Stylistic Adaptations in Film Scoring


Authored by Richard Davis


Course Code: OCOMP-662

Next Semester
Starts Sept 27

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


One of the important skills for the modern film composer to master is the ability to incorporate music from different cultures and countries into a feature film, television show, or documentary film score. Whether the location of the film or program is a certain country, or the characters are from a particular part of the world, a director may want to reflect the culture being shown to varying degrees. This course will present a framework by which you will learn to perform research and make appropriate choices. During the course, you will employ research techniques to develop a deep understanding of different musical styles, systems, instruments, melodic and harmonic structures, and societal functions. This work will prepare you for professional endeavors and collaborations with directors and producers that require music of a different culture.

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

  • Analyze a film for places where music from another country or culture is appropriate 
  • Determine if this music should be literal, or just referred to
  • Use scales, instruments, and rhythmic patterns in various non-Western music systems in a film score
  • Develop original themes and musical textures using the results of this research
  • Incorporate and fuse this material with Western instruments or ensembles
  • Use sample libraries to recreate the sounds of world instruments that are not available as a live recording option
  • Work with musicians who come from another system of music
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Lesson 1: Composing in a Multicultural Landscape

  • Foundational Concepts and Questions
  • The Emotion of Musical Gestures, and Consonance/Dissonance in Differing Cultures
  • Temperament and Tuning
  • A Case Study of Traditional Mexican Music and Cultural Appropriation
  • Assignment 1: Cultural Music Scene Example and Mexican Music Analysis 

Lesson 2: Understanding Cultural Respect

  • Cultural Respect in Films and Music
  • Cultural Appropriation
  • Continuing the Case Study of Mexican Music in Films
  • Other Adaptations of Mexican Music
  • Assignment 2: PBS Viewing Guide Essay

Lesson 3: The Music of India

  • An Overview of Indian Music
  • Hindustani Music for this Course
  • Melody and Pitch—Or Raga
  • The Instruments of Indian Classical Music
  • Different Styles of Hindustani Classical and Light Classical Music
  • Assignment 3: Researching and Composing a Raga Melody

Lesson 4: Rhythm in Indian Music; Music in Bollywood - Part 1

  • Percussion Instruments
  • Bollywood from 1935 to 1950
  • Bollywood from 1950 to 2000
  • Seminal Artist: Satyajit Ray
  • Seminal Artist: A.R. Rahman
  • Assignment 4: Indian Raga Melody Cue

Lesson 5: Indian Film Music in the Twenty-First Century; Bollywood and Hollywood

  • Lagaan, Music by A.R. Rahman
  • Hybrid Ragas
  • Combining Ragas
  • Life of Pi Score by Mychael Danna
  • Assignment 5.1: Hybrid Indian Composition Final Version
  • Assignment 5.2: Final Project: Part 1 Delivery

Lesson 6: The Origins of Americana Music

  • Definition of Americana Music 
  • Americana in Film
  • Origins in the Scots-Irish Migrations
  • Scots-Irish Music
  • New Influence on Mountain Music
  • Music of the African Diaspora
  • Minstrel Shows
  • Assignment 6.1: He Got Game Analysis
  • Assignment 6.2: Final Project: Part 2 Research Sources

Lesson 7: Synthesis of Scots-Irish and African Music

  • Black Music in the Post-Civil War Era
  • The Birth of the Blues
  • Types of Blues
  • Blues in Film
  • Scots-Irish and African-American Traditions Merge
  • Country Music and Bluegrass
  • Roots Country Music in Films
  • Assignment 7.1: Deadwood Cue Draft
  • Assignment 7.2: Project, Part 3: Sources Report

Lesson 8: Adapting Jazz to a Film Score

  • The Birth of Jazz
  • Jazz in the ’20s and ’30s
  • Big Band and Swing Era
  • Jazz in Animated Films
  • Jazz of the 1940s
  • Jazz of the 1950s
  • Jazz in Films of the 1960s and '70s
  • Assignment 8: Deadwood Cue Final Version

Lesson 9: Native American Music in Hollywood 

  • The Perception of Native American Culture in America
  • The Myth of “Indians”
  • Depiction of Native Americans in Hollywood
  • The Portrayal of Native Americans in Film in the Late Twentieth Century
  • Native American Music
  • Native American Instruments
  • Native American Music in Hollywood Films
  • Assignment 9: Project, Part 4: Audio Cue Draft

Lesson 10: Early Western European Music

  • Overview of the Broad Categories of European Classical Music
  • Gregorian Chant and Early Polyphony
  • Organum
  • Medieval Instruments
  • The Kingdom of Heaven
  • The Name of the Rose
  • Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
  • Becket
  • Assignment 10: Project, Part 5: Score Mock-Up

Lesson 11: Music of the Renaissance 

  • The Music of the Renaissance
  • Musical Forms of the Renaissance
  • Important Composers of the Renaissance
  • Instruments of the Renaissance
  • Film Scores Using Music of the Renaissance
  • Shakespeare in Love
  • Elizabeth
  • Music of the Baroque
  • Instruments in the Baroque
  • Film Scores Using Music of the Baroque
  • Music of the Classical Era
  • Film Scores Using Music of the Classical Era
  • Assignment 11.1: Gregorian Chant Melody Cue Composition
  • Assignment 11.2: Project, Part 6: Mock-up and Full Score Due

Lesson 12: Wrap Up

  • Communication
  • Budget Considerations
  • Musical and Technical Considerations
  • Studio Considerations
  • Adapting Today’s Music for the Future
  • Electronic Sound in Film


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Completion of OCOMP-507: Orchestral Mockups in Film Scoring, OCOMP-525: Film Score Analysis, OCOMP-577: Professional Film Scoring Skills 1: Collaboration and Communication, OCOMP-588: Mixing the Film Score, and OCOMP-690: Compositional Voice Development in Film Scoring or equivalent knowledge and experience is required.

Film Scoring Rig: Click here for the full software and hardware requirements for the program.

  • Additional sample libraries covering a wide range of instruments from around the world beyond those typically found in a standard Western orchestra, such as, but not limited to one of the following: 
    • East West RA, Silk, and Stormdrum 3 (or 2) - All included in the EW Composer Cloud.
    • UVI World Suite - Berklee Online students get a 30% discount on the World Suite.
    • Best Service Ethno World 6

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


Richard Davis

Author & Instructor

Richard Davis is a performer and composer in classical, jazz, popular, country, and East Indian music. He has performed with greats like Phylicia Rashād, Betty Buckley, John Denver, and Illinois Jacquet. His film and television credits include Robin Hood: Prince of ThievesThe Last Boy ScoutThe Fall Guy, and others. Davis earned his bachelor of music degree from California State University at Northridge. 

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Stylistic Adaptations in Film Scoring can be applied towards these associated programs:

Associated Degree Major


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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