, a fictionalized depiction of Roman emperors. The iconic music made
the series even more glamorous and intriguing; the music encapsulated the ostentatious,
extravagant exuberance of the 80s.

Audio Theme from Dynasty 0.05

Oct min6
maj 6

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


How does the music capture the glitz and excesses of the rich and powerful in this
American television drama? Certainly the instrumentation and orchestration answer part
of the question. The main fanfare-style opening trumpet theme creates a feeling of
reverence and tradition. The trumpet line is copied, almost fugue-like in the opening bars;
the trumpet intervals (root to 5
) convey power, authority, gravitas and heroism. The 5

interval appears again in bar two by virtue of the F to Bb. The opening is softened up a
little by virtue of the counterpoint horns which feature the 2
(bar one) and the maj 3
bar two (see figure 59).





How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The majesty and splendor of Dynasty is captured by the graceful and sweeping melodic
arc (detailed below, fig.60).

Perhaps one of the most captivating and emotionally communicative elements of the
piece is its Baroque influence. Conti is well-known for his love for Baroque, something
he integrated into his score for the film Rocky, which put him firmly on the map as a
composer. The effortless and emotionally encapsulating harmonic beauty of Baroque
music is captured most obviously in the middle section

The inherent beauty of this style of delicate and complex writing is that the listener
almost hears two melodies, not one. The transcription below in fig.62 is a simplified
version of the line in fig.61. In fig.62 the melodic lines and contours are a lot easier to see
and rationalise. What we listen to when we hear the real version (fig.61) is the melody
below (fig.62) but with embellishments. The only way the complex version above would
or could be understood is if listeners rationalised it in a different way to how it actually
looks and reads. In other words we prioritise the salient points; the obvious contours, and
the rest is elaborate filler. This is an important point generally for composers; that they
understand which bits of their music communicate and which are flourishes and
trimmings. Composers often write one thing to illicit the illusion of another. If Conti had
written the line ala fig.62 it would have had the feeling of having no flourishes.

Audio Theme from Dynasty 0.47 Fig.61
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


People often cite the elaborate complexity of Bachs composing as being its most
enduring characteristic, but what defines Bachs music is that it communicates on several
levels. Behind the complex artistry lies an easy listening version. This forms an
important message to composers. If your music only has one way of being understood
and rationalised, you only have one shot at it.

DALLAS Jerrold Immel

No study of music for television would be complete without mention of the theme from
Dallas, one of the most iconic and remembered television shows in TV history. The
Dallas theme encapsulates and mimics the Western aesthetic perfectly. How does it do
this? One of the ways this piece communicates so vividly and so quickly is the complete
lack of 3rds an issue we have looked at elsewhere. The stark, barren harmonies feature
a sequence of sus4 chords, all heavily orchestrated with brass and strings. The chords of
Absus4 to Bsus4 to Gsus4 to Esus4 offer no real emotional resting place. The high string
semiquaver lines which punctuate the sus chords are suggestive and implicit of a hundred
Western themes but it is the sus sequence which really establishes the drama.

Audio Theme from Dallas

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


ZEN Adrian Johnston

Zen is a British BBC drama series filmed in Italy and based on the Aurelio Zen detective
novels by Michael Dibdin (Vendetta, Cabal and Ratking). The music has a distinctly
European feel and there is definitely a nod to The Persuaders. It has an intoxicating whiff
of the kind of lush, romantic themes prevalent in much older films and TV series. It fits
effortlessly into the 60s/70s European TV crime vibe and accords the series a sense of
history, culture and rich context through music. There is a mixture of playful exuberance,
dark mystery and tension clearly present in the music. Just like The Persuaders the
Europeanness exudes from a mixture of time signature, instrumentation and harmony.
The haunting and mildly sensual voice takes the music back forty years in time and the
chords are filled by Hammond Organ towards the end of the excerpt transcribed.

Fig.64 Audio Theme from Zen
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The success of the 3/4 rhythm is complimented beautifully by the use of brushes to give
the drums a light, jazz lounge feel. The descending bass line over the first seven bars,
along with the distinctive dreamy textures of the instrumentation, helps date the piece.
Just like The Persuaders the piece features the distinctly filmic and mildly European
major 7
over a minor chord. The perma-high string line lends the piece a real feel of the
type of lush sensual orchestration so prevalent forty years ago.

ER James Newton Howard

ER is an American television series created by novelist Michael Crichton which follows
the emergency room of fictional County General Hospital in Chicago. It became the
longest-running medical drama in American television history. Composer James Newton
Howard wrote the distinctive theme tune and the first two-hour pilot episode with weekly
scores by Martin Davich. Listening and looking, we ask the usual questions to help us
gain insight into why the music worked so well and how it was written: Which bits work?
How do they communicate? What do they communicate? Why do they communicate?

Audio Theme from E.R.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


What are the central dominating characteristics of this piece? For a start, when listening
we have some difficulty in rationalising the precise timing and rhythm of the melody and
chords at the beginning; the absence of drums/percussion (until bar eight) makes it hard
to gauge where 1 is. This makes it less inclined to be obvious and more inclined to be
a little ambiguous and dreamy. The syncopated piano and off-beat slapped bass add
more rhythmic uncertainty. There is harmonic ambiguity too via the interplay between
the Bm and A chords; the addition of the 4
(E) and 7
(A) into the main body of the Bm
synth pad chord gives the chord real colour but also references obliquely the A chord.
Effectively we almost hear two chords (A and Bm) which adds to the dream-like
ephemeral characteristics. To juxtapose this we have two strong characteristics; the
frantic semiquaver synth line and the top synth line which has slight connotations to a
police siren. Both of these fundamental lines have an element of urgency which work
brilliantly with the softer, ambiguous tendencies.

POIROT Christopher Gunning

Christopher Gunnings music for the TV drama Poirot is arguably one of the most
instantly recognisable themes in UK television history. This is partly due to the way in
which the character Poirot himself seems to be embedded in the music. By this I mean
that the music manages to reference so many of the shows cultural, historical and
geographic characteristics that it literally becomes undistinguishable from the show itself.
When a theme so personifies the show and its main character we realise the full power
and potential of a good theme tune and of truly great writing.

More than most television themes, when you hear the music you are instantly able to
recollect the show. How? What distinctiveness, what uniqueness, what personalities from
the show are present in the music what are they, how do they function and why do they
function musically?

The music, just like the character, has an air of cheeky melodrama. Its easy for us to
rationalise how the shows narrative achieves this but perhaps less easy for us to
understand how specifically and strategically the music works.

Audio Theme from Poirot

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The add2 interval

The quirky sax and the use of the 4
and #4

The distinctive alto saxophone is a key element, as is the precise style of its performance.
The instrument itself is synonymous with jazz of the 1920s and 30s the period in which
Poirot is set. Imagine the theme if all quavers were straight and not swung; it would
completely redefine the piece stylistically. It would not have the distinctive dainty and
cheeky feel. It is the dotted quaver followed by the short, clipped semiquaver which
gives the melody its distinctive bouncy feel. This characteristic buys into the cheeky
melodrama narrative. On a deeper level the theme makes repeated use of the 4
and #4

intervals. These are too often to be irrelevant; if were looking to analyse the harmonic
character of the piece the 4
and #4
play a big part for subtly different reasons.

The add2 interval creates drama in the Gm
chord (clashing subtly but distinctively with
the minor 3
in the chord). But the way the
interval is delivered and contextualised via
rapid piano quavers lurching up and down
into different octaves accords the piece a
sense of quasi urgent melodrama.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The #4 is denoted by circles above the note whilst the 4
is denoted by squares. The #4 is
more obvious in terms of the way it communicates. It creates palpable tension. As weve
deduced before in numerous examples and excerpts, the #4
communicates a slightly
strange harmonic characteristic, whose specific colour is, in the final analysis, defined by
the context in which it is used. You can find pieces as varied as epic sci-fi scores and
television comedies making good use of the unique characteristic and colour of the #4.

The 4
is interesting because although its a perfectly valid interval to use, its not
usually an interval which is dwelt upon, melodically. Although in a minor chord the use
of the 4
is slightly easier than it would be in a major chord (a 4
melody note used on a
major chord would clash with the maj 3
, a semitone lower, but against a minor the chord
the clash is lessened because the interval between min 3
and 4
is a tone instead of a
semitone) resting on the 4
is always going to be a little odd. The G note (3
beat of bar
three) is stated over a Dm inverted over the F, so the link and relationship between the G
note and the bass note (F) two octaves lower slightly offsets the strangeness. The
underlying fact, however, is that the usual absoluteness of the Dm is challenged and
tweaked and made effective by a combination of the 4
interval melody and the inverted
bass. Therefore we are not responding to a melody note, but to the relationship the
melody note has with the chord and its bass note.

In music when we think were responding to a note or a chord or an instrument or some
other kind of specific musical event, were usually responding to how that event reacts
with something else. We react to the context; we respond to the combination of events
and how they exist, rarely just to one event.

Inversions and the bass directions

In reference to the previous point about music usually being a dynamic of reactions of
relating events, its interesting to note how many themes are viewed, rationalised and
understood purely in terms of their melody line. This is understandable but can
sometimes hide the real reasons music communicates. It would be easy to contextualise
the success of Poirot purely in terms of its melody, especially since it is so distinctive and
strong. However, when we listen to Poirot we hear the melody, but because the melody is
quite busy we listen to something a lot simpler the descending bass line.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The things we listen to or are attracted to dont always have to be simple; in some
situations what captivates us is something more complicated but more interesting.
Effectively we are given a choice of contexts and narratives from which to choose.
Although we dont hum it or appear to be focused on it, the descending bass line is the
binding context that stops this piece becoming far too complicated to rationalise. It binds
the pieces various characteristics together. Each of the main 4-bar phrases are linked by
a falling bass; these do not happen automatically they have to be conceptualized and
written in, often at the arrangement stage to offer more drama and colour. As we have
discussed elsewhere in this book, inversions are one of the great composing tools; they
dramatise, italicise, exaggerate and embellish chords, but they also enable smooth
downward or upward bass contours, which in turn serve to mediate chord sequences
which might otherwise be difficult or stale. In the edited excerpt below look at how the
chords and voicings enable a smooth transition.

The pedal note is, again, another harmonic device which creates a real sense of drama
and gravity in music because once again were slightly distorting a listeners expectation.

The pedal note of F comes toward the end of the
original phrase. Highlighted (left, fig.70) this
section is particularly effective because it
contains inversions and slash chords side by
side. Again, we hear the melody line but the real
gravity, the real drama, the thing that affects us,
is the context of the F note a note which seems
static but only seems that way; the rapid
intervallic direction between 3
and 7

represents the movement we dont always hear
but listen to


How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Harmonic dissonance and the flat 9

The dissonance created by the Ab/G chord is hard to sustain without becoming
uncomfortable to listen to. In Poirot is alleviated by the arrival of the b9 chord a rather
distinctive and obvious chord synonymous with dance band music of the 30s.

In music everything can be explained

If we understand how music communicates a sense of meaning we understand how some
television themes manage to be so vivid and so effective. Specific harmonic devices
create responses within us which convert to feelings and ultimately meanings. With
Poirot we have found that signifiers embedded within the music are just as able to be
understood and rationalised as the perhaps more obvious characteristics of the drama
itself. The add2 in context of a minor chord offers substantial drama and is used right at
the outset to establish a sense of urgency and importance. The alto sax gives Poirot its
history with the specific bouncy rhythm of the sax being responsible for a sense of
cheeky melodrama within the music. The inversion and slash chords give Poirot a sense
of drama and gravity whilst the 4
and #4
offer identity and colour which are added to
by the specific context of their delivery. The dissonance and subsequent b9 chords offer a
timely distraction from what preceded them.

MATCH OF THE DAY Barry Stoller

In 2010 the PRS revealed that Match of the Day was the most recognised theme tune in
Britain so it seems fitting to end this chapter with such a monumentally successful piece
of instantly recognisable music. Millions of people grew up to this tune.
The emotional contour (left) displays the
chords in terms of how normal or expected
they might have been. The Ab/G is a massive
surprise which is why it heightens the tension
in the piece. Both times it is used the b9
delivers the sequence back to the normal safe
territory of a minor chord we might
conceivably expected.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


It was, and still is, the ultimate fanfare of football. There is, as you might imagine, more
than one reason why this tune communicates so well. Obviously it is a tune which is
short, to the point and easily digestible. But beyond that, most of the success is because
of the sound. The success is a product of the mix and the arrangement, not so much the
harmonies. You only have to hear the tune being covered or hear the many different
recordings which dont match the original. The triumph of the sound is everything.
Firstly everyone always assumes the main melody is carried by trumpets alone. Listen
carefully and you will hear a fairly dated string synth sound doubling the melody. Both
the string synth and trumpets have lots of reverb, which makes the two sounds swim
into each other. It is this specific and identifiable sound which everyone knows and
responds to. The Latin-style heavily percussive rhythm section is also heavily reverbed.

And then theres the weird ending. How many pieces of music do you know that last 40
seconds (or 36 bars) which - just when you think its all over - change key for the last 4
bars? The quirky weird ending is an enormous emotional signifier. If the tune had ended
where we expect it to, on the last A chord (*), its actually quite a dull anticlimax because
the melody is ascending. It would end on a whimper. The tag on the end changes the key
and lifts the tune; the trumpets signal their Haydn Horn Progression motif (*) and thats

Fig.72 Audio Theme from Match of the Day
They think its all over.. It is now
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



In this chapter I would like to examine some notable music for television dramas and
documentaries. Key to the chapter is how music serves and enhances the narrative of the
film and in particular how specific compositional styles, contexts, harmonies, textures
and production methods work.

Music analysed includes: 24 (Sean Callery) Waking the Dead (Paul Hart) Spooks (Jennie
Musket) Torchwood (Ben Foster and Murray Gold) Survivors (Edmund Butt) Six Feet
Under (Thomas Newman) Band of Brothers (Michael Kamen) Police Squad (Ira
Newborn) This Is Your Life (Laurie Johnson) Vincent (Rob Lane) Sherlock (Michael
Price and David Arnold) Rubicon (Peter Nashell) Walking with Dinosaurs (Ben Bartlett)
Batman (Neil Hefti) Click (Kevin Leavy) Who wants to be a Millionaire? (Keith
Strachan and Mathew Strachan) Frost (John Hiseman and Barbara Thompson)
Golapogas Documentary (Paul Leonard Morgan) The Onedin Line (Aram Ilyich
Khachaturian) GBH (Richard Harvey and Elvis Costello)

In every successful composers work there is a consistency of stylisation, approach or
method. Even within the most seemingly eclectic and varied music for television and film
there is a consistency; a recognisable thread running through it. This consistency is
usually the reason for a composers success. Its not just that they are good (because, in
the final analysis, what is good?) its that they have a style which is effective, works
and which is recognisable. Often a specific and identifiable harmonic approach is
embedded in the score, and this can leave a composer relatively free to explore and utilise
a different instrumental textures and sounds. Similarly if the recognisable aspect of the
music is the sound the composer might be free to explore a range of different
harmonies. Listen to any television score and youll notice a defining identity, which is
probably one of the following:

A style of instrumentation or sound / density of textures
A specific type of production and/or use of technology
A specific and identifiable harmonic approach

What often qualifies as being recognisable sometimes goes beyond the music itself.
Often the recognisable feature relates to how, and in way, aspects of a film are being
dealt with by the music, e.g. the function of the music. Sometimes whats important is not
what the music is but what it represents; what it means in context of the film. This is its
function. Sometimes when people refer to film or TV music being good what they mean
is that the function the music provided was good. Decisions about where to score music
and what the music is actually supposed to be doing are as important as the music itself.
As an example, the music for the television show Lost (which we examine in detail
elsewhere) mainly plays the humanity and intrigue and not so much the science fiction.
The show is science fiction only on surface level. Underneath it is about people and
situations. This is what the music plays.
Chapter 9
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This means the music is rarely guilty of needless italicisation and duplication. By
contrast, the music to 24 mimics the shows tense, real-time narrative.

24 Sean Callery

Sean Callery spent his first post-degree working life as a product support specialist for
Synclavier, which brought him into close contact with some major names in the music
industry and film music industry such as Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Alan Silvestri
and Mark Snow, for whom he worked as an arranger, programmer and assistant. Often
part of his specialist skills enabled him to develop hybrid sounds, something which came
in useful on 24. To work on the show, Callery converted part of his property into a home
studio, from which the music was created and recorded. At the core of Callerys setup is a
collection of mostly analog synths and samplers. While he uses dedicated high-end
software such as Symphobia, it is in his analog gear that comes in most useful for 24.

Callery is usually asked to write 41 minutes for typical 44-minute episode of 24.
Between receiving the episode to delivery to the dubbing stage, Callery has only about
five days to work. He says If you have a three-minute scene, you cannot just continue
the same idea for the whole three minutes; you have to contrast it, introduce new sounds.
Its a matter of finding the right textures and using them sparingly, and not fatiguing the
ear. Callerys distinctive musical style lies in his integration of instruments and sound
effects, some of which are created through elaborate sample manipulation. There are also
elements of electro acoustic music. One of the most profound characteristics of the show
is its real-time narrative. The musical solution to the real-time nature and rapidly
shifting narrative, which often comes with a split screen showing two simultaneous
scenes, is to create a constant linear score throughout the pivotal scenes with few rises
and falls. Music is therefore not impaled on a strict visual accompaniment and instead
functions almost as generic mood music. The music on 24 was used almost as an extra
level of sound design. It combines traditional harmony and melody with more abstract
sounds, processed by samples and synths. The time and clock idea defined the show
from an audio perspective. This was Callerys idea; instead of a theme at the start we
have a ticking clock. Some of the shows music contains a great sense of propulsion and
urgency. How does it do this?

24 Season 1 - Episode 1 00.14.55

It is typical of the music which often accompanies the frantic dual-screen narrative of 24. The
anticipatory nature of some of the phrase underpins its effectiveness in this kind of scene and yet
there is more in terms of understanding the harmonies which accompany the rhythmic elements
Fig. 1
This motif comes in during a
visual edit around 00.05.50 in
episode 1 of series 1. The idea
comes numerous times in 24
and functions almost as a sonic
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The example below, 32 minutes into episode 1 of season 2, displays Callerys writing
style for a scene in which explores a subdued, reflective and evolving narrative. The only
hit point is on bar five, where the Horn arrives at the same time as Jack Bauer arrives in
the room. The music displays Callerys more abstract writing and the harmonies used to
evoke and stimulate listeners whilst not distracting them. Look closely and youll see
there are no actual tunes or passages that could be rationalised or digested as complete.
Instead we have small bite-sized statements which glide in and out.

24 Episode 1 00.10.00


If we look closely we can see the piece contains many compositional devices and
approaches which can be rationalised, understood and evaluated. I have analysed several
aspects of this short transcription to expose and highlight various reasons this piece
communicates so well.

F#m chord implied

The main notes in the phrase are transcribed as
simple crotchets in fig.2. The intervals that bring
colour and therefore context to the phrase are the
and 11
. Without these the rapid, urgent
rhythmic nature of the phrase would be fairly lost.
The rather mesmerising and repetitive phrase
begins on the 9

Jack Bauer walks into CTU situation room
Low strings
Horn line (cont)
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Below I have isolated the string / synth line which utilises bare, almost parallel writing.
The two-note line lacks formal harmonic identifiers (3rds) which prevents the piece
becoming too musical and distracting.

The piano line underneath which accompanies the string parts, again, does not settle on
any particularly identifiable melodic pattern. It stays clear of notes which would create
(combined with strings) a clear chord.

The first actual chord doesnt appear until bars six, seven & eight.

Waking the Dead Paul Hart

C# E D# B C# E G# F# A C# B G#
(nc) (nc) (nc) (nc) (nc) (nc) (nc) (nc) (nc) (nc) (nc) (nc)
D E C#m D
In bar eleven the bare 4

interval (C# - F#) forms the
basis of what we rationalise as
an F#-based chord, over
which we then hear chords of
D, E, C#m and D. This subtle
poly harmony is as effective
here as it is in Thomas
Newman scores such as
American Beauty
The chord on beat 1 of bar nine (fig.7) is an F#m but beyond that the harmonies are more
ambiguous both theoretically and in terms of how we hear them aurally. Beat 2 features
what could be the 9
and 11
of the F# chord minus its 3
. Or the same two notes (G#
and B) could simply be the major 3
and 5
of an E chord over the F# chord minus its
. This potential duality of perception isnt just an idle theoretical debating point it
blurs our actual aural perception.
Low strings
Horn line (cont)
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013



The theme from Waking the Dead is one of the most recognisable and communicative
music themes in recent British television history. Below we have a transcription of the
basic theme plus harmonic context. As always the question is, why does this piece
communicate? What are the emotive factors? How do the melody, harmony,
instrumentation and production capture the imagination of the viewer and give a sense of
urgency, excitement and drama?

From a purely structural perspective, we can see the piece is divided up into two ideas,
the first of which is the frantic dramatic semiquaver motif highlighted by perforated
brackets. The second, different, motif is in bars six and seven and features dissonant
harmony (bracketed). The original idea returns on bar nine and on bar thirteen we have
both ideas simultaneously.

Audio Waking the Dead theme

On a surface level there are two significant ideas/motifs, which I have imaginatively
titled idea 1 and idea 2. On a basic level we can see how they evolve, culminating in
both ideas being played simultaneously in bar 13.

Fig. 8
Idea 1
Idea 1 again Idea 2
Idea 1 and 2 together
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


As we will see when the theme is analysed in greater detail, there is much more to this
theme than two simple motifs; I have highlighted the simplicity of the initial ideas simply
to show how thematic music can communicate on different levels simultaneously. The
simple structure in fig.8 is what dominates the landscape of what we hear. It also acts as a
template on which to craft more intricate harmonic patterns which also communicate but
in a much more subtle way. We hear the melody but sometimes the stuff underneath is
what we listen to.

When a melody line is going as fast as this, sometimes all you hear is the suggestion, the
hint; a few salient points where the line penetrates. With this in mind lets look at the
notes in the melodic line, and specifically, which ones penetrate. As we can see, each
entry has a melodic contour; a consistent recurring pattern (highlighted by lines above the

The first and third notes (boxed) in the first bar are the G (min3). On bar four and five the
first and third notes are the A (4
). Notes one and three of bars nine and ten (when the
melody reappears) are both Bb, which represent the m7 interval.

Fig. 9
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The important points here are twofold: the melodic line initially begins on a 3
descriptive interval easy to digest and understand. The second time the phrase is played
the salient notes are the 4
not as obvious, less easy and sounding edgy and skewed.
The third time the motif appears in bar nine and ten the first and third notes are the 7
The overriding point is that beyond the surface-level melody, there is an overarching
melodic arc which takes the first and third notes of each phrase gradually upward from
the min3 through the 4
and to the 7

So, although the phrase is perceived as identical to the naked ear, in fact it has an arc
and also it never states the same first and third opening notes twice. These factors are
what give it a unique harmonic character, together with the rough edgy sound,
instrumentation and production. As is nearly always the case, TV music subverts; the
kinds of melodic patterns we find in TV and film are often not the kind of ideas wed find
in song. The music below is a transcription of a scene from a Waking the Dead episode
called A Simple Sacrifice, where the team reopens the 25-year-old case of a woman who
was convicted of double murder on the basis of her own confession but who may be
innocent. This specific scene is where the Annie Keel (the prisoner) receives a visit from
her solicitor. The opening bars feature the solicitor walking to the reception area of the
prison. As there is no dialogue the music is quite busy. The music remains static as the
solicitor arrives at the reception desk and says Reece Dixon, solicitor for Annie Keel
(the empty bar three, below). The movement returns when he stops talking (bar four)
until the point at which, becoming impatient, he says is she in? (where it pauses, bar
six). In bar seven, with no dialogue, the movement begins again.

Waking the Dead A Simple Sacrifice 00.12.34

for Annie
Is she in?
Fig. 10
Fig. 11



How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Dialogue forms part of the music just as music forms part of the Drama

This is an excellent example which proves the rule that in general composers dont need
to write busy music over dialogue, especially in television drama, which perhaps lacks
the visual spectacle of a darkened cinema theatre. The section in fig.11 shows how, on a
very real and practical level, dialogue forms part of the music just as much as your music
forms part of the drama. The actors words have become melodic just as surely as if it
were an oboe or a clarinet.

Looking now at how the intervals work to shape the music and define its character, take a
look at the intervals contained in the harmonized melody of the same cue (intervals
written underneath the notes). The intervals move from the 2
& 7
(which are not
strong primary intervals and essentially blur the chord slightly) to the min3 and 1
and defining intervals). The notes move too fast for them to be rationalised and digested
coherently. All we hear is a faint blur; a mixture of the two sets of harmonies. This lends
the music a slightly skewed, introspective air and, when put to specific images, lends the
scene a faintly ethereal and troubling context. Without music the scene is just a guy
asking if someones in; but with the music it is subtle and dramatic. If the music had been
more obvious and dramatic it would be melodramatic - something entirely different.

In the same film there is a scene where the son of the imprisoned killer (now grown up,
working as a nursery teacher) is visited by a social worker he hasnt seen in many years.
As he looks up and sees the woman, the first chord in bar one (below, fig.13) begins. The
cold characterless dissonant chords work well in underscoring the scene and play the
mans fear and apprehension at seeing someone from his distant past. The b5 interval
between the D and Ab causes most of the dissonant feel, but also the chord possesses no
, which heightens and italicises the dissonance and exposes the interval.

2 m3 2 m3 2 m3
7 1 7 1 7 1 7 1 7 1 7 1
2 m3 2 m3 2 m3
2 m3 2 m3 2 m3 2 m3 2 m3
7 1 7 1 7 1 7 1 7 1
Fig. 12
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Right at the end of bar three / beginning of bar four the scene cuts to a prison cell to show
the mans mother, killer Annie Keel, writing a letter she has written to the social worker.
The music from bar four-seven has a more poignant, reflective and unthreatening feel.

Film - Waking the Dead (A Simple Sacrifice) 00.21.13

The G melody line at the beginning of bar four, as a single note, would represent a root in
the mind of the listener, in absence of anything to contextualise it. In absence of a chord
we default to an assumption that a single note is the root note. By the 2
beat of the same
bar this presumption is confirmed but by beat three the G has become a major 7
of the
Abmaj7 chord. This drip-fed, evolving harmonic context is key to the success because it
delivers the harmonic character not as an absolute statement but as a moving target.

(no 3
(b9) (b9)
G Gm Abmaj7 F Fm Eb
(nc) (nc)
(b9) (b9)
(no 3
) G
Grown-up son sees social worker
for first time in many years
Scene cut to prisoner writing a
letter to social worker
The harmony we
The unexpected
context change
Single note
Beat 3 on bar four and five are crucial points of
communication, emotionally. The G note becomes
the major 7
in bar four and the F note becomes the
in bar five. These are both intervals which evoke
emotion. These were not initially stated, but were
arrived at.
Fm7 Fm6 Fm7 Fm6
Fig. 13
Fig. 14
Piano /
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The fact that the killer in the cell generated reflective, sad and poignant music whilst the
playground scene (between the man and his former social worker, for whom he has much
affection) was accompanied by fearful and apprehensive music is important. In both
cases the music, on face value, appears to play contrary to the scene. In fact if you
examine the narrative for the episode and the scene more closely the music plays what
the characters feel, which is not always obvious visually. Thats why music is so crucially
important. Its not always simply a case of providing music that works in an obvious
visual sense or simply sounds appropriate; the relationship between moving pictures,
narrative, dialogue and music is deeper than most realise. Sometimes the music can
essentially tell you how to feel. The music can guide your intuition and inform your

Finally on this excerpt, although the relationship between the reflective and poignant
music seems to be unrelated to the darker fearful and apprehensive music, the link is
from the Ab note (minor 3
of the Fm chord) to the Ab (flattened 9
) in bar three of the
excerpt below. It is worth mentioning because this is a great example of how music binds
together, harmonically and how that binding agent helps the scene itself become more

The next section of music from Waking the Dead is a regular feature in the show, and
features in scenes in the lab where the forensic pathologists and scientists pour over the
minutiae of biological and DNA detail in a bid to uncover wrongdoings and expose the
guilty. Lab scenes are inevitably tense and often solitary, with one person examining
bones and body tissues searching for clues. Where one person is featured in the lab there
is by definition no dialogue. The music is all the more important for these scenes. The
transcription below is the most widely used musical accompaniment to the lab scenes.

Fm7 Fm6 Fm7 Fm6 G
(no 3

Am Fm Am

From an obvious perspective
the note of C unifies the Am
and Fm chords, evolving from a
min3 (of the Am) to a 5
(of the
Fig. 15
Fig. 16
Piano /
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


But in a much more subtle way there are note-bleeds, where the ghost of one note is
still heard in context of the chord in the next bar (in which it doesnt physically feature).
The memory of the G melody from bar 2 bleeds into bar 3 where, even though it is
physically not there anymore, it functions as a 9
of the Fm. This tiny extra harmonic
context is enough to inject tension into this piece, especially given the soft dream-like
sound textures created by synths and samples. The harmonic tension between bars six and
seven is greater because the predominant note that bleeds from bar 6 into 7 is the A
(root note of the Am chord but major 3
against the minor 3
Ab in the chord of Fm).

Although on first listen there appears to be nothing to compare the Lab piece above
with dramatic, hard-edged intro to the show, if we examine the melodic contour of the
Lab music and liken it to the intro music, we can see a consistent pattern.

Spooks Jennie Musket

Spooks is a BBC TV drama series, the title being a popular colloquialism for spies. The
series follows the work of a group of MI5 officers. The show is fast-paced and exciting
but the underlying narrative is often sinister and dark. The series has sparked controversy
during its run for a portrayal of explicit violence. Musically the approach centres round
the careful use of a small number of samples and distinctive textures which are used
consistently in a series of stylistically different dramatic and evocative musical contexts.
Indeed this show, just like Waking the Dead and other notable television dramas, contains
finely crafted musical templates which function like brands.

Am Fm Am

Fig. 17
Fig. 18
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


By this I mean that although the music cues are varied, basically the same harmonic raw
material is present in nearly all of them.

This need for music to have a palpable textural and/or identity is nothing new but it is
certainly now much more obviously part of the overall brand identity of a show and the
narrative. Music is much more high profile now but with the added importance has come
a certain degree of homogenisation. Some TV dramas feature a small number of ideas
which can be revisited in specific styles. So when you compose a theme you have to be
aware that it may be required to function in a multitude of different ways, as the diagram
in fig.19 shows.

If we look firstly at the central theme for Spooks, which is as iconic as the show itself, we
can distil structures and characteristics which are effective in promoting the quicksilver
narrative and style of the show.

Audio Spooks Theme

The first thing we notice is the lack of any absolute defining harmonic accompaniment.
Most of the harmonic context is buried in the movement; harmonies are essentially
implied and inferred; none are actual.
Fearful &
Fig. 19
Fig. 20

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Most of the definable harmonies are contained in the melody so essentially the harmony
is horizontal not vertical. The melodic lines are fast and prone to being rhythmically off-
beat and disorienting. This combined with the harmony being delivered horizontally
rather than vertically is what lends the music its tremendous sense of pace and urgency.
The harmony centres round F#m with the min6 playing a prominent role. The sequence
of notes which creates the F#m in bar one (F#, G#, A, D, C#) are delivered, bullet-like,
by layered string samples, but the sequence and its effect are nothing new. Numerous
film scores have made use of the harmonic minor oriented melodic figure, perhaps most
notably in recent times Danny Elfmans Batman theme (below)

Moving onto the intensely rhythmical melodic figure in the intro as a whole, we can see
by looking at the transcription and listening to the audio just how anticipatory and
disorienting it is. The urgency of the theme is embedded not just in the fact that the notes
are semiquavers or that they subscribe to the aforementioned harmonic minor scale, but
mainly because of the curious and peculiarly anticipatory nature of how the notes fall in
relation to the four beats in the bar. In the transcription below I have highlighted (with
arrows) where the silent beat falls on each entry. The arrows in fig.22 denote (in bars one,
two and three) where beat 3 is. In bar four the arrow denotes where the 4
beat in the bar
is and on bars five and seven the arrow denotes where 1 is.

Each semiquaver entry is on a semiquaver off-beat. This makes feeling it incredibly
challenging and thus exciting. It is almost unnerving. As musicians trying to count it,
upon first listening we hear the initial two bass crotchets on beats 1 and 2 of bar one and
naturally assume the semiquavers land on beat 3 of the bar, as transcribed below.

Fig. 21
Fig. 22
Fig. 23
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Our assumptions are guided by tradition, precedent and knowledge, but on assuming this,
the rest of the sequence then doesnt add up or seem to sit right. It seems as if there
arent enough beats in the bar or that were not counting it right. Then maybe we assume
the first semiquaver comes after a quaver rest (fig.24) but again this doesnt seem to add

One reason why we dont automatically assume the first semiquaver comes after a
semiquaver rest is because of the contour of the line itself; the predominant note, the apex
of the phrase, is the D, which falls square on the 4
beat of the bar. Any semiquaver
oriented phrase which started after a semiquaver rest would normally continue to be
rhythmically anticipatory or unsettling, hitting off-beats. This line doesnt; it begins on a
semiquaver upbeat but the fourth note of the phrase lands square on the nose of beat 4
(below). The emphasis seems to be all wrong. These factors conspire to ensure that this is
a rhythmically uncomfortable and, in context of the textures which deliver it, exciting

The anticipatory context continues on bars five, seven, nine and eleven (highlighted).
Again, the arrows show the main (but unstated) beats.

Returning briefly to harmony; if we observe the top string line on bar nine (fig.22 and
fig26) we can see it plays the same F# harmonic minor scale as the melody does in the
main theme, but in reverse, thus reinforcing the scale as a major harmonic identifier.
Having examined both the harmonic context and the rhythmical interplay, we can
understand precisely which elements combined and singularly, are responsible
specifically for the sense of urgency in the piece. The benefits of writing a melodic figure
using scalic elements are obvious when you examine how easily the Spooks phrase works
with other chords (fig.27).

Fig. 24
Fig. 25
Fig. 26
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The same scalic phrase can be played over all the chords above, each time producing a
subtly different character because of the different intervals the notes strike each time.

Spooks episode 3 of series 2 has some particularly interesting incidental composing.
In the episode MI5s computer systems are under attack, threatening the safety of
virtually all classified information. A scene in the grid features a meeting between boss
Harry Pearce and main operatives Tom, Danny, Zoe and Ruth, in which the infiltration is
discussed. The scene is tense and features some well-crafted evocative and emotive
music which evolves as an accompaniment to a part of the scene. I have featured it
because it is a classic example of how composers of music for the moving image tend to
evolve chords rather than move from one whole chord to another whole chord. Definite,
absolute chord changes may work in normal music, but often such conclusive harmonic
shifts italicize and highlight complex scenes too much, especially where dialogue is
present. Such music, because it is so similar to the way in which normal music is
constructed, is something that weve heard a thousand times before and doesnt engage us
or surprise us or create an emotion that binds us closer to the visual experience.

Spooks, Series 2, Episode 3 00.06.27

This piece is effective not just because the chord evolves and changes but because it
gradually becomes more obscure and densely harmonic. The only actual perceived
dissonance is between the E and the F (a flattened 9
above) in bar six. If you were to
play that bar alone, or first, the dissonance might be too brutal, but coming as it does in
bar six after a few bars of gradual harmonic growth, it is more effective. It has created a
journey which mirrors the drama unfolding on screen.

The other thing to mention here is that by the time this excerpt gets to bar six the chord is
extension heavy so its initial harmonic identifiers (the root and 5
) are somewhat buried
under the B, D and F (9
, 11
and b13
). This density causes some ambiguity because
those same three notes (B, D and F) also function polyharmonically as a Bm (b5) chord.

1 2 3 b6 5 3 #4 5 1 maj7 5 6 7 10 9 6 maj7 1 4 3
A A A Am A
) (no3
) (no3
Fig. 27
Fig. 28
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This means that there is almost a duality of perception for listeners. Listeners do not
need to be aware of the names we give to groupings of harmonies in order to be the
recipients of the effect they create. A great way of changing key midway through a scene
to add drama and gravitas and ensure harmonic momentum is displayed in the
transcription below which comes from the same episode of Spooks. The speed and pulse
of this excerpt is aurally a little nebulous so the transcription is not rhythmically
completely accurate. What binds this piece together and allows the link from Am to C#m
to sound more natural is the linking note of E.

Spooks, Series 2, Episode 3 - 00.07.50

On bar eight we expect the F note to resolve to an E note over an Am chord because
this is what it did last time. But the E note in bar eight actually constitutes the min3
of a
C#m chord, representing a modulation. On bar thirteen we would expect the B note to be
the 5
of the Em this is what it seems to be clearly leading to. If that had happened it
would pretty much tie the phrase up and normalise it. That this doesnt happen is, again,
what propels it harmonically. If the chords in this excerpt (e.g. Am, C#m, G#m) were
unsupported by the particular melodic figure they would sound more chromatic and/or
odd. The natural scalic characteristics are what normalise the sequence and make it more

This melodic idea is carried on in another scene a few minutes later. This is worth taking
a look at because it is a classic example of the benefits of contrary motion, when used to
enhance or italicise a harmonic passage. The viola sample (top line) moves upwards
whereas the cello sample (middle) moves downwards. The bass stays on the F.

Spooks Series 2, Episode 3 00.10.49

(E = 5
(E = min3

The way in which the chord evolves from
the presumption of an Fm flavour (in bar
one) to the inverted Db chord (in bar 2) is
achieved by the upward and downward
Fig. 29
Fig. 30
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


What also makes it more effective and emotionally communicative is, once again, the
duality of perception in terms of the interpretation of the top line. We perceive the F
and G as 1
and 2
of the Fm chord, which is what they are. When the notes of Ab and
Eb appear in bar two, with the ghost of the Fm perception lingering, we can think of
them as min3
and 7
of Fm or (by virtue of the cello sample Db note on the bottom
stave) we can perceive them as 5
and 9
of the Db chord, which is what they actually
are. Because the Fm harmony evolves into Db/F so subtly by virtue of just two contrary
moving lines, harmonic definitions are not absolutely clear-cut, which can make them
more ethereal and emotionally communicative.

The following transcription is of a distinctive piece of trailer music for Spooks. It has
several distinctive features. Examine it carefully and youll see it has very few 3rds,
which, from a harmonic perspective, creates a stark, square, parallel feel. Regarding the
rhythmical feel, the melody begins on the off-beat at the start of each bar. Although the
piece is littered with quaver triplets, the strong, plodding ascending downbeats in the bass
and the way the triplet quavers are performed very laid-back on the recording prevents
the piece feeling like its in 6/8.

1 2 5 6 maj7 6 7 #4 3 2
Intervals in context of the implied chord created
by the accompanying bass line
1 2 3 5 6 7 #4 3 2 1 2 5 6 maj7 6 7 #4 3 2 1 2 3 5 6 7 #4 3 2

2 1 maj7
#4 3 2
6 5 #4
#4 3 2
As the piece evolves we can
see more parts enter the
harmonic equation. As
before the bars are quite low
on 3rds the defining
harmonic context is stark.

The harmonic context and
the rhythmical interplay
discussed earlier are what
define this piece and make it
so dramatic and urgent.

Fig. 31
Fig. 32
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The narrative of Spooks is not all fast-paced, urgent and immediate, as the transcription
below shows. In the scene from which this piece is taken (series 9, episode 7) Harry and
Ruth discuss their personal feelings and how they have effected their professional
judgment. The scene itself owes part of its power to the music which weaves itself into
the emotion of the dialogue to the extent that, without it, it is doubtful the scene would
have anything like as much power and gravitas.

The soft, heavily pedalled and reverbed layered piano sound (similar to Thomas
Newmans approach in key parts of American Beauty and Road to Perdition, Pay and
others) works well in italicising the moment in the scene where Harry and Ruths
conversation is at its most emotional. The music is lead into by the C-note string sound
and even this seemingly innocuous fact is important. When Thomas Newman writes in
this style, there is often a leading note which prepares the way. This is an important
observation because it gives listeners a focal point; a point from which the rest of the
piece is heard. Why does this piece, and similar music written in this style, communicate
so effectively? Why and how does it convey such a plausible and inherent dreamlike,
mystical quality? Is it just the sounds, or is it the harmonies?

When we think we hear two chords, one after the other, we almost hear three: we hear
the first chord, the second chord, but in between we hear the transition the
relationship, the sonority. It is this supposedly nebulous harmonic X-factor, the interplay,
which dictates how we perceive the actual chords. All music is a reaction. You could
almost call the reaction between two chords a third chord. The expression pedal is of
course essential in creating this dreamlike sound in that it heightens, exaggerates and
italicises the sonorities and relationships between chords.


The Bb and G still function as 7
and 5
The chord has no 3
but we remember it from the first
chord. The harmonic identity of the second chord is,
therefore, implied.
Fig. 33
Fig. 34
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Torchwood Ben Foster and Murray Gold

Torchwood is a British science fiction spin-off from Russell T Davies successful revival
of Dr Who. Torchwood deals mainly with fighting extraterrestrials. Its main character is
Captain Jack Harkness, an immortal from the distant future who lived on Earth since the
19th century. Much of the show features a fast-paced action oriented narrative but there
are also important and occasionally subtle moral and ethical overtones. Much of the
music for many small-screen dramas makes great use of filmic-sounding soundtracks;
Torchwood is no exception. Ben Foster and Murray Gold have provided some memorable
moments of high drama and emotion which helped Torchwood become a cult show.

The chord sequence below, the type of which we have examined before in other chapters,
features the common note of Eb / D#.

One of the reasons it communicates so well as a sequence is down to
the evolving context of the Eb / D#, which moves from functioning as
a min3
(within the Cm chord, bar one) to functioning as a maj3

(within the B chord, bar two). The note stays the same; the sound
remains constant, but what it represents switches from min3
. Aurally this creates a slightly skewed harmonic feel not least
because the manouvre depends on our aural cognitive involvement.
Cm B
C Cm B
Fig. 35
Fig. 36
Because of the lingering sense of
Cm7, the F in this chord
functions both in an obvious
sense as a 5
of the Bb chord and
in an appropriated sense as am
of the original Cm7 chord
The D functions in an obvious
sense as a 3
of the Bb chord and
in an appropriated sense as a 9
the original Cm chord
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The sequence in fig.36 shows this type of chord transition in action, in an abbreviated
memorable cue from the film Signs, which we look at in much more detail elsewhere in
the book.

The music from Torchwood makes use of this type of harmonic interplay in the first
episode of series 1. This is a scene where the Torchwood team are introduced to the
viewer for the first time, racing to the scene of a death in order to test alien technology
which supposedly brings dead people temporarily back to life. As Police are hastily side-
lined, the famous Torchwood vehicle (Range Rover) arrives dramatically on the scene,
accompanied by pulsating, dramatic and urgent music (transcribed below).

Torchwood, Episode 1, Series 1 - 00.01.44

As I have highlighted in bars one-four and nine-twelve the chords fluctuate between F#m
and F. The perforated line represents the note of A which is common to both and which
functions as a minor 3
and major 3
despite not actually moving (displayed by the up-
and-down lines).

How to create urgency in music: melody and syncopation as punctuation

The following transcription (fig.38) displays how rhythmic and syncopated writing can
create a strong sense of urgency. There are no accompanying chords in this sequence;
however, the melody infers a G#m harmony by virtue of the note of D# note (which
would be the 5
) and particularly the E note (min6
, which would be in the G# harmonic
minor scale but not in the G# major scale).

Fig. 37
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The harmony is inferred, implied, which is something we encounter several times during
the course of this book; getting the maximum music with the fewest notes by the power
of association. From a rhythmic perspective, although virtually the entire sequence is
syncopated and nothing falls square on the first beat of any bar, the urgency is
specifically articulated in the highlighted section (boxed). We feel the beats that arent
stated but the melody instead highlights the off-beats.

Torchwood, Episode 1, Series 1


In keeping with the fertile and progressive imagination of Torchwood creator Russell T
Davis, the series explores many issues normally underrepresented or taboo in much
mainstream television. As an example, in the same episode, the alien device which briefly
reawakens the dead is used on a victim of crime (the idea being that, in future, victims
would be able to identify their killers). As the confused man comes briefly back to life,
Captain Jack Harkness asks him at one point what was it like when you died?, adding
what did you see? The clear subtext is, what lies beyond death, which potentially strays
into deep conceptual / religious territory. The man eventually realises hed died, been
brought back, and that there was nothing after death. He panics and says oh my God,
theres nothing. This poignant scene is scored deftly and sensitively.

Torchwood, Episode 1, Series 1 - 00.04.55

What was it like when
you died? What did you
Nothing; I
saw nothing
MAN: Oh my
God, theres
C#m/G# C#/G# F#m C Em D#m
Emotional contour of the
scene / drama / dialogue
Fig. 38
Fig. 39
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The C#m to C# chord definitely raises the drama; the 3
is the most descriptive and
exposed interval in a chord in that it literally determines the colour. Raising a min3 to a
maj3 transforms the sequence in a much more obvious and exciting way that, for
example, a C#m to relative major E sequence would have done. The chord of C# is
outside the key centre of C#m, which makes the manoeuvre sound surprising. The
chord of F#m represents the conclusion of the first three bars; the chord change from
F#m to C is one of only two points in which every note changes.

This absolute, definite chord change has a freshness to it but is also quite dramatic,
because the memory of the F# note from bar three lingers into bar four, where it would
have, and therefore slightly does, function as a #4
. This drama is mirrored by the
emotional contour of the dialogue / scene, which can be seen by looking at the line
underneath the transcription in fig.39.

Are specific Chord Extensions implicit of specific genres?

Most of the really potent chord changes, extensions and tensions in music are genre-less;
they can often communicate subtly different meanings dependent on stylistic and
contextual surroundings but their power to communicate something is a product of the
way in which we interpret what harmony is, thus according it a kind of meaning.

Looking at fig.41 we can see the minor
chord with major 7
in what might be
considered its generic environment a
Latin-flavoured chord sequence. The
chord sequence of Am, Am(maj7), Am7
and Am6 is one of the most instantly
recognisable, especially when
contextualised within a Latin
performance and articulation

As an example if we look at the chords in fig.40
(the same chord voiced three ways), we see the
obvious harmonic tension in the major 7
in context of the minor chord which frames it.
There are two tensions that create the distinctive
sound of this chord: the first one is the obvious A to
G# (root to major 7
) interval, although this is
largely secondary to the tensions created by the C
and the G# (min3
and maj7
). The reason for this
tension is that the interval between the min3
is itself an augmented 5
. This is one of the
reasons why the Am(maj7) sounds odd but the
Amaj7 doesnt.

Perhaps one of the most recent television uses of
the minor chord with maj7 is Douglas Cuomos
iconic theme to HBOs television series Sex and
the City (below)
Fig. 40
Fig. 41
maj7 7 maj6
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


In this scene from the first episode of Torchwood, in which PC Gwen Cooper walks
towards the reception area of Torchwood, posing as a Pizza delivery woman, the music
(transcribed below, fig.43) manages to articulate the mystery, fear, intrigue and
apprehension of the main character. Crucially the music addresses these emotions before
they are entirely visually apparent in the scene.

Torchwood, Episode 1, Series 1 - 00.18.10

She enters the reception area


Audio - Sex and the City theme

Fig. 43

Fig. 42
However, the minor chord
with maj7 extension is not
only limited to a Latin
environment. Given the right
harmonic surroundings and
instrumental context, the
chord possesses an entirely
different dramatic effect.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


There are two areas of interest in fig.43; firstly the filmic orchestration (Celeste, high
strings) and the success of the minor chord with the maj7
extension. This chord is made
even more acute by the careful use of inversions. These things combined make it quite
Danny Elfman in style. The B over the G#m (maj7) in bar one lifts the sequence and
compliments the chord. The reason the minor chord with a major 7
extension works so
well in both the radically different environments weve analysed is because dramatic
harmony lends itself to dramatic or acute environments; the major 7
interval over a
minor chord creates a harmonic feel which can be interpreted dramatically in different
ways. In order to fully realise and interpret the music specifically we need the dramatic
context of the visuals. Thus a specific image can interpret the music in a specific way.

The second thing to mention appears in the second section (bar five, fig.43). This is the
James Newton Howard moment (separately transcribed below) where:

The chord lowers from F#m to F
The note of A stays the same
Intervallically what the A represents moves upward from representing the minor
(of the F#m chord) to the major 3
(of the F chord).

If you listen to the phrase above or any of the moments in film music which make use of
this specific harmonic event, and wonder precisely why it possesses such a strangeness,
this is why: What fig.45 (below) is a visual representation of what youre listening to in
this complex chord manoeuvre. In this harmonic context your senses have three realities;
the note, the chord and what the note represents as an interval in each of the chords. It
sounds strange because in many ways it is almost akin to an aural version of an optical

One of Elfmans (and his orchestrator, Steve Barteks) trademarks is the careful use of
inversions for dramatic effect. This is nothing new but the context and the use in a
modern filmic context is new to a different generation of listeners.
The A note
Fig. 44
The A as
an interval
F#m F#m
Fig. 45
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The sequence below features the same chords but with inversions added to bars two and
three which allow for a gradual ascending bass line. Although the chords (Am to B) still
go up and down, their inverted state causes an upward bass contour, which creates a
feeling of consistent and inevitable climb, which can create real drama. Musical drama
is created by inversions because they reframe chords, altering their natural dynamic. We
are very subtly used to hearing chords in their natural state so any kind of rearrangement
of the basic order of harmony can create a feeling of drama or lift.

In the example below even the type of inversion itself climbs from 1
inversion to 2


The transcription below is from the continuation of the scene in episode 1 where PC
Gwen Cooper enters the Torchwood complex, posing as a Pizza delivery woman. This
music and the preceding transcriptions from this scene are heavily reminiscent of
Elfmans Edward Scissorhands for precisely reasons outlined.

Torchwood, Episode 1, Series 1 - 00.18.50

Am B Am B Am B
The chord sequence to the
left is simple but effective.
However, by the third bar it
sounds predictable and
Am B Am B Am B
C D# E F#
Inv 1
Inv 2
Inv 2
Fig. 46
Fig. 47
Fig. 48
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Continuing on to the theme tune itself, if we first examine the three chords below (from
the theme) we can see they evolve upward in a seemingly stark, chromatic ascending
fashion from Gm through Bbm to C#m. Closer scrutiny tells us there are common notes
between chord one and two, and between two and three. When we listen to normal
music we are much more attuned not just to relating notes between two successive
chords, but to a wider sense of key centre in which one note from the chord in bar one
might feature in a few of the successive chords; that is, after all, how music engenders a
feeling of relationship and key centre. In the case below although there is a local note
connection between the chords in bar one and two and then between bar two and three,
there is no connection between bar one and three. This is why the piece manages to retain
a skewed feeling of unnatural oddness.

There is also a curious sense of contrary motion between the chord and the intervals;
although the overall feel is of chords rising (highlighted with bold lines), the common
notes between chord one and two and then two and three from an intervallic context
represent in each case a min3 dropping to a root.

Gm Bbm C#m

When we look at how these chords are delivered horizontally like bullets out of a gun in
the actual theme itself (fig.50) if these chords hadnt possessed any commonalities (if, for
the sake of argument, they were Gm, Am and Bm, or Gm, Abm and Am), the sequence
would not work as well.

Minor 3
of Gm becomes
Root of Bbm
Minor 3
of Bbm becomes
Root of C#m
Fig. 49
Fig. 50
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The transcription below (fig.51) is from a scene from Torchwood (episode 2 of series 1)
in which a woman, unknowingly infected by alien life forms, kills people by stealing the
life force from them whilst having sex. Following a sexual encounter the victims simply
disappear, leaving behind only a pile of dust on the floor. Torchwood catches the woman
and takes her into custody. The woman herself knows nothing about her killings and is
bewildered and distressed by her incarceration. The music below plays lightly as the
woman scans her cell and asks why she is being held. The music highlights the
vulnerability of the woman extremely well by virtue of this simple motif

Torchwood, Episode 2, Series 1 - 00.10.00

There is no accompaniment or harmonic support because the melody is harmonically
self-supporting, or as we sometimes call such melodies, bullet proof.

Each of the notes hits crucial key intervals in the chords of Bbm then Ebm (see fig.52).
The use of pedal accentuates the sonorities; the harmonies appear like falling snowdrops.
As we allude to elsewhere there is always more than one way to deliver harmony. Stating
a chord conventionally, vertically, is just one way. When harmony is implied rather than
stated, inferred rather than unambiguous, implicit rather than explicit, sometimes the
results can be more refined and subtle. Like an impressionist painting whose visual
clarity is not immediate, so harmony that communicates shape, form and function
horizontally can be understated. Things which are implied rather than stated can often
communicate on a deeper level because they depend on our interpretation.

Motion and Movement

The previous theme is expanded and varied in the piece below, which comes a few
moments later in the same episode.

1 3 3 5 9 1 3 3 5 9 1 3 3 5 9 1 3 3 5 9 1 3 3 5 9 1 3 3 5 9

Fig. 53
Fig. 51
Fig. 52
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The beauty and effectiveness of this section is its subtlety. The minimal and contrary
lines of harmony are key to the success of the cue. Harmonies are created by a few lines,
and when there are fewer lines, they can often be disproportionately more important.

Survivors Edmund Butt

Survivors is a 2008 science fiction television drama; a reimagining of a series of the same
name from the late 1970s both loosely based on a novel by Terry Nation. The series
dramatises the lives of a handful of people who survive a type of flu which has wiped out
most of the human race. The opening visual and musical sequence is perhaps one of the
best examples of music to picture in recent sci-fi television. The pictures and images in
the 1.10 intro sequence are emotionally varied, being initially grand and majestic
(showing pictures of the earth from Space bars one-three in the music) before becoming
more rapid, quick-fire, eliciting apprehension, fear and paranoia (bars four-ten).
Eventually the music breaks out into a more emotional, thematic, dramatic and uplifting
section (bars eleven-nineteen) before returning to the apprehensive and dramatic feel
(bars twenty-twenty two) which closes the intro.

Musically underscoring these varied visually emotional images with suitable music is not
easy. There is no dialogue on which to hang the music. The sequence is too quick and
the emotions too visually embedded for the composer to be able to tread an alternative
narrative path. So how do you write music which dramatically (but not melodramatically)
italicises the visuals, weaving in and out of different emotional narratives following fast-
moving pictures without a) missing the target or b) overemphasising and overplaying?

Survivors opening theme

Bar 1 Bar 2 Bar 3 Bar 4
Top line
Bottom line
Middle line
Up then down
Up then down
Fig. 54

Fig. 55
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Looking at and listening to the opening music, its plain that producers clearly wanted the
Hollywood sound and Edmund Butt delivers it extremely well, recontextualising it for
the small screen. But how? What exactly is the Hollywood sound in a modern context?

Two characteristics of the modern sound of Hans Zimmer are, firstly, the use of
semiquavers strings to heighten the drama and also the use of low voiced brass harmonies
(both in the example below, from a small section of music from The Dark Knight).

Fig. 56

Audio, 01.34 A Dark Knight
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This abbreviated example from the beginning of the theme from Survivors shows not just
the prominent use of Hans Zimmers dancing semiquavers but also the employment of
low voicing in the brass. Specifically the low major 3
(G#) in the E chord (bar two) and
the low major 3
(B) in the G chord (bar three) work well in appropriating and
highlighting the crunchy crisp trombone sound so popular in modern blockbuster
scoring. The crisp low voicings are a particular Hollywood favourite because they lay at
the very edge of what will work sonically. If the brass (and the 3
in particular) were
scored any lower the sound would become difficult. The specific sonic characteristics of
the Zimmer sound and Survivors too, draws the attention of the listener.

The crisp low trombones are aided also by the beautifully dissonant chord in bar four
(transcribed separately in fig.58, below) in which the Cmaj chord is built over the #4 in
the bass of the chord. Although at first glance and on first listen this may seem a
needlessly dissonant chord to employ, it works well because it references the #4, of
which there are plenty later on in the piece.

The abbreviated transcription below highlights generally the propensity of #4s on strings.


Fig. 57
Fig. 58
Fig. 59
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The middle bit of the theme (reflective, emotional, dramatic and uplifting) features a
melodic line (bars one-four of fig.59 below) the first bar of which is referenced again in
bar five.
The first time the A note appears (in bar one) it comes on the third beat of the bar
whereas the second time the line appears (bar five) the A note comes on the first beat of
the bar and the melodic phrase takes up less space. This is classic motif development and
evolution where an idea reappears for a second time, slightly changed and abbreviated,
which represents the necessary juxtaposition between stability and variation; familiarity
and development. The other notable feature of this middle section (and another
beautifully voiced chord) is in bar seven of the transcription, where the melodic lines on
beat 1 and 2 states the 2
and 4
of the D chord. Normally the surrounding harmonies
would also reference the sus 4 by omitting the 3
. However, the chord on the bottom
stave of bar seven is a straight D, complete with major 3
. This doesnt clash with the 4

in the melody due to the rich voicing of the D chord, but the ever-so-slight almost
inaudible harmonic tension is still there. This is not dissonance as such; more subtle
tension, eased by the careful and brushstrokes of orchestration.

Abbreviated version of the
melody in bar 1
The 4
causes almost
inaudible tension
between itself and the
in the chord
Lets look finally at the sync points between the visual edits and the music. The
picture edit points are denoted with black arrows.

Fig. 59
Fig. 60
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The picture edits stack-up with the beginning of each bar (apart from bar eight where
there are two sync points and bar nine where there are none) until bar eleven. The
pictures and the music are both so busy in this theme that if there werent any obvious
sync points between music and picture it would make the music intro slightly harder to
navigate as a viewer. In the reflective/motional/dramatic and uplifting section, however,
the sync points change. In bar eleven there are two sync points (beats 1 and 3) but in bars
twelve, thirteen, fourteen and fifteen the sync points fall on beat 3. The reason I mention
this is because in the same way music affects the way we perceive the pictures, the
pictures affect the way we listen to the music. The two are essentially one given that their
ultimate function is as one. With this in mind the uplifting nature of the music from bar
eleven is aided by the change in pulse of where the pictures fall, musically.

Six Feet Under Thomas Newman

Six Feet Under is an award-winning American comedy drama surrounding the lives of
several characters that run and work in a funeral home. The drama deals with
relationships, infidelity, religion and death in a fresh, enlightening and original way. It
explores the issue of death through prisms of philosophy and religion, with characters
reflecting on their current adventures, tribulations, fortunes and misfortunes. Dark
humour and surrealism pervades the shows narrative throughout. This show has,
perhaps, one of the most instantly recognisable theme tunes in modern US television
which means essentially that there is a separate musical dimension to its existence; a
harmonic context which with which people associate the show. People have two ways of
remembering it. The music is from the fertile musical mind of Thomas Newman, whose
subtle yet distinctive touches of harmonic distortion has been responsible for numerous
defining film soundtracks, some of which are addressed elsewhere in this book.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


How exactly does Newman find the right abstract musical sound for a show like Six Feet
Under? because, when you think about it, it cant be easy.
One would imagine it is quite hard trying to find a musical voice for a show which
essentially dramatises and parodies death through abstraction and dark humour. Where
would you start? Comedic writing risks cheapening the drama; serious music risks
missing the abstract black humour. As is nearly always the case, you would need an
instantly recognisable harmonic flavour, for it is this more than anything else that truly
characterises music and makes it either unforgettable or forgettable.

One of Newmans most instantly communicable and recognisable characteristics
therefore is that his music leaves so much to the imagination. So much of it is
interpretative and understated. And yet, ironically, it is an instantly recognisable style.
Looking at (and listening to) a section of the introduction music (fig.62), it is interesting
to see and hear, in retrospect, which bits communicate. The chords that we already
discussed are present throughout punctuating the beginning of every other bar. The
second stave glowing synth pad chord in particular gives a minimal and subtle
harmonic flavour to every two-bar sequence. Newman makes a virtue of the relationship
between the #4, 5
and maj3
by placing them in each plucked string motif (3
stave -
bar three). The alternate plucked violin motif in bars eight, ten and fourteen are subtly
different and feature, amongst other, the Db (7
) and A (#4); these two notes, which
appear regularly, are key to the success of the music.

Audio Theme from Six Feet Under

The two opening chords at the top of the show opening are the
most instantly communicating aspect of the music. The top
stave piano chord is stark, severe and austere, because firstly it
lacks the defining interval of the 3
. But also it contains a
(barely audible in the mix) #4 just underneath the top Bb (5
The combination of the lack of any 3
, plus the #4, plus the
percussive sound of the piano and the actual tuned percussion
that copy the line, is what makes this chord work immediately.
On the bottom stave there is a soft sample sound which does
hit the 3
but which is barely audible. It acts as a kind of
musical glow which only becomes noticeable when the
percussive piano sound has dissipated; thus the whole and
complete harmonic flavour is gradual.
Fig. 61
Fig. 62
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The first plucked motif starts on the #4 (note of A, bar three) and the main English Horn
melody starts on the 7
(Db, bar 13). The harmonic constituents which are so effective in
the theme are the 7
and the #4. In this abbreviated consolidated transcription below
(fig.63) we can firstly the initial Six Feet Under chord, followed by a bar containing an
example of the melody, after which, in bar three we distil just the #4 and the 7
. In bar
four we show the #4 (A) again, and underneath the Db as a C#. Enharmonic adjustment
shows most an A chord. Thus one of the best aspects of this piece is the subtle
polytonality, not delivered within the same chord in the same bar, but gradually, subtly
and horizontally.

I suppose it could be said you could conjure up any theoretical possibility by cherry-
picking notes from a piece to prove a particular point, but these two notes (the A and the
Db) come regularly throughout and form major parts of the melody and harmony. They
are thus responsible for much of the colour within this piece.

There is almost a manic quality to Newmans theme music for this show, using a variety
of quirky off-beat rhythms and phraseology. Clear textures permeate throughout but the
colourful harmonic clarity speaks the loudest. These are precisely the kinds of subtle,
polytonal harmonies which conspire to create the Thomas Newman sound a sound
which is open, see-through and communicates in a whole manner of different ways.

Fig. 63
English Horn
A (#4)
Db note (7
A note (#4)
Db note (7
A note (#4)
C# note (3
A note (1
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Band of Brothers Michael Kamen

Band of Brothers was a 10-part miniseries chronicling the real-life exploits of several key
characters. The shared experiences of the soldiers and the moral and physical hurdles
they face are central to the story. Produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg,
inevitably comparisons are drawn between Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan.
With this in mind, Kamens music for Band of Brothers was bound to be compared with
John Williams score for Saving Private Ryan. That said, although there are a few
inevitable similarities (war films do tend to attract similar traditional and reverential
musical approaches) Kamen provides some memorable and emotive music; certainly the
thematic music which bookends Band of Brothers is more simple and more obviously
and quickly communicative than Williams thematic music for Saving Private Ryan.

There are, as ever, several reasons why Kamens theme is so effective. It is serene,
tranquil, soothing and has a notable hymn-like simplicity.

Audio Theme from Band of Brothers

Good orchestration embellishes the melody and makes the tune sound as if it was
always part of the orchestration; as if it were conceived that way. The melodic contour
line over the top of the first few bars displays how the theme is whole of its orchestration
Fig. 64
One of the most
characteristics is
how the music
and orchestration
work together
effortlessly to
bring the theme
to life.

I say this
because too
many themes
tend to be tunes
bolted onto
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


and counterpoint. Without the arpegiated cellos in bars 2 and 4 the theme would be far
more static. The melody, after all, is simply a function.
It is not implicitly an instrument or a stave or a sound it is simply a role. In Kamens
theme the melody is not confined to one instrument or to one stave. Similar to John
Barrys theme for Chaplin - discussed in chapter seven, The Harmonic Power of Music
-it is everywhere. Another thing to observe is how the romance manifests itself in the
major 3rds. Nothing penetrates and communicates like a 3
. I have highlighted where the
3rds fall ( ) to draw attention to how they bookend some of the two-bar phrases. It is
also notable that most 3rds fall on the first beat of the bar for maximum emotional

The counterpoint in bars nine and ten is particularly effective as the F/A resolves to the
Bb; the last quaver harmony of bar nine / first harmony of bar ten contain the Eb and C
harmony. The relationship between the F/A and Bb chords is all the more hymn-like
because of the C-Eb harmony passing between them. In fig.65 I have transcribed two
possible outcomes for bar ten; the first is the one used, and the other one is an alternative
which often gets used, containing the E-C harmony.


The appropriation of harmonic devices

The following transcription is from the opening of Kraftwerks Trans Europe Express.
There are many songs, film themes, big band pieces and other musical environments
which have made great use of the type of harmony displayed here. Trans Europe Express
is probably one of the better examples. The reason why this harmonic approach is so
successful is because it is dramatic, striking and almost theatrical. It has an unresolved
feel. The top intervals rise in fourths which gives is a square unresolved feel.

Fig. 65
Fig. 64
Audio Trans Europe Express
comp. b9

The E functions as the #4 in the secon
example. The #4 would not function
as well as the 4
because it doesnt fit
as comfortably with the traditional
Hymn-like harmonic setting Kamen
has established. The #4 has many
uses, but it safe to say it isnt found in
many Hymns.

The reason this sequence
sounds so dramatic and
striking it that as the
harmonies compound and
stack up, all the intervals are a
fourth apart. The chord never
really resolves itself and
arrives anywhere.
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This is precisely the pulling power of the sequence; it avoids resolution.

The main reason this kind of sequence is so distinctive is precisely because the intervals
are not easy to rationalise or place. This makes it seem a little odd, square and quirky
but not dissonant. It is interesting and quite abstract but not so much that it would be
completely baffling. Harmonies identical to the ones above from Trans Europe Express
were used at the beginning of spoof cop show Police Squad.

Police Squad Ira Newborn

Police Squad was a spoof American cop show, made by some of the team that brought us
Kentucky Fried Movie and Airplane. Although Police Squad was cancelled after just six
episodes (allegedly and bizarrely because the public had to watch too hard to get
much of the humour), it did spawn a series of successful Naked Gun films.

The show was a parody and so, in context of the show and the images contained in the
shows intro, was the music. The distinctive approach in the first few bars (as we can see
in the transcription below) sets up the Big Band piece perfectly. The theatricality and
melodrama work well. Although the music, when heard alone and independent of the
show, can be rationalised and enjoyed as Big Band music, when it is performed alongside
the opening segment of the show it takes on a completely different context and meaning.
This is the inherent beauty of music for film; that the pictures become part of the music.
It is the situation which is comic, the context, not the music.


Fig. 71
Fig. 65
4th 4th
Audio Theme from Police Squad
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Looking beyond the intro now and into the slightly exaggerated and caricatured Big Band
sound contained in this piece, there are, as always, several harmonic and rhythmic
identifiers which are worth knowing in case youre ever required to provide this kind of
exaggerated pastiche of a Big Band. The sax lines are constantly anticipated throughout
which lends the piece a wonderful shuffle feel which compliments the rhythm. Also the
sax voicing is quite explicit and deliberate. Close-part voicing with the 3
on top and
underneath (on the Bb9 chords) is designed to exaggerate the effect of the 3





How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


add a little harmonic colour and avoid root-position voicing. The voicing of the Eb9
chord expands a little with the baritone sax playing the root, for variation.

The caricatured and exaggerated contours of the brass

The main tune is carried in harmony by trumpets and trombones. The chromatic quaver
passing chord to the main chord at the beginning of bars four-eleven is an exaggeration of
a classic big band stylisation which involves the employment of a sliding passing chord
built a semitone under or over the main chord. In this context what the passing chord
does is ensure that the main chord in each of the bars between bars four and eleven
always comes on the off-beat. This, with the off-beat Saxes we have already seen, adds to
the rhythmic stylisation.

If we look closely at the voicing we can see the trumpets are stacked with the 9

extension on the top and the 3
on the bottom of the chord i.e. 3, 5, 7, 9. The trombones
are stacked (from bottom to top) 5, 7, 9 and10
). This is an important point because it
ensures the voicings are not identical from section to section and are not simply
duplicates an octave higher or lower. It also ensures the top note of the trombones and
bottom note of the trumpets are both thirds, which brings out the colour and radiates
through the chord. This simple trick ensures you extract maximum colour from the
instruments and makes sure they penetrate and are heard. One section which is
deliberately designed to sound a little too elaborate and rushed is the line in bar five,
specifically the semiquavers followed by quaver triplets, played as they are by eight
instruments (4 trumpets, 4 trombones). This hurried and slightly untidy articulation is part
of the great plan. In arranging and orchestrations things are rarely accidental or the result
of good luck.

Fig. 72

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This is your Life Laurie Johnson

One theme which, again, was instantly identifiable was Laurie Johnsons theme to This is
your Life. The show involved famous or successful people being surprised by the shows
host and subsequently being brought into a studio with a live audience, where the guests
life was condensed into a half-hour show. During the show people in the guests life
would appear from behind a famous sliding door. The British show was imported from
the successful American format. Laurie Johnsons theme (like his Avengers theme and
others) could be sung to the title of the show. The first two bars were the most musically
communicative and were delivered in fanfare style but using classic light entertainment
jazz harmonies and voicings.

Fig. 73
Audio Theme from This is your Life
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


But for the spectacular harmonies in bar two on brass and strings this might be a fairly
ordinary easy listening piece. It is these chords which define and shape our perception
of this theme and so defined the show. Who doesnt remember the show without also
remembering (and being able to hum, to a degree) the theme tune. The chord in bar two is
key to the success of the theme because it provides an exciting centre of gravity for the
listener. Why is this chord so effective?

If we look at the chord itself (fig.74) we can see the extensions heavily outnumber the
basic components. The lack of the 5
ensures various extensions like the b5 and 13 are
freer than they would otherwise be. The 5
would, harmonically and sonically get in the
way of these extensions. However, the lack of a 5
means the only two normal notes in
the chord are the low A (the root) and, a tenth above, the C# (maj3
). There are two basic
components and four extensions. Even one more extension or addition would render the
chord virtually aurally impossible to rationalise. This is as close as the chord can get
before it becomes abstract aural and sonic gibberish. And this is, of course, its great

Although we have looked at harmony in this way in another chapter, below is the This is
Your Life chord, turned from vertical to horizontal, spread over as many bars as there
are notes in the original chord.





b 9





The main factor that makes this chord so colourful is that it
is massively extension heavy. Extensions bring colour and
harmonic vitality and variation but they sound effective
because they create internal dynamics between each other
within the chord. Colourful extensions rely on the existence
of the regular harmonic building blocks. Too many
extensions mean the chord can become abstract and
confusing. A C7 chord has three main components and one
extension whereas a C13(#11) chord has three core
components and four extensions; so it sounds more
colourful and involved.
To the left we
see the harmonic
events purely in
context of how
they relate to the
first note of the
chord the A
(root) in bar one.
Fig. 74
Fig. 75
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013









This time
(fig.76) we see
the harmonic
events resulting
purely from the
second note of
the chord the G
- in bar two.
In fig.77 we now
see the harmonic
events resulting
purely from the
third note of the
chord the C#
) in bar three.
In fig.78 we now
see the harmonic
events resulting
purely from the
fourth note of the
chord the F# in
bar four.
The last single
harmonic event comes
from the relationship
between the fifth note
of the chord the Bb
in bar four, and the
final note the Eb
Fig. 76
Fig. 77
Fig. 78
Fig. 79


How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


I use these seemingly abstract and needlessly theoretical examples in order to show that
in fact they are far from theoretical; when people listen to a chord like this, the reason it
speaks as it does is because has exquisite and specific harmonic colours and
characteristics which are almost, but not quite, baffling. The fact that the overwhelming
majority of people are happily unaware of these issues does not lessen their effect; it just
means theyre being affected by something they dont understand in a way they cant
fathom. And this is musics great strength, its great charm; people are in their element
and out of their depth.

Sherlock David Arnold and Michael Price

Sherlock is a contemporary update of Arthur Conan Doyles Sherlock Holmes, taking
place in 21
Century London. The music is by Bond composer David Arnold with much
of the incidental writing being done by Michael Price. One of the most interesting
features of the theme music is how immobile the melody is, featuring a succession of
semibreves. The melody almost functions as a sonic ident on which to impale the main
driving propulsion in the music; the effective cross rhythmical writing. In this piece we

In fig.80 we see a
cumulative analysis of
the harmonic events
which are at work in
this chord. There are
fifteen separate
harmonic relationships
at work in this one
chord. This in itself is
not particularly odd,
but the fact that none
of the notes are octave
duplicates of any of
the other notes is
worthy of mention.
This means that each
of the harmonic events
are unique one-offs.
Fig. 80
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


hear the melody but we listen to the rhythmic elements, which consist of the almost
constant, relentless interplay between crotchet triplets and quaver triplets.

Audio Theme from Sherlock

Keys / Gtr
Fig. 81
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Harmony plays its part too; the A pedal throughout is effective in that, although the note
remains constant, what it constitutes from an intervallic context changes. This is
something weve look at many times.

Once again this highlights the importance and relevance of the intervallic context.
Looking at music purely in terms of its notes will only ever tell you half the story and
therefore it may only explain half of why any given phrase sounds the way it does.
Looking now to the first televised episode of Sherlock, one of the first scenes is
interesting from a harmonic perspective. The scene where Dr Watson, an injured war
veteran (suffering from post-war stress) wakes up in a cold sweat in his apartment is
made much more sombre and evocative by the music. Are there any characteristics about
this music which subtly create emotional meaning of the scene and wider narrative; and if
so, how and why is this happening?

Sherlock Episode 1 (A Study in Pink) 00.00.30 War (soundtrack album) 00.30

A note (bass)
Fig. 83
Fig. 84
If we look at the intervallic
context of the bass, we see a
contrary motion between it
and the melodic line. The A
note starts out as the root of
the A chord and becomes the
of the D/A chord.

A as an interval


How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Once again we turn to Thomas Newmans influence to explain the sound, which
constitutes part of the success of this cue; the light-touch heavily reverbed piano does its
job admirably. But the sounds are nothing without the music, and this piece speaks
loudest when it speaks harmonically: the first circled chord features the 6
and maj7

together. Such a seemingly innocuous fact explains a lot. You would never normally see
a 6
and maj7
in the same chord. They are both extensions but they have fundamentally
different functions and provide different harmonic characteristics and effects. Although
you might regularly have chords which have two or more extensions simultaneously,
their groupings are quite traditional and predictable. You might get a 6
and a 9
in the
same chord because they go together. Equally you might get a 9
in the same chord as a
or maj7
. Its highly unlikely you would see a b10
in a chord without a 7
; the stark
gap of a 4
between the 7
and b10
draws out the harmonic quality of the 7
and the
- it italicises the moment. If we heard a C7(b10) we would be forgiven for
attributing the colour to the 7
and the flattened 10
and how they relate to the root
without for a moment attributing some of the credit to the gap between the two intervals.

With all this in mind, although the 6
and 7
work okay together, it is not traditional or
usual to see or hear it. In a final subtlety the composer places the chord over the
inverted bass (Bb). This creates a further change in the harmonic dynamic which
constitutes the finishing touch to an exquisite chord. Delivered softly with the deft touch
of the reverbed piano, the oddness of this combination (6
and maj7
) is forgotten. The
chord does its job without people even being aware it has happened. The chord is not
dissonant and yet is odd enough to tickle our senses and make us reflect, which is what
the scene needs us to do. This is how harmony does its job. The scene itself is quite slow
and languid; the lack of dialogue gives extra strength to the subtleties of the music. The
second chord circled contains the maj7
(D) and the root (Eb) side by side. This slight
dissonance is partially extinguished and made more subtle, once again, by the inversion.

The last chord I have highlighted is interesting because it contains elements of two
chords. The melodic line which has characterised the piece thus far (Bb, D, C and G) is
altered this time to simply Bb, D and C with the C landing as the 5
of the partial Fm
chord (right hand). Underneath this partial Fm chord is a low G, D and G underneath.
This exquisite tension really underscores the scene and the angst of the narrative.

The Bb, D, C motif comes in several places in the show, normally to underscore the
vulnerability / emotional state of the Dr Watson character. It is of course a restatement of
the shows main theme tune.

The transcription below (fig.85) is from a lighter scene where Sherlock introduces
Holmes to his landlady. The music finishes on an incomplete sustained chord as Sherlock
and Watson climb the stairs and enter Sherlocks apartment. This is an important point
because it highlights how a great deal of music for TV drama is used as edit music to
smooth over scenic transitions. Such chords frequently need to dissipate and digest into
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


the scene. Sus chords or non-chords are used heavily in these environments. Complete
or absolute chords can often draw attention to the music and occasionally appear

Vincent Rob Lane

Vincent is an ITV drama series starring Ray Winstone as an ex-cop-turned Private
Investigator hired to spy on people. The music for this show really sets the scene and
underscores perfectly the tough, solitary and forlorn existence of the lead character. The
music manages to convey a shady, introverted and depressing narrative and, with its laid-
back feel, guitar lines and jazz piano chords, sounds almost like twisted cocktail music.


Fig. 85
Fig. 86
Audio Theme from Vincent

Sherlock Episode 1 (A Study in Pink) 00.13.29
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The first thing thats worth noting, as with many other shows we have examined, is how
the music possesses an excellent sense of architecture, placement and economy in terms
of its instrumentation and arrangement; if we examine the interaction between the bass,
guitar and piano (below) we can and hear how both have space to breathe. The guitar,
piano and bass dont overly crowd each other. The arrangement has space.

This link is a lot more important than might be thought; it is the highest note in both bars
and really helps prevent the chords sounding more chromatic and square.

Turning now to the middle section (below, fig.89), its interesting to observe how it
evolves. Essentially there are two contexts; the one we assume is solely responsible for
creating the interest and the other one which we probably dont hear but we listen to. In
other words, as discussed elsewhere in this book, the reasons we think music
communicates are sometimes not always the great communicating factors we imagine,
whereas the aspects of music which do affect us are sometimes not things we can easily
understand, rationalise or in some cases even realise. As an example we always assume
melody is the biggest communicator because its the one thing we can quite easily
rationalise; we can hum it or sing it. It exists as a separate stand-alone entity. If we were
told that an inversion could articulate and communicate emotion in some situations more
profoundly than melody we would find that hard to believe because most people dont
G Ab
sus4 maj3

Also, within the actual melody line
(guitar) between bars one and two
there is a link. The chords of G and
Abadd2 have no common notes but
the melody makes a virtue out of
the brief passing note of C (which
functions as a sus4 over the G chord
and a maj3
over the Ab chord).

Fig. 87
Fig. 88
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


know what inversions are, cant hear them and certainly dont walk down the street
humming them. Even most musicians who do know what inversions are would find it
hard to believe its importance was as great as it is.

The middle section of this piece has two contexts; the obvious one - guitar theme and
the less obvious and much more subtle one the inversion. The inversion literally lifts
the piece and injects a sense of drama and gravitas. Also if we look at the salient hit
points of the melody (highlighted with arrows, below) we see that the overall thrust of the
melody is downward. In contrast the bass line is upwards, which causes a delightful sense
of barely perceptible contrary motion. We hear the melody line in an obvious way but
listen to the bass line in a much subtler way. In one respect you dont even have to hear
the contrary motion; it is not something we neccasarily hear anyway. It is something we
experience as part of what music is. As I have stated elsewhere, contrary motion can be
described as the way music breathes. We find it easy to see a sense of forward
momentum and trajectory in music but horizontal movement is often less easy to see and
certain less easy to appreciate aurally. But that doesnt mean that its not there or that it
doesnt matter.

Rubicon Peter Nashel

Rubicon is an American conspiracy thriller style television series, which centres on the
concept of a secret society which manipulates world events on a grand scale. The theme

Fig. 89
We cant possibly hope to digest all the notes; we
digest the salient points the ones which have
identity, purpose, direction
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


music, by Peter Nashel, was described as abstract and edgy. Listening to and looking at
the transcription below, how is it edgy or abstract?

Fig. 90
F#m Am
Audio Theme from Rubicon

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The first thing to note is that the initial chord change from C to Eb is not an entirely easy
transition unless you italicise the G note (common to both chords). When a common note
between chords constitutes the 3
in either the destination or original chord the link will
always ring through more clearly. The G note runs through both chords but what it
represents from an intervallic perspective, changes. This makes the transition easier, less
square; the G note becomes the maj3
which transports aurally better than any other
interval because it is the component that defines the chord as major. The G note doesnt
just feature in both the first two chords; it also features as a throbbing off-beat quaver
note in both chords.

In the case of the theme from Rubicon (bar three to four) the Eb chord also takes the C
note from the previous chord which becomes the 6
of the Eb chord. This means that
although the two chords sound different and come from different key centres they contain
two of the same notes. Essentially a completely different chord has been achieved in the
manouvre between C and Eb6 but maximising the potential of minimum musical note
movement (below) has made it all the more interesting and subtle. This represents good
smooth chord voicing; good arranging, both of which are essential components in

The C note (which constituted a root in bar one, two and three and a 6
in bar four and
five, continues on into bar six and seven as a maj7
of the Db chord. This forges an
important link between the Eb and Db sequence. The other important aspect is that
although the chord manoeuvre from Eb to Db is downward, what the linking note
represents from an intervallic perspective (6
to maj7
) is upward. That the vast majority
of listeners are happily oblivious to this doesnt mean theyre not the beneficiaries of the
inner contrary motion created by the harmonies/intervals. Even some composers who
create the link to foster a better harmonic relationship and harness an easier transition
between chords might be unaware of the contrary motion aspects between sound and
interval. Regardless this is an important point to observe. It proves that it isnt just the
linking note which makes the transition easier; its what it represents.

G 5

C 1

G 5

C 1

C 6

G 3

Bb 5

Eb 1

F maj3

C maj7

F maj3

Ab 5th
Db 1st

As we can see in the transcription in fig.92,
which is of bars six and seven, the #4 of the
Db chord paves the way for the subsequent
drop to the chord of C in the next bar, where
the same note will constitute the 5
Fig. 91
Fig. 92
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


I make all these seemingly small observations because together they show that Nashells
attempts to make potentially odd chord sequences gel better is extremely effective in
making the abstract work; in making the implausible plausible.
The one really obvious (but equally compelling and captivating) section of dissonance is
the melody line from bar eight of the piece (transcribed separately below). The melody in
bar eight and nine navigates an interesting but harmonically safe path through the chords.
Exactly the same melody line comes again in bars eleven and twelve, but with bar twelve
featuring an F# chord, the effect is dissonant and unsettling. Granted it does sound
strange but the extreme dissonance it should have created is offset by the context;
because the melody is a repetition of bars eight and nine, we know it - we understand it
and weve heard it already. The dissonance is still there but not to the degree it would be
if this were literally a melody line from nowhere.

The kind of effortless abstraction and dissonance this theme creates is extremely
effective, but more so because it is delivered with the velvet gloves of great arranging and
voicing and sympathetic production. The very end of the theme features an urgent,
manic-sounding string/synth line which is quite distracting but very effective. If we look
at the detail of the arrangement we can see and hear the effect of the contrary motion
between the direction of the chords and arrangement and the melodic line.

The abbreviated transcription in fig.95 is from a scene in episode 2, series 1 of Rubicon.
The same harmonic idea comes several times during the show and is one of a number of


Fig. 93
Fig. 94
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


filmic harmonic approaches featured in the series. This particular scene is where one of
the characters is looking round a house for clues. Visually the scene is simply shot but the
music adds a definite and palpable extra attractive and compelling dimension of mystery,
intrigue and plot.
Rubicon Series 1, Episode 2 00.05.18

The reason the piece communicates so well is similar to something weve looked at
numerous times; how the changing intervallic context of one key note can create a
strange effect. The notes in fig.95 are scored out as vertical chords below (fig.96).

On face value and in root position the chords of Gm to Ebm have a downward direction.
But because the first chord is scored in root position and the Ebm chord is inverted over
its Gb the overriding harmonic feel is expansive, e.g. outward creating contrary motion.

Similar devices are used by many composers, perhaps most notably Hans Zimmer in the
film The Ring (below), which bares strong resemblance to Fig 95 from Rubicon.

Typical of Zimmers style, bars four and five are skewed in that the lower arpegiated
line features the A note (maj7) over an inverted minor arpeggio. There is some friction
between the A note and the Bb melody note in bar four; also there is a whiff of
polytonality in that the E melody note in bar five, together with the A (maj7) in the
arpegiated piano line and the Db in the same arpegiated line, creates a feel of the chord of
A. If this is the case it is the F note which is the fly in the ointment. This duality of
perception is key to the dreamy feel of the cue.

Fig. 95
The note of Bb goes from being a
min 3
of a Gm to being a 5
of an

Gm Ebm
Dm Bbm
Fig. 96
Fig. 97
Audio - The Well from The Ring (Hans Zimmer)
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


Walking with Dinosaurs Ben Bartlett

Walking with Dinosaurs was a six-part BBC documentary series. Capitalising on the
interest created fictionally by Jurassic Park it initially aired in Britain and was eventually
shown all over the world; it was one of the most successful TV documentaries ever made.
It used the type of CGI which had previously only been available in high budget feature
films. The documentary didnt feature talking heads style interviews but made excellent
use of top scientists and palaeontologists. The transcription below is from the episode
entitled Giants of the Skies and comes in just after the main 30 second introduction

Walking with Dinosaurs Giants of the Skies 00.00.30

Interplay and interaction is the key to almost every example of successful and effective
music. Specifically the relationships that exist between different harmonies are
responsible for a great deal of what we then interpret as colour and emotion in music.
Spending hours looking for the elusive great chord is, in the final analysis, a worthless
pursuit unless that chord has something to relate to. And if it does have something to
relate to, it wont be either chord that is great but the relationship and interaction
between them. In the opening of Ben Bartletts music for this episode we see a classic
emotional relationship between two types of chords; one normal and the other skewed.

Fig. 98

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


The first harmonised bar (bar two) features an F#m whereas bar three features a more
captivating and intriguing chord, conveying mystery and foreboding: this is a minor
chord with a maj7
extension and is a classic James Bond chord. This pattern is then
repeated in bars five and six.

Neither of the two chords used is spectacular. Even the Bond chord needs an antidote. If
one were to play nothing but minor chords with maj7
extensions they would become
firstly tedious and then irritating, very quickly. It is the light and shade that creates the
dynamic. At the beginning of the new phrase (bar seven) the relationship between normal
and skewed is reversed. Normally two skewed chords (bars six and seven) in a row would
be too much, but the chord change (Am to Fm) alters this dynamic. If we now look at a
transcription of the accompanying harmonies, concentrating on the chord voicing, we can
see and hear to what degree they smooth these transitions between normal and
skewed. Although F#m and Am are a minor 3
apart the voicing does not move a minor
. It moves in varied degrees.

Although the chordal move is a minor 3
the top note moves a semitone down (C# to C)
and the second note stays the same (A to A). It is the bottom two notes (F# to A and C#
to E) which make the minor 3
adjustment. This is a simple but important observation
about how accompanying harmony needs to be fluid and not chromatic in its movement.
The note of A once again plays two roles (min3
and 1

The other thing to observe about fig 100 is that the accompaniment creates contrary
motion. The manoeuvre from Fm to Am (below, fig.101) again features the same
approach to voicing where, although the chordal manoeuvre from Fm to Am this time
constitutes a major3
, the individual intervallic movements of each accompanying voice
are varied.

C# 5

A 3

C# 5

F# 1

C 3

A 1

E 5

A 1

Fm Am
Fig. 99
Fig. 101
Fig. 100
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


This time there is no contrary motion because the top note remains the same. There are
more notes in the first chord than the second, but the top note (C) stays static (although
what it represents moves downward from a 5
to a 3
). The Ab moves to the A, the F
moves to the E, the C to the E and the bottom F up to the A.

Whats interesting about analysing the movement of notes in chords is that the voicing is
absolutely crucial to how the chord sounds. Too many writers look at what they perceive
to be arranging issues after the event (of composing) not during it. Arranging, in
particular, voicing, is a crucial component of composition. Looking at the chord sequence
between the Fm and Am (fig.101) there are several contexts to examine. The overriding
context is obviously how the sequence sounds. It sounds as if it is moving upward. But if
we look at the notes as music (fig.102, left) we can see that not all the notes move
upward. If we look then to the right of fig.102 and to the notes as intervals relative to the
chords they are in, movements are different again, with only two intervals moving up as
intervals. This is important because the disparity between what notes do and what
intervals do represents the main reason chordal harmony sounds fluid and not parallel.

Take another look at the melodic passage (taken from bar fifteen-eighteen of the piece).
Below we have the notation, under which we have the physical musical direction of the
notes. Underneath that we have the intervallic context (what interval is being played in
context of the chord which accompanies it). Melody itself has two contexts; one is the
obvious physical context and the other is the intervallic context of how the notes relate to
the chords that accompanies them.

C 5

Ab 3

F 1

C 5

F 1

C 3

A 1

E 5

A 1

Fig. 102
Fig. 103
8 (octave)
How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013


I say all this to make the point that what we hear is a mixture of all these subtleties. Most
people are blissfully unaware of all but the most obvious contexts in which music exists
but, as I have stated before, theyre still the recipients and beneficiaries of all of them.

Batman Neil Hefti

Neil Heftis wonderfully captivating music to the original Batman television series is as
iconic as the show itself. Even now, in 2013, if you were to play the themes of Danny
Elfman, Elliot Goldenthal and Hans Zimmer (composers of the various Batman films
over the past twenty years) none of the themes, fabulous as they are, would be as
instantly recognisable as Neil Heftis theme for the 1960s television show. Indeed the
music for the television show in general has some iconic names attached to it with much
of the incidental music being created by legendary arrangers Billy May and Nelson
Riddle. The theme itself is built around a guitar hook, punctuated with the only lyric
Batman sung alongside unison trumpets.

Audio Theme from Batman

Which components or aspects of the simple theme above are so distinctive and pivotal
that they make it stand out from the rest? There is, as ever, more than one single reason.
Although the guitar riff is prominent, fluctuating as it does between 5
, flat 5
and 4

you will see and hear that none of the chords possess 3rds of any description. This lends
the music a stark harshness which highlights and exposes the 5ths, flattened 5ths and

5 5