Online Master's Degree Course

Composing the Orchestral Film Score


Authored by Sean McMahon


Course Code: OCOMP-599

Next Semester
Starts April 6

Level 5 - Degree Only

Level 5

This course results in one cue recorded remotely with a 50+ piece professional orchestra. These recordings are well suited for your demo and use as promotional material. This course emphasizes process: you will compose, orchestrate, copy, prepare Pro Tools sessions, and mix your cue along with weekly writing assignments. You will gain recording experience and learn how to produce a session, directing professional musicians. You will expand your composer's toolbox and employ various compositional and orchestration devices to maximize the dramatic impact of their music. You will also learn from Hollywood’s finest composers and studio musicians through master classes.

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By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Write effectively for a real orchestral ensembles
  • Prepare record-ready Pro Tools sessions and professional standard scores and parts
  • Produce recording sessions and manage recording time
  • Create well-blended hybrid cues for MIDI instruments and live players
  • Employ a broad range of compositional and orchestral devices for cinematic and emotional effect
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors Request Info


Lesson 1: Form in Film Music

  • Review of Film Scoring Concepts
  • Kinetics in Film Scoring
  • Tempo Mapping
  • Assignment 1: Analysis of Dramatic Shifts/Tempo Mapping

Lesson 2: Melody and Counterlines in Film Scoring

  • Rhythm in Melody
  • Pitch Selection in Melody
  • Counterlines
  • Assignment 2: Writing Melodies and Counterlines

Lesson 3: Modal and Parallel Composition in Film Scoring

  • Modes
  • Approaching Modes Melodically
  • Approaching Modes Harmonically
  • Parallel Harmony
  • Identifying Melody Blocks
  • Understanding Constant Structure
  • Assignment 3: Modal Writing/Parallel Harmony

Lesson 4: Composing for Strings and Brass in Film Scoring

  • String Voicings and the Zed Clef Technique
  • Writing Divisi Parts
  • Writing for Strings
  • Balancing Brass Voicings
  • Writing for Brass
  • Assignment 4: Orchestrating for Strings and Brass

Lesson 5: Composing for Woodwinds, Percussion, and Choir in Film Scoring

  • Woodwinds
  • Percussion and Piano
  • Choir and Solo Voice
  • Doublings and Tutti Writing
  • World Instruments
  • Sketching
  • Assignment 5: Sketching Your Final Project

Lesson 6: Textures and Accompaniments in Film Scoring

  • Inactive Textures
  • Active Orchestral Textures
  • Accompaniments
  • Assignment 6: Mocking Up the Sketch of Your Project

Lesson 7: Recording Session Preparation and Best Practices

  • Pro Tools Interchange Review
  • Score Preparation Best Practices
  • Parts Preparation Best Practices
  • Conducting/Booth Best Practices and Post-Session Work
  • Assignment 7: Orchestration and Parts

Lesson 8: Modulations in Film Scoring

  • Why Modulate?
  • Prepared Modulations
  • Unprepared Modulations
  • Assignment 8: Prepare Your Record-Ready Pro Tools Session

Lesson 9: Unifying Agents in Film Scoring

  • Introduction to Unifying Agents
  • Pedals
  • Pulses
  • Rhythmic Pedals
  • Ostinatos
  • Assignment 9: Prepare Your Assets for Recording Session

Lesson 10: Advanced Harmonic Concepts in Film (Part 1)

  • A Free Chromatic Approach
  • Chromatic Mediant Relationships (CMRs)
  • Synthetic Scales
  • Assignment 10: Record Your Final Project

Lesson 11: Advanced Harmonic Concepts in Film (Part 2)

  • Polychords
  • Polytonality
  • Minimalism in Film Scoring
  • Assignment 11: Final Mix of Your Project

Lesson 12: Advanced Harmonic Concepts in Film (Part 3)

  • Aleatorica
  • Writing with Incomplete Parameters
  • Graphic Notation
  • Extended Techniques


Requirements coming soon.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in live chats. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of  Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software (available in the course when joining your first chat)
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal Microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection



Author & Instructor

Sean McMahon is the chair of the Film Scoring department at Berklee College of Music. He is a composer and an orchestrator whose credits include Spider-Man 3, Bridge to Terabithia, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and more. He has also scored a number of video games, including Jump Dewds! and Strata

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McMahon hails from Toronto, Canada, and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Film Scoring from Berklee College of Music. He has also completed the University of Southern California’s (USC) Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television program in Los Angeles. 

After his studies at USC, McMahon remained in Los Angeles to work for veteran Hollywood film composer and Golden Globe nominee, Christopher Young (The Shipping News, Swordfish, Runaway Jury). McMahon assisted Young in several roles including project manager and lead orchestrator. Their work together includes such films as The Grudge, Ghost Rider, Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas, and dozens more. McMahon has also orchestrated for Oscar-winner, John Ottman, on films such as Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and The Invasion. McMahon has been commissioned twice by the American Composers Forum to speak at national composer conferences on Hollywood film music and video game music. In 2013 McMahon shared the stage with game composing titans Lennie Moore (Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Lord of the Rings: The War of the Ring) and Jason Graves (Dead Space, Tomb Raider) for a game music conference called “Game On!” Read Less


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at

We can also answer basic questions in the comments below. Please note that all comments are public.


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