Film Scoring 101

Author: Donald Wilkins | Course Code: OCWPR-260

Today, more than ever, music fulfills a vital role in feature films, documentaries, and television shows. The works of Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) and David Lynch (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet) are almost as well known for their musical components as they are for their visual content, thanks to their scores by Mark Mothersbaugh and Angelo Badalamenti. Drawn from Berklee College of Music's film scoring curriculum, Film Scoring 101 guides you through the process of creating original music to accompany a visual medium. The course begins by focusing on the aesthetics, terminology, procedures, and technical aspects of film scoring. As the course progresses, you'll apply these skills towards your class project of scoring a short film. By using a broad range of techniques including click tracks, spotting, scoring under dialogue, free timing, and the creative use of overlap cues, you'll learn how to develop a dramatic concept for your score and how to synchronize it seamlessly to visual events. You'll also learn some invaluable self-promotion tips, such as creating an effective scoring demo and ways to collaborate on scoring projects. If you are a composer drawn to the challenges and rewards of professional scoring assignments, this course is for you.

By the end of the course, you will:

Understand dramatic implications through analysis of visual examplesDemonstrate a facility with fundamental and advanced scoring techniquesScore several visual sequences of different dramatic content using a range of scoring techniquesSpot for music, conceptualize an approach and produce score for a complete short filmUnderstand the expectations of professional scoring and identify a variety of scoring opportunities

Lesson 1: Drama and Music

Absolute Music vs. Functional MusicList Situations Where Music Provides SupportTechnological AdvancesEarly Film and Sound TechnologyFilm Scoring TerminologyCategories of Music in Visual MediaMusicals: Adapted to Film - Original Film MusicalsAssignment 1: Identify Musical Usage

Lesson 2: Dramatic Functions

Composer As StorytellerPlotting the Dramatic and Musical Arc of a SceneA Symbiotic RelationshipDramatic Function: Three General CategoriesAssignment 2: Music as a Tool for Dramatic Development

Lesson 3: Film Terminology and Dramatic Application

The Stages of Film ProductionSetting Up and Shooting a SceneFilm Grammar and Linear StructureCommon AbbreviationsDramatic Application of Camera Movement and PerspectiveAssignment 3: Analysis of Two Scenes from Apollo 13

Lesson 4: Spotting

Before You Start WritingConsideration When SpottingMusic Spotting for Under the Tuscan SunFilm Grammar and Linear StructureAssignment 4: Sinead Rising Talking Points

Lesson 5: Working with SMPTE Time Code

SMPTE Time CodeWorking with SMPTE Timecode and Timecode OffsetsThe Music Summary/Master Cue ListImporting/Opening Video in a DAWCreating a Off-Set Timecode Start for Music in a VideoSpecific Guidelines for Digital Performer, Logic, and Pro ToolsAssignment 5: Score Sinead Rising

Lesson 6: Synchronization-Part 1

Music Mixes and QuickTime AudioCopying and Bouncing QuickTime with AudioTangible Content - Aesthetic ChoicesSynchronization DefinedThree Primary Scoring MethodsScoring in the Digital AgeCreate a Cue LayoutDownbeats and UpbeatsAssignment 6: Score a Scene

Lesson 7: Overlap Cues and Transitions

Overlapping Cues Defined and IllustratedWhy and When to Use and OverlapTechniques for Creating OverlapsMusical Considerations: Tempo, Tonality, and TimbreAssignment 7: Creating Overlapping Cues with Comments

Lesson 8: Spotting and Scoring a Short Film

Putting It All TogetherSpotting - Transitions and OverlapsCreating the Spotting NotesAssignment 8a: Spot the Blue City MovieCreating a Music SummaryDeveloping a Concept for the ScoreAssignment 8b: Spotting Notes

Lesson 9: Compositional Devices in Dramatic Scoring

Compositional Devices Relevant in Dramatic ScoringThemes, Motifs, and Associated ElementsThe "Theme"Thematic Development and ManipulationPedal Point, Canons and Fugues, Negative AccentSketching Out a Scene: Design and LayoutThe Anatomy of a CueAssignment 9: MIDI Track Work - The Attic Photo Score

Lesson 10: Free Timing Concepts Applied to DAW Scoring

Methods of Free Timing Defined/ExamplesExplore Stop WatchConducting Beat PatternsThe Written ClickCreating a Sketch to TimingsDead Cues and Reference TimingsConduction Live PlayersAssignment 10: Create a Sketch Score

Lesson 11: Scoring under Dialogue or Narration

Dialogue is King or QueenOpen and Closed Scoring SituationsConsiderations for Scoring Under DialogueScoring Methods Under DialogueDialogue and Music as CounterpointNarration vs. DialogueAssignment 11: Apply Dialogue Scoring Techniques

Lesson 12: Professional Scoring: Preparation and Application

Trust and Believe in YourselfCreative Collaborations: Getting StartedConsiderations Before ScoringCreating a BudgetAssignment 12: Create a Music Budget for the Blue City Movie

Donald Wilkins

Author & Instructor

Don Wilkins is the Chair Emeritus of Berklee College of Music's Film Scoring Department. A graduate of Berklee (composition) and trained as a music editor in Hollywood, his experience in scoring and supervising music for film/video productions spans over thirty years. Hired to update and expand the original scoring courses at Berklee, he greatly expanded the Film Scoring program, adding new courses to the curriculum and overseeing the formation of this major field of study, now one of the largest at the college.

His professional credits include feature films, documentaries and series work for CBS (Hometown) and cable TV (Breaking Ground). He scored the music for the Academy Award nominee Urge to Build, and supervised the music on other nominated films including Academy Award winner Carl Hess: Toward Liberty. His expressive score for A City in Bloom, commissioned for the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston, was nominated for a New England Emmy.

A dedicated teacher and mentor, he has supervised the music of over 200-student film productions scored at Berklee and fostered the careers of many successful alumni in the film and television industry.

Jack Freeman


Jack Freeman has been teaching courses in film music editing, composition, and history at Berklee College of Music since 1991. He also supervises and designs facilities and classrooms in support of the Berklee curriculum. Freeman has extensive experience in film and video production, working in the fields of network broadcast, cable, and community television, and is well-versed in a wide variety of analog and non-linear editing platforms. He has given seminars and demonstrations in film music for the "Grammy in the Schools" program among others, and has composed original music for a variety of documentary, industrial, and experimental films and video productions.

A native of Saskatchewan, Canada, Freeman received a bachelor of music in education degree from the University of Regina (SK), and a bachelor of music degree in film scoring from Berklee College of Music. He was an artist in residence for the Saskatchewan Band Association, conducting numerous clinics and workshops across the province, and composing and publishing several works for concert band. Freeman continues to play trombone and piano in a variety of settings in the Boston area, and assists non-profit groups in video production.

Pinar Toprak


Pinar Toprak is a composer with an impressive number of credits (27 scores in the last five years), including the 2010 film The Lightkeepers starring Richard Dreyfuss, Blythe Danner, and Bruce Dern. Her score for the film was on the Oscar short list of eligible scores. Other credits include scores for the action film Behind Enemy Lines 2: Axis of Evil, the crime drama Breaking Point with Tom Berenger and Busta Rhymes, the animated feature Light Of Olympia featuring the voices of Debbie Reynolds and Phyllis Diller, and the romantic drama Say It In Russian starring Faye Dunaway and Stephen Brand. She has also written music for the Xbox 360 video game "Ninety Nine Nights" produced by Microsoft, as well as numerous trailers and commercials.

Toprak was born in Istanbul and began her music education at the age of five at the renowned Istanbul State Conservatory. While at the conservatory, she studied composition, violin, and voice, and graduated with a diploma in classical guitar. In 1997, she moved to Chicago and studied piano and jazz theory with many master jazz pianists. She later decided to combine her two biggest passions, music and film, and traveled to Boston to attend the Berklee College of Music. She finished her bachelor's degree in film scoring in just two years and moved to Los Angeles to further pursue her career in film music. At the age of 22, she received a Master of Music degree in composition, and her thesis was commissioned by California State University and performed by the CSUN Symphony Orchestra.

After completing her master's degree, Toprak joined the Media Ventures team (now known as Remote Control), home of the legendary film composer Hans Zimmer, during projects such as Pirates of The Caribbean, The Last Samurai, and King Arthur. After working as Zimmer's programmer, she decided to venture on her own. She currently resides in Los Angeles, working out of her own studio on several upcoming, exciting features.

An existing competency in creating music, combined with a thoughtful awareness of drama and human emotion will be critical assets to draw upon from your own background.

You should be comfortable with the features and workings of your DAW of choice, be it Logic, ProTools, Digital Performer, or any of the other programs specifically listed.

You should have the following prerequisite musical and technical skills:

ability to read and create musicability to compose music and create scores (either from a notation program such as Finale (full version) or Sibelius, or handwritten and scannedintermediate/advanced experience with MIDI sequencing and digital audio software for producing and finalizing musical mock ups (MP3) via sample libraryability to import video (QuickTime) and create an offset start point in your digital audio workstation (DAW application) for scoring purposesability to create final audio mix within QT movie and submit

Courses that may help you prepare for Film Scoring 101 include the following:

Music Theory 101 through 301; Getting Inside Harmony 2; Basic Ear Training 1; Harmonic Ear Training; Guitar Chords 101; Berklee Keyboard Method; Counterpoint; Arranging: Woodwinds and Strings; The Language of Film and TV

Complete Guide to Film Scoring: The art and business of writing music for movies and TV by Richard Davis

Learn the art and business of writing music for films and TV, including: the film-making process, preparing and recording a score, contracts and fees, publishing, royalties, and copyrights. Features interviews with 19 film-scoring professionals.

Microsoft Excel, OpenOffice, or other program that allows you to work with Excel and Word files.One of the following digital audio workstation (DAW) software applications: Digital Performer 6 (or higher), SONAR X1 (or higher), Logic Pro 8 (or higher), Cubase 5 (or higher), Pro Tools 9 (or higher). Students should possess an intermediate sequencing skill level with these programs. If your DAW does not have a sample library, you should also have either a hardware or software sound source or third-party sample library. A program for decompressing zip compacted files, such as the Windows extraction Wizard or Stuffit Expander by Aladdin, available as a free download at PC Web Browser: Firefox (Recommended), Chrome, Internet Explorer 10 or higher Mac Web Browser: Firefox (Recommended), Chrome, Safari Flash Player: current version QuickTime: current version - Note: Quick Time Pro (V7) is also recommended for certain editing features not available in higher versions. Adobe Reader: current version
Mac OS X 10.7 or higherIntel Mac2 GB RAM500 GB Hard Drive/External HDAudio Interface—Firewire or USBMIDI compatible keyboard synthesizerSpeakers or headphones for your computer
Windows Vista SP2 or higherIntel Pentium 4 or higher2 to 4 GB RAM500 GB Hard Drive/External HDAudio Interface—Firewire or USBMIDI compatible keyboard synthesizerSpeakers or headphones for your computer


Got a question? 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.

Next Term Starts June 27

  • Level
  • Duration
    12 Weeks
  • 3-Credit Tuition
  • or
  • Non-Credit Tuition Add 6 CEUs
    $1,200 + $25

Contact an Advisor

Mon-Thu, 9AM-8PM ET
Fri, 9AM-5PM ET
Call or Text Us at

Int'l: +1-617-747-2146

Create an Account

Secure form. Berklee Online will not sell or rent your email address to third parties. Our privacy policy.
Sample a Lesson