Key Stage 3 Composition

Year 9 – Film Music Lesson

A great way to introduce students to cinematic music.

If you are thinking about getting your students into composing for film then this might be a great place to start. I love cinematic music and the students I teach really enjoy creating music to fit a film theme or genre. I find that this continues through GCSE & A-Level and I think all of my A2 submissions this year are cinematic or programmatic in nature. Starting this in year 9 and sparking a passion for film music is therefore a great idea.

Ultimately the place to start is mood and atmosphere and how we can start to use conventions of cinematic music as well as key compositional devices. For my year 9 lessons today I am going to give them a trailer. I always choose something that is bright, jolly and often animated. Today I am using the trailer from the recent film Trolls:

Obviously if possible you need to download the video file from youtube and this can easily be done using a site such as:

It is also good to then try and remove the audio from the trailer. You don’t want them to hear how it sounds.

You now need to open the trailer in the software you intend to use. This could be a sequencer such as GarageBand or Cubase, alternatively you might like to use Sibelius. I have been using Sibelius with Year 9 and so I am going to use Sibelius today.

The Lesson Objective is simply – Change the mood of this trailer using music. And I am going to give them the following things to include:

  • Off-Beat Rhythms
  • Pedal Notes
  • Chromatics
  • Cluster Chords
  • Ostinato

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Cinematic Suspense PDF

I will demonstrate these elements before they start and I will then be giving them three lessons to add music to this trailer. The goal will be that they will turn this trailer from being a jolly kids cartoon to having a very different mood. In an ideal world they would be able to video edit the trailer as well, but for now I just want to see them create music for it. It is two minutes long and so it may be that some of them only manage the first minute, but a number of them will be able to fill the time, especially if they create atmosphere at the start. That is something I am going to really focus on with them to ensure that they create mood in their music. Often students fail to give their piece a mood or style and this lesson should help them to move on from this. Cinematic music is also about what is happening on screen rather than structure. I am going to be referring to the A-Level spec with he higher ability groups – one of the set works is the score for Psycho. I want them to get excited by the thought of creating music that has a function.

What the students really love about this is that they get to see their music in action straight away with the film playing along. It is a great lesson! Make sure that you put the film online for them to download, or send it to all the computers in advance. Also make sure that you show them what the above elements are and sound like in advance. For differentiation you obviously need to spend the lesson going from computer to computer giving them pointers and working out where they are all at. Rather than giving separate tasks I find that it is best to see how students make progress in the lesson and respond to their individual needs from there. If there are students that are particularly weak with software then it might be good to use a loops based bit of software rather than notation. But the task can be the same and the outcomes will be similar, but potentially less musically advance.

If students can grasp how to create mood in music and how to respond to a what is on screen then they will have made a huge step forward with composition. Vary the elements above as you wish, but let them be creative and watch as the really strong composers shine.

Let me know how you get on. I will do the same later!

And if you haven’t ever watched the video below then please do, it will show you the kind of thing that can happen when the music for a film is changed:

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