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Music Design for Film and Digital Media 

A Pedagogical Approach

Rolf Boon, Ph.D

Associate Professor


About the author

"Starring Katie Kane"

Directed by Toby Murray (2017)

Original score composed by

Rolf Boon & Duncan Metcalfe

Music Design for Film and Digital Media is an eText designed for use in university and college programs that offer an introduction to composition for visuals. It may also be of interest to those individuals who wish to explore the subject matter and improve their own knowledge base and skills. An intermediate understanding of music theory and facility with audio technology is recommend for getting the most out of the text.


The title states music design, as opposed to film composition, as a means of addressing the many changes in the styles of music now being created for visual projects.  Over the past several years, and as a consequence of improved technologies, it has become clear that we have moved, in many cases, to a more hybrid style and away from the motive based and orchestral scores.  Clearly, in many ways soundtracks have become a design element much like lighting, set, and film coloration among others.  Music is now colored by inventive sounds typically not heard before.  Sometimes scores will merge the experimental aspects of sound with traditional use of instruments.  Hybrid scores combine different languages, delivery mediums, and orchestrations (both acoustic and electronic).


This text brings to light some of these different languages and how and when they could be used for soundtracks.  It presents key concepts and terminologies that contribute to the exploration of the subject.  


Chapters include:

• Key terms to build a student’s vocabulary so that they can better communicate with directors, music editors and other involved in production.

• Examples cues, drawn from YouTube, Vimeo and other online sources that demonstrate a specific language or technique, are provided for presentation and discussion.

• Each chapter has a creativity on demand (COD) exercise, no longer than 20 minutes, to challenge students to meet the demand of generating ideas, not necessarily in finished form, on short notice.  They teach that there is no such thing as ‘writers block’.

• In-class exercises.

• Notated music examples to illustrate techniques.

• MIDI tips to get the most out of your sonic realizations raising the impact of music ideas using an electronic medium.

• Example student cues created in response to the material covered in each chapter.

• Chapter end quizzes to evaluate student’s understanding of the terminologies presented.

• Additional reading materials are presented at the end of each chapter that may be used as reading assignments to add other perspectives to the material being discovered.


They are identified by the following: 

Example Cue 

Creativity on Demand (COD) 


Notated Music


Student Cues 



Furthermore, having used the approaches described in this text for a number of years with excellent outcomes, I would suggest the following for an enhanced student and teaching experience: students choose their own cues to use for the assignments since they are more likely to produce a successful soundtrack if they are interested in the content and style (feature, documentary, experimental or animation) of the cues. I also encourage collaboration between students to encourage team-work and provide additional decision making into the process. 


Typically, students complete 5 short cues, using the languages presented, of 2-3 minutes in a four-month term course culminating with a 5-8 minute final project. This approach allows for the student to become familiar with sonic possibilities and the technology they are using. The final project can be a film and language of their choice or a hybrid of the ones covered in class. All cues are presented in class and discussed to encourage engagement and use of the vocabulary developed. The creativity on demand (COD) exercises and quizzes should be conducted on a weekly basis or suitable time since not all classes may not cover the material at the same pace. 


The technology required to work through this study is any audio software program that contains virtual instruments coupled with a controller. I recommend an Axiom controller and Logic Pro software.


Since students, as recommended, choose their own visual cues to work on, I strongly recommend a discussion about the use of violent, profane, and cues with other types of subject matter that my trigger an unfortunate and preventable response by an unsuspecting student. Students should address the type of cue they are presenting in class so that everyone has the opportunity to choose to leave for that presentation without impact on their grade. I also use a disclaimer on the first day of class to begin the discussion of acceptable content. Many video examples can be found by conducting a net search to find the best wording for your situation. I used one that I had a student create complete with audio and moving graphics:

In summary, Music Design for Film and Digital Media is a pedagogical instrument that contains teaching and learning ideas and a large collection of examples (both audio and video) to enhance the learning experience. It is a practical guide that travels through numerous techniques that allow the user to fill a sonic design ‘tool box’ from which they can withdraw ideas that may be useful for a specific soundtrack project. I am always pleasantly surprised by the creativity the students demonstrate while working through this eText. It is what brings purpose and joy to my teaching. 


I view this eText as a work in progress and therefore, should you have any suggestions, ideas, or recommendations, please do not hesitate to contact the publisher. I look forward to hearing about you and your students’ experience with the material. 

Dr. Rolf Boon

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Dr. Rolf Boon is an Associate Composer of the Canadian Music Centre (CMC), Member of the Canadian League of Composers (CLC), Delegate of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS), Member of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television (ACCT), Audio Engineering Society (AES) and New Music Edmonton (NME). His compositions and film work continue to receive national and international exposure including recent performances and/or presentations in London, New York, Vancouver, Toronto, Kraków, Athens, Barcelona, Berlin, Los Angeles, Istanbul, and Beijing. Furthermore, his work has had repeat broadcasts on CJSR Edmonton, CKUA Access Radio and CBC radio/television. 


He has received commissions and grants from the SSHRC, Canada Council for the Arts, Canadian Music Centre, University of Lethbridge, individuals, and multimedia groups. He is a recipient of the ACIFA Alberta Provincial Teaching Excellence Award and British Columbia Senior Arts Award. 


In addition to his composing and teaching music design for film and digital media, music technology, and theory, Rolf worked as music editor on several films and documentaries for the CBC, Disney, Expo '86, Lauron Productions and Independents as well as being the principal composer for the 1995 Canada Winter Games. He was commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s (TSO) Mosaic project celebrating Canada’s 150th and has served four times as a jurist for the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) Juno Awards, and four times for the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television (ACCT). He is currently the Vice President on the Canadian Music Centre (CMC) Board of Directors for the Prairie Region and the Region representative to the CMC National Board. As past-chair of the Music Department at the University of Lethbridge (U of L), Rolf led the development and implementation of the Digital Audio Arts program. He was also the Interim Chair for New Media at the U. of L. for 2019–2020. 


Originally from Kingston Ontario, Rolf studied piano and graduated with an ARCT (1978, RCM) and a B.Mus. (1980) from Queen's in piano performance and composition. At Queen's he studied piano with Dr. Ireneus Zuk and composition with Dr. Bruce Pennycook and Dr. Clifford Crawley. Rolf graduated with a M.Mus. (1983) from UBC. At UBC he studied composition with Dr. Steven Chatman and orchestration with Dr. Eliot Wiesgarber. He also holds a B.Ed. (1988) degree in secondary music education from UBC and a Ph.D. (2002) in policy studies and leadership from the University of Alberta


Duncan Metcalfe is an audio engineer, sound designer, and composer from Lethbridge, Alberta. While currently studying at the University of Lethbridge, Duncan is also keeping busy with various endeavours in music and technology.


In his second year of study in Digital Audio Arts, Duncan co-founded The Attainable Records Creative Society - a nonprofit organization which operated a live music and performing arts venue in downtown Lethbridge. During its year and a half of operation, the society showcased dozens of musicians and bands from across Canada, held seasonal music festivals, served as a recording studio for local artists, and provided space for film screenings, live theatre, performing arts, and more.


In 2017, Duncan earned his first film scoring credit for the short film “Starring Katie Kane” which he, and Rolf Boon co-wrote the soundtrack for. Since then, he has taken up additional film scoring opportunities, often working alongside his brother, a filmmaker based in Vancouver, to create the music for his films and multimedia projects.

Duncan continued to work with Rolf Boon, assisting him with research for the eText upon which this site is built. Duncan's work and assistance with the text development began in 2018, when he received a SSHRC Undergraduate Research Award.

From 2019-2020, Duncan worked as audio producer for the online educational guide “Living Well Together”. Aimed at fostering Indigenous cultural awareness, the guide is intended for government employees in The Northwest Territories, and represents Canada’s ongoing commitment and responsibility to truth and reconciliation.


Recently, Duncan has been working at Midnight Mammoth Games - a Lethbridge-based independent game studio. Duncan is both a co-founder and the audio lead at Midnight Mammoth. The studio’s mission is to foster education, collaboration, and to create artistically rich, 3D games to be played solo, or with friends. Their first title “Stranger in the Outlands” is due for release on PC in 2022.

DUncan M bio photo.JPG

Music Design for Film and Digital Media

     © 2022 by Rolf Boon with web design by  Duncan Metcalfe

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