Film Scoring 101


Authored by Patrick Kirst


Course Code: OCWPR-260

Next Semester Starts
June 26, 2023

Level 2

Level 2

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Film and media music today are thriving. This is partially due to the success of the streaming industry expanding content at an astonishing rate, thus creating a demand for media composers like never before. 

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In this course you will get a strong foundation for what a job as a film and media composer entails. The ultimate goal of this course is to help you transition from being a composer to becoming a media composer. Film Scoring 101 provides the necessary link between film and music that will help demystify this highly fascinating art form.

After a quick overview of the media industry today, you will learn the technical and aesthetic challenges in this highly competitive field. You will be able to analyze and spot a film score and become a better storyteller through various writing exercises.

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

  • analyze the story in a film based on the common three-act structure
  • appreciate the art of filmmaking as a collaborative process of many different departments, music being just one of them
  • understand the historical and technical challenges in film and music synchronization
  • understand the creative process of writing to picture
  • set up your DAW with appropriate tempo and meter maps
  • tackle the most common challenges film composers come across, including:
    • main titles
    • passages of time
    • action scenes
    • tension-filled scenes
    • dialogue scenes
  • develop thematic material
  • spot a movie
  • use electronic synthesis as a creative tool
  • navigate the intricacies of the business, including:
    • Contracts and deals
    • publishing vs. writer’s share
    • self-promotion
    • career paths
  • import video and create an offset start point in your DAW for scoring purposes
  • create final audio mixes within a QuickTime movie

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Lesson 1: An Introduction

  • Overview of the Media Industry Today
  • The Narrative, Programmatic Nature of Film Music
  • The Absolute Nature of Music
  • The Role of Film Music
  • The Role of Silence
  • The Key Ingredients to a Great Film Score
  • Assignment 1: Create a Program Note and a Short Composition

Lesson 2: Technical Aspects

  • The Three Stages of the Film Production Process
  • The Who-is-Who in the Film Biz
  • The Film Music Production Process
  • Syncing to Picture
  • Assignment 2: Analyze the Filmmaker’s Decisions in Your Favorite Film

Lesson 3: Understanding Drama

  • The Basic Structure of a Modern Drama
  • The Basic Signposts in a Film
  • The Filmmaker’s Lingo
  • Film Music Lingo
  • Understanding a Script
  • Assignment 3: Analyze a Film’s Dramatic Structure

Lesson 4: The Different Writing Styles in Film Music History – Part 1

  • Motivic Writing in Short Blocks
  • Strong, Long-Form, and Thematic
  • Americana Style
  • Rhythm- and Chord-Focused
  • The Epic Sound and Power of the Triad
  • Dissonant-Rich Scores
  • Assignment 4: Research and Analyze Different Musical Styles in Film

Lesson 5: The Different Writing Styles in Film Music History – Part 2

  • Small Ensemble – The Close-Up Sound
  • Modal-Based Scores
  • Orchestral, Minimal, and Pattern-Oriented
  • Sound Magic
  • Modern Minimal, Poignant, and Emotional
  • Assignment 5: Your Musical Approaches to Different Genre Films. Write a score suite for one of the musical approaches you wrote.

Lesson 6: Frame Rates, Time Codes, and DAW Setup 

  • Picture Sync
  • Frame Rates and Timecodes
  • Setting up Your DAW to Match Window Burn
  • Creating Markers 
  • Tempo and Meter Maps
  • Assignment 6: DAW Work – Plus Add Percussion Track: Planet Earth 2

Lesson 7: Spotting 

  • Ins, Outs, and Scene Changes 
  • Main Functions of a Cue 
  • Songs in Films – ‘Needle Dropping’
  • Spotting Analysis: The Theory of Everything
  • Assignment 7: Analyze Five Cues: The Theory of Everything

Lesson 8: The Writing Process

  • Learning the Language of Film Music by Building a Vocabulary 
  • Main Titles
  • Passages of Time
  • Tension Devices
  • Music Editing as Source of Inspiration
  • Assignment 8: Analyze and Transcribe Tension in Three Film Scenes

Lesson 9: Theme Adaptation

  • Thematic Material
  • Theme Adaptation and Drama
  • Common Techniques for Theme Adaptation
  • Theme Adaptation in Modern Media Scoring
  • Assignment 9: Adapt a Theme to Five Distinct Dramatic Situations

Lesson 10: Create an Underscore Cue

  • What is Underscore?
  • Examples of Underscore
  • Script Analysis
  • Underscoring Tools
  • Practicing Underscoring
  • Assignment 10: Create a Dialogue Underscore Cue

Lesson 11: Create a Sound Design-Based Cue

  • Less Pitch – More Sound!
  • Electronic Synthesis Basics
  • Basic Sound Manipulation Techniques
  • Hybrid Scoring
  • Assignment 11: Create a Sound Design-Based Cue

Lesson 12: Business Aspects for Aspiring Film and Media Composers

  • Promoting Your Work 
  • Networking and Career Opportunities
  • Budgeting Tips
  • Contracts and other Business-Related Topics
  • Typical Career Paths
  • Assignment 12: Develop a Budget and Final Project


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Completion of Music Theory 101, Music Theory and Composition 1, and Basic Ear Training or Ear Training 1 or equivalent knowledge and experience is required. Students should be comfortable with the features and workings of their DAW (digital audio workstation) of choice, be it Logic, Pro Tools, Digital Performer, or any of the other programs specifically listed. 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 have the following prerequisite musical and technical skills:

  • Ability to read and create music
  • Ability to compose music and create scores (either from a notation program such as Finale [full version] or Sibelius) or handwritten and scanned
  • Some experience with MIDI sequencing and digital audio software for producing and finalizing musical mock-ups via sample libraries

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

Required Textbook(s)

  • None Required

Recommended Textbook(s)

Software Requirements

  • One of the following DAWs:    
    • Logic Pro X
    • Pro Tools
    • Cubase
  • A notation software: Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, Dorico SE, or MuseScore (free)
  • Sample Libraries covering the standard orchestral families. The Spitfire BBC  Symphony Orchestra Discover (free with a 2-week wait) in addition to the virtual instruments included in the accepted DAWs are sufficient for this course.

Hardware Requirements

  • MIDI keyboard controller
  • Headphones or speakers

After enrolling, please check the Getting Started section of your course for potential deals on required materials. Our Student Deals page also features several discounts you can take advantage of as a current student. Please contact for any questions.

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
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Patrick Kirst


Patrick Kirst is a German-born film composer based in Los Angeles. He’s best known for his work on the highly successful romantic comedy trilogy, The Kissing Booth. The sequel was released in summer 2020 and for a second time achieved a record-shattering number of streams on Netflix. The release of The Kissing Booth 3 in 2021 completed the trilogy as one of the most successful franchises on the Netflix platform.

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In 2007, Kirst became an integral part of Aaron Zigman’s team, where he earned orchestration and additional music credits on top-grossing films such as The ProposalThe Ugly TruthSex and the City: The MovieMr. Magorium’s Wonder EmporiumThe Shack, and The War With Grandpa, to name a few. Kirst’s other composing credits include Disney’s first nature documentary Earth, Seaworld’s documentary-style theme park show Orca Encounter, the Swedish survival drama Breaking Surface, the political documentary Welcome to Pine Lake (CBSN), the opioid crime drama Inherit the Viper (Lionsgate), and the Netflix crime series Totenfrau.

As an integral part of the thriving media industry in Los Angeles, Kirst continues to share classic composition techniques and new innovations through both his work as a respected composer and as a professor at the University of Southern California. Read Less

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.

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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. Read Less


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