Film Score Analysis


Authored by Tim Huling


Course Code: OCOMP-525

Next semester
starts June 24

12 Weeks

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


In this course you’ll examine the role of music in visual storytelling, explore how film composers establish and use an effective musical vocabulary, and learn to see films through the lens of a filmmaker. Analysis in this course emphasizes thematic and textural development and other musical elements that contribute to the overall narrative of the picture. You will learn how to utilize different dimensions of music—such as tempo, rhythm, timbre, harmonic language, and melodic contour— to support film in specific ways: expressing the film’s narrative structure, the characters’ transformation, the world of the film, the characters’ inner life, and more. We’ll also investigate how musical choices reflect the filmmakers’ visual choices in the making of their movie: shot angles, color palette, editing, and more. Each week during the first half of the semester, the course will cover one dimension of music and how it relates to the film and the story. During the second half of the term, we will deeply explores the music of one film each week. 

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This course will not only help you become a more effective film composer, but a more effective dramatist. This course will cover textural and electronic scores, in addition to traditional scores, and will emphasize a variety of genres and a diverse set of filmmakers and composers.

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

  • Explain how film composers establish a particular sound for a film

  • Demonstrate how a film composer’s musical choices support storytelling in film

  • Recognize recurring themes and understand theme transformation in film music

  • Analyze non-thematic film scores

  • Articulate a general breadth of knowledge in film

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Lesson 1: Themes and Thematic Transformation

  • Themes and Theme Attribution: Leitmotif Scores
  • Allusion and Transformation in Film Scores
  • Who, or What, Gets a Theme
  • Theme Construction: John Williams
  • Methods of Transformation: Cinderella 
  • Non-Thematic Film Scores
  • Assignment 1: Theme Analysis: Ready Player One

Lesson 2: Harmony in Film Music, Part 1

  • Foundations of Film Music Harmony
  • Broadway
  • Richard Wagner
  • Jazz Influence on Film Music Harmony
  • Pop and Rock Influence on Film Music Harmony
  • Modes in Film Music Harmony
  • Modes in Film Music Case Study 1: Bee Movie
  • Modes in Film Music Case Study 2: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Assignment 2: Analysis of Harmony in Film Music: Robin Hood Films

Lesson 3: Harmony in Film Music, Part 2

  • Non-Tertiary Harmony
  • Modernist Compositional Techniques in Film Music
  • Aleatoric Composition
  • Polytonality
  • Octatonics
  • Case Study: Sybil, Main Title
  • Minimalism
  • Assignment 3.1: Analysis of Modern Harmony in Film Music (Various Films)
  • Assignment 3.2: Analysis of Modern Harmony in Film Music: Catch Me If You Can

Lesson 4: Tempo, Pulse, Rhythm, and Harmonic Rhythm in Film Music

  • Tempo and Pulse
  • Tempo and Pulse Case Studies: Safe Haven and Thor
  • Rhythm
  • Rhythmic Vocabulary: Melody, Accompaniment, and Phrasing
  • Rhythmic Vocabulary: Ostinati
  • Harmonic Rhythm: The Post
  • Assignment 4.1: Tempo, Pulse, and Rhythm Analysis: Jason Bourne Films
  • Assignment 4.2: Harmonic Rhythm Analysis: Snow White and the Huntsman

Lesson 5: Instrumentation and Genre in Film Music

  • The Orchestral Film Score
  • Cue Analysis: Dave
  • Other Ensembles, and Style, in Film Music: Genre Influence
  • Medieval Scotland in Brave
  • Classic Las Vegas Remixed in Ocean's Eleven
  • Creating Contrast in The Ice Storm
  • Instrumentation and Genre: The Composer’s Sound Palette
  • The Electronic Film Score
  • Electronic Scores and Action Films
  • Assignment 5: Instrumentation and Drama (Various Films)

Lesson 6: Spotting and Cue Anatomy

  • Spotting: Where Should Music Go?
  • Ins: How Music Begins
  • Outs: How Music Ends
  • Scene Changes and Music
  • Hit Points: Why and What
  • Hit Points: How
  • Hit Points Case Studies: Inside Man and Christopher Robin
  • Assignment 6.1: Spotting Never Seen Before Footage
  • Assignment 6.2: Analysis of Hit Points: The Spiderwick Chronicles

Lesson 7: Gone with the Wind

  • Overview and Context
  • Score Analysis: The Absence of Music
  • Score Analysis: Use of Pre-Existing Material
  • Themes and Thematic Transformation 
  • Themes for Tara, Gerald, and Rhett
  • Harmonic Language, Instrumentation, and Style
  • Contrasting Example: The Beguiled
  • Contrasting Example: Lincoln
  • Assignment 7: Final Project Part 1: Spotting, Cue Beginnings and Endings, and Genre

Lesson 8: Psycho

  • Overview and Context
  • Harmonic Language, Instrumentation, and Style
  • Harmonic Language: The Sane and the Insane
  • Themes and Thematic Transformation
  • Prelude Material
  • Music for Madness
  • Contrasting Example: Backtrack
  • Contrasting Example: The Sixth Sense
  • Assignment 8: Final Project Part 2: Themes and Thematic Transformation

Lesson 9: Patton

  • Overview and Context
  • Themes and Thematic Transformation
  • Reincarnation, Religious, and Soldier Themes
  • Instrumentation and Style
  • Harmonic Language
  • Contrasting Example: Black Hawk Down
  • Contrasting Example: A Beautiful Mind
  • Assignment 9: Final Project Part 3: Harmonic Language

Lesson 10: Joy Luck Club

  • Overview and Context
  • Themes and Thematic Transformation
  • Chinese Heritage and New Life Themes
  • Loss and Daughters' Themes
  • Instrumentation and Style
  • Harmonic Language
  • Contrasting Example: Big Night
  • Contrasting Example: Moonlight
  • Assignment 10: Final Project Part 4: Tempo, Pulse, Rhythm, and Harmonic Rhythm

Lesson 11: Road to Perdition

  • Overview and Context
  • Score Analysis: The Absence of Music
  • Themes and Thematic Transformation
  • Journey and New Home Themes
  • Curious Boy Motif
  • Mike’s Decision Theme
  • Musical Gestures: Maguire and Moody Strings
  • Harmonic Language
  • Instrumentation and Style
  • Contrasting Example: The Godfather
  • Contrasting Example: The Book of Daniel
  • Assignment 11: Final Project Part 5: Cue Anatomy

Lesson 12: BlacKkKlansman

  • Overview and Context
  • Themes and Thematic Transformation
  • The Klan Motif
  • Ron Stallworth Motif
  • Main Title
  • Harmonic Language
  • Instrumentation and Style
  • Contrasting Example: We Own the Night
  • Contrasting Example: The Comedian


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
This course requires a strong background in music theory, music technology, and the fundamentals of film music. While it is not a composition course, it is designed for composition students.
Completion of Music Theory 301: Advanced Melody and HarmonyGetting Inside Harmony 2, or Music Theory and Composition 4; and Basic Ear Training 1; or equivalent knowledge and experience is required. Completion of Orchestration and/or Arranging courses is recommended but not required. Students should be able to:

  • Recognize scales and modes, intervals and chord qualities, instruments, and meters and rhythms in notated form and by ear in audio recordings.


  • No textbooks required

Media and Subscriptions

  • You must have access to the following films, as well as the equipment necessary to play movies on chosen media (e.g. DVD player, if necessary):
    • Gone with the Wind (1939)
    • Psycho (1960)
    • Patton (1970)
    • Joy Luck Club (1993)
    • Road to Perdition (2002)
    • BlacKkKlansman (2018)
    • One of the following:
      • Star Wars: Episode V - Empire Strikes Back (1980), or
      • Bee Movie (2007), or
      • Atonement (2007)



  • One of the following studio monitoring options (both recommended):
    • Studio monitors (pair), such as JBL 305Ps or better, as well as an audio interface and necessary cables
    • Over-ear studio headphones, such as Sennheiser HD 600, Sony MDR-7506, Philips SHP9500, Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, etc.
  • Recommended: MIDI keyboard controller

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Classes. 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
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Tim Huling

Author & Instructor

Tim Huling is a composer, orchestrator, producer and educator who works in music for film, TV, video games, the concert hall, and more. His credits include films such as Georgia Rule and Mad Money; TV shows such as Little PeopleBig World and Inside Passage; video games such as Planetary Annihilation and Skyrealm; and installations such as Hunger Games at the Motiongate Theme Park and Great Seattle Fire at MOHAI. Tim has enjoyed concert premieres, including works for symphony orchestra, chamber ensemble, various jazz works, and two ballets.

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In 2014, Tim was proud to return to his alma mater, the Film Scoring Department at Berklee College of Music. There he teaches film music composition, orchestration, and technology. Read Less

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Film Score Analysis can be applied towards the completion of these related programs:

Related Degree Majors


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

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