Extro's Guide to Understanding and Composing (Film) Music

Heya! So you may have seen me around the forums, and you know that I really enjoy film, video games, and music. I really, really like making music. Recently I felt like I wanted to create a guide for all of you, so here it is! Feel free to let me know if you want any future clarifications/corrections on anything!

Keep in mind that this guide is only for Film/Soundtrack Music and how I produce it, so if you’re looking for how to make EDM, Reggae, Rock, Pop, ETC, you’ll have to go elsewhere.

Overview/Analysis and Examples

Film and Soundtrack Music is prevalent in almost all corners of the media. Any good soundtrack behind a movie or a game should strive to bring out emotion in you, it doesn’t always mean more notes. If you take out a soundtrack, the experience should be noticeably different, perhaps even emptier. To make music in general, you have to enjoy it first. This section covers everything I love about film music, and at the end I’ll include my own instrumentational/emotional analysis on film scores/vgm scores that I absolutely love. I’m happy to take requests too, so put one in the comments and I’ll update the collection!

Analysis on Film Scores

This list will keep growing, but I hope that it’s of some interest to you. Each will be split into two parts, an analysis within context of the film, and an analysis on instrumentation.

Strange Days Ahead - Michael Giacchino

In Film Context:
So this song plays during the final scene with Strange, where he stands before the NYC Sanctum’s window as he looks at his hands. The shot freezes on his frame, and as he puts his hand down the music rises and the camera goes outside to pan out the rest of Manhattan. The score rises and it sounds like it ends on either a sus4 with a 7th or a flatted 7th to create something like a cliffhanger effect. This makes sense in the context, because it’s Strange’s first movie and he’s yet to complete his character arc fully. The 7th is just a nice segway into what will hopefully be a good sequel (sam raimi???). Immediately the score picks up for the credits. The French Horns and the trombones play a really full and vibrant sound. It goes with the credit sequence with all the gold watches and everything flowing around. It sounds as grand and confusing as Strange might have thought magic was at first, but the undertones still provide a solid stance on everything, and the percussion really helps to push everything forward. I think this might’ve been done to reinforce how the Ancient One was able to give Strange the pushes that he needed. At the very end, there’s a jumbled mess where the chords peak and pause to create a sense of airborne freefall, and then it lands solidly. Like how Strange was super confused throughout the movie and since he was having his morals twisted everywhere he didn’t really know what to think of himself. By the end he has a clear realization, which can be seen when he puts his hands down to solstice by his sides in the 2nd to last shot of the main movie.


It starts with a high tremolo string, almost as if it’s setting up for something to materialize around it. A lower choir joins in, with full horns and lower strings/horns playing up a long tone harmony in the background. One or two French Horns and a section of Violins carry the main melody. The outline is played, before everything is brought down to a few timpani hits and one low, held bass note. It then changes keys, (perspectives,) and a french horn plays the notes from the chord progressions as a melody. It’s only accompanied by the occasional synth pluck, and some quieter strings to give it a backdrop. Slowly, it picks up with a low bass playing the melody from before. A french horn and a high register violin play with each other, each playing a different voice.
Here the score starts to pick up. The main rhythm for the harmony is established with the harpischord, and a cello plays the chord progressions again. Then you can hear everything fall into place, with a synth playing the main line and the horns from before playing the progressions. It builds and builds, with more and more instruments joining it. It slows down, and ends on what sounds like a 7th before picking up into the main line. Deep war ensemble drums and a punctuating lines of trombones and horns are used to play the main melody. 2 Choirs join, one singing low melody, and one singing the main line. There’s a light cymbal tap in the background as well. The melody moves with purpose, and it feels like strong pushes from the orchestra. The score finally starts to put together fragments of what you heard before into one big piece. It builds up once more before pausing, and then dropping the final note on you. The last few held notes sound like dust settling.
This entire score is literally like a slightly altered Star Trek score. At first I wondered why it hadn’t been taken down or anything until I learned that they were both composed by the same person. Michael Giacchino my beloved.

Buckbeaks Flight - John Williams

In Film Context:
This song is definitely one of my favorites in regards to film music telling stories. Hagrid basically just bullied Harry into riding Buckbeak, a flying Hippogriff. Harry gets to soar over a lake and through the trees, and in this scene you can really feel the exhilaration Harry feels as he climbs and glides on Buckbeaks back. In part, it’s thanks to John Williams fantastic score. It feels a little tense and unsure when it first climbs, but once it breaks free you feel like you’re free falling. It’s a wonderful feeling really, from start to finish. When listening to this song, imagine yourself taking a running start off of a high point, sucking your breath in, and making that first leap. You loosen yourself and let the wind carry you up to higher and higher heights before letting you glide. From there it’ll gently lower you down onto the ground, where you still feel leftover exhilaration.


It starts off with a percussion ensemble primarily consisting of timpani’s and lower bass drums. Once it takes that leap, it starts off with a slightly panicky bassoon bassline and very thin strings. A flute and a french horn bring you up into the air. Strings play the simple 6 note motif while a horn soars with it in a parallel harmonic motion. As the melody builds up, more and more strings build up. A harpsichord plays in a mountain-like motion up and down its register. The woodwinds combine to feel like the wildlife around you, playing short and sweet notes while the strings represent you, in the main melody. Soon the score brings you down, as all of the instruments slowly descend in pitch and in volume. Two “breathes” from a glockenspiel and a harpsichord signify the end of the song.
What I love most about the instrumentation in this song is how the instruments are used to compliment what’s happening on screen. The beginning drum cadence only plays while Buckbeak is running on the ground. The screen also expands in the scene and changes to a more triumphant key when Harry realizes that he’s “free.” In the end, when Buckbeak descends, mostly woodwinds and other auxiliary percussions are used to represent Buckbeaks winged descent. All in all a fantastic score, one that I continue to reference when I make music. It’s a fantastic example of what film music is supposed to be.

DAWs/FL Studio

DAWs, or Digital Audio Workstations, are used to describe what musicians use to make music. There are tons of them out there, like I’m sure you’ve all heard of Garage Band. For the sake of my knowledge, I’ll only be covering the few that I know. Right now, it’s FL Studio, and in the future there may be Pro Tools content because the Berklee College of Music wants me to learn how to use it. If anyone wants further clarification on how to write orchestral music in FL Studio, I would check out Alex Moukala’s tutorials: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_CyR8Aqfl45kzFIDeMr-CQ

Music Theory

When reading this, it’s important to understand that music theory is just a set of suggestions for you. Our role as artists is to break the standards, not to follow them. Keeping that in mind, let’s go! I’ll divvy it up into sections and concepts. Since this is just a guide, I’ve only outlined the very basic ideas. If you do decide to make music, feel free to build off of these ideas!

Reading Notes (Bass and Treble Clef Only)

This visual should be helpful. In music, the alphabet goes “A B C D E F G A,” and it cycles on like that forever and ever. If there’s a note on or between ledger lines (like the A at the very bottom or top of the visual," go to the nearest note you can recognize and then say the alphabet going up or down. It’s good to get some kind of app, you can find plenty of them on the app store. They’ll help you learn to recognize notes quickly. This kind of thing can only be improved/understood with hands on practice, I can’t really explain it through text.

Time Signatures/Meter

Meter is the pulse in music. Without it, music would just be an assortment of sounds slapped together, similar to what you might hear when you’re on a walk during a bright sunny day.
Time signatures are written with one number on top of the other. The number on top tells you how many beats there are per measure, and the bottom number tells you what kind of note counts for one beat. For example: 4 4 time means that there are 4 notes (counts) per measure, and each QUARTER note gets one count. 3 4 time means there are 3 counts, and a quarter note gets one beat. 6 8 time means that there are 6 beats in each measure, and each EIGHTH note gets one count. ETC. Now to determine weather or not something is duple (double) or triple metered, you can count the pulse. If it feels like a waltz, or it’s got the swinging “one two three one two three” kinda feel, it’s triple meter. If it sounds like a march, and you can count like “ONE and TWO and THREE and FOUR and” etc, it’s duple meter. I’ll get into odd meter later, but for now that’s the basic.

Intro to Chords

Chords are the harmonies that you hear in music. When 3 or more notes are played together at the same time, that’s a chord. They get very wacky and complex and they’re so versatile. For your sake, I’ll be covering the beginning stuff for now.
The first two types of chords that I learned were major and minor chords. They’re the basis for a lot of these other types of chords. To understand them, you have to play around with them and learn what they sound like. I suggest playing a random note, and then playing two different notes near it. Try stacking notes too, to see just how funky you can make them. I’ll include a diagram below to help.

Other Notes

-Personal Stuff:
I may be starting commissions soon, I want to be able to create music and earn money. I need to build a portfolio but if you’re interested in it when I open up, feel free to contact me on twitter or insta, both of which are listed on my profile.
-I am also looking for people who are able to animate/record acting scenes that I can use to score things over. They don’t have to be complicated or fancy, I just want to be able to score music over it. If you have anything resembling like this, please let me know. I just need like a video file or something, that’s all.

Ahaha finals REAALLY took me out. I’m back now, and I think my passion for music has finally reignited. This guide as it stands, seems to be about done (save for score analysis.) I think what I’ll end up doing is creating a separate topic for my test/wip music and shit posts. There, I’ll have this linked at the top with an overview, and if anyone has any questions then I can go more in depth there.

That’s all, take care folks :))



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how do i uhhh

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haha yeah

Update: Analysis on Buckbeaks Flight and a passage on Intro to Chords

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Have you given up on this?

nah, ap testing just rolled around so I don’t have as much time to write every day

Ok (3 characters)