Online Master's Degree Course

Stylistic Adaptations in Film Scoring


Authored by Richard Davis


Course Code: OCOMP-662

Next Semester Starts January 11, 2021

Level 6 - Degree Only

Level 6

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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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors Request Info


Lesson 1: Composing in a Multicultural Landscape

  • Foundational 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 1.1: Cultural Scene Examples 
  • Assignment 1.2: Native Amazonian Music Perception

Lesson 2: Best Practices for Cultural Music Research

  • Effective Research Techniques
  • Researching the Music of Mexico
  • Adapting the Music of Mexico
  • Assignment 2.1: Cultural Music Examples
  • Assignment 2.2: Frida, The Lone Ranger, and Three Amigos Scene Analysis

Lesson 3: The Music of Dents in the Lessons. India

  • An Overview of Indian Music
  • Classical Hindustani Music: The instruments
  • Raga and Tala
  • Assignment 3: Traditional and Hybrid Indian Music Analysis

Lesson 4: Historical and Present Day Contexts in Indian Music 

  • Persian Influence and Western Influence on Hindustani Music
  • The Intertwined Relationship of Devotional Styles to Classical Indian Music
  • The Integration of Hindustani Classical and Indian Folk Styles into Bollywood Films
  • Assignment 4: Hybrid Indian Composition Draft

Lesson 5: Indian Music in Hollywood and Bollywood

  • Bollywood from the 1990s to the Present
  • Indian Classical Music used as Underscore and Source Music
  • The use of Indian Music in Hollywood Films
  • Assignment 5.1: Hybrid Indian Composition Final Version
  • Assignment 5.2: Cultural Music Project—General Description

Lesson 6: The Origins of Americana Music

  • What is Americana? 
  • Origins in the Scots-Irish Migrations
  • Origins in the African Diaspora
  • Assignment 6:  John Williams’s African Music Adaptation from Amistad Scene Essay

Lesson 7: Synthesis of Scots-Irish and African Music

  • Black Music In The Post-Civil War Era
  • Scots-Irish and African Traditions Merge
  • Scots-Irish and African Music as used by American Classical Composers
  • Assignment 7.1: The Songcatcher Source Music Essay
  • Assignment 7.2: Deadwood Score—First Draft

Lesson 8: Adapting Jazz to a Film Score

  • The Language of Jazz
  • A Survey Of Jazz-Influenced Film And TV Scores
  • Jazz in Twenty-First Century Film Scores
  • Assignment 8.1: ‘Jazz’ Gestures of Melody Analysis
  • Assignment 8.2: Project, Part 4: Audio Cue Draft

Lesson 9: Native American Music in Hollywood 

  • Native American Music
  • The Perception of Native American Culture
  • Native American Music in Film
  • Assignment 9.1: Deadwood Score Cue
  • Assignment 9.2: Cultural Music Project: Instrumentation, Scales, and Rhythm

Lesson 10: Early Western European Music

  • Overview of the Various Time Periods and Broad Categories of European Classical Music
  • Gregorian Chant and Early Polyphony
  • Gregorian Chant and Early Polyphony In Films
  • Assignment 10: Cultural Music Project: Draft of Cue Composition

Lesson 11: Music of the Renaissance 

  • Renaissance Period
  • The Music of the Renaissance
  • Renaissance Music in Film
  • Assignment 11.1: Gregorian Chant Melody Cue Composition
  • Assignment 11.2: Cultural Music Project: Draft Submission

Lesson 12: Wrap Up

  • Creating a Sound for a Film
  • Communicating with Musicians Who Do Not Speak ‘Western Music’
  • Adapting Today’s Music for the Future


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 (available in the course when joining your first chat)
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal Microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection



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. 


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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