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12-tone:  Music written without a key signature, using all 12 chromatic pitches, arranged in various sets normally comprised of 3, 4, or 6 notes.


Absolute Music or Abstract Music:  Music that is free from any kind of relation to words or specific meaning.


Acousmatic:  A sound heard without seeing its original source.


Acoustics:  The study of sound, including its properties and interactions with other forms of matter and physical spaces.


Acoustic chamber:  The acoustic chamber is the most effective and natural reverb.  It is a room with hard, highly sound reflective surfaces and panels that avoid standing waves.  A speaker and directional mics are placed off-center in the room.  The dry sound emanates from the speaker and is picked up by the mics.  The general reverb time is about three seconds.  It must be at least 2,000 square feet in size or low frequencies will be lost.


Adapted Score:  Taking existing pieces of music and adapting it to a cue of your choice.  Using the Ode to Joy during your scenes climax for example, is adapting that score to your film. A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and 2001:  A Space Odyssey all use, at least partially, adapted scores.


Aerophone:  Instruments that produce sound by a performer blowing air through it.  These include all wind instruments, and the siren, and slide whistle.


Aleatoric Music:  This is more commonly referred to as chance music, although the degree to which chance is involved is directly left to the composer.  Some elements of the music are relegated to chance.  For listening examples, check out the works of John Cage, Charles Ives and Karlheinz Stockhausen.


Aliasing:  Digital artifacts which occur when a piece of audio is not sampled at a proper frequency.  Remember that the sampling rate must be at least double the highest frequency being heard.


Ambient music:  A type of background music intended to underscore atmospheric and acoustic characteristics or an environment.  Usually very understated, giving the audience room to breathe, and therefore be deeper immersed into onscreen action.


Anempathic:  Music/sound effects that appear to have no connection to onscreen events.


Arranged score:  Rearranging an existing melody, with the creation of a new accompaniment.  


Assessing a film cue––Watch at least four times and:  

1) Observe the concept and style

2) Observe the amount of emotional involvement

3) Observe motifs, melodies, and listen to the main title cue

4) Observe how well the music serves the film

5) Listen to the quality of the recording and the musician or ensemble’s performances


Atonal:  Music written without reference to any specific key.  Built on a 12 tone row.


Attenuation:  The lowering or reduction of an audio signal’s volume, level, or amplitude.


Auteur:  A director who melds all aspects of filmmaking into a unified and distinctive artistic style. 


B-Movie:  A low-budget, second tier movie, frequently the 2nd movie in a double-feature billing.  B-films were cheaper for studios because they did not involve the most highly paid actors or costly sets, and were popular with theater owners because they were less expensive to bring into their theaters while still able to draw revenue.


Binaural:  In relation to the two human ears.  Binaural audio is captured with two microphones with an intent to present a realistic space or situation to the listener.


Bitonal:  The practice of having music in two different keys/diatonic collections performed simultaneously.


Blockbuster:  Extremely high-budget film productions created in hopes of massive box office success.


Cacophony:  Blast of discordant, dissonant sound.


Cadence:  Used to end a phrase, movement, or piece.  Normally ends on your central pitch, or tonic creating a sense of finality and resolution.


Cinematography:  The art of photography with moving pictures.


Clichés:   Events and techniques which are overused because they were successful in the past.


Click or Click Track:  The orchestra members and conductor wear headphones and perform at the tempo the click is set to.  


Compilation Score:  A type of musical score, common in the silent film era, in which most of the music is borrowed from other sources.


Continuo:  A bass line that is independent and continual throughout a piece.


Cordophones:  Stringed or percussion instruments that produce sound by vibrating strings stretched between two points.  String instruments such as violins, harps, and guitars are classified as chordophones, as well as the piano and harpsichord.


Counterpoint:  Combination of two or more melodic lines played simultaneously. The form is of melody against melody instead of a melody against chords. 


Credits:  Text appearing near the beginning, or at the very end of film.  Opening credits typically list prominent cast and/or crew members, while ending credits will list every individual who worked on, or contributed to the film.


Cross-cut:  The technique of interweaving pieces of two or more scenes, usually in order to show simultaneous actions or illuminate themes.


Cue:  A sequence of music in a film from its beginning to its end.  Can vary widely for each film, director and composer.


Cue Sheets:  In the silent film era.  An effort to facilitate the coordination between music and film:  A guide to help theatre music director’s select appropriate music.   Describing each scene of the film, the cue sheet would indicate what type of music would be appropriate to the various moods.


Cue Study:  Analyzing a piece of film music, alongside the picture to assess its strengths and/or weaknesses. 


Cut:  The connection between two shots.  There are three principal types of cuts.  One is the narrative cut, in which our vision is focused on different objects or people in a continuous scene.  A second type of cut joins different times (flashback or forward) or places.  The third type is the crosscut, which moves quickly back and forth between two or more related events.


Dailies:  Scene shots from the day before.


DAW:  Stands for digital audio workstation.  A program one uses to record, edit, or otherwise manipulate digital audio.


Deep Focus Shot:  A shot in which the background and foreground are both in focus.


Definite Pitch Percussive Instruments:  Percussive instruments which have a definitive pitch that are tuned specifically, such as timpani, glockenspiel, marimba, xylophone and bells.


Denouement:  Concluding scenes of a film after the climax. Wraps up the story.


Diegetic and non-diegetic:  Diegetic music has its source inside the film, meaning that the actors can hear and react to it; such as a radio in a bar playing some songs, a live performance on a stage, a marching band, etc. Any music that is IN the movie is diegetic.  Non-diegetic music is only heard by the audience and cannot be reacted to without violation of the fourth wall. NOTE:  Source music can be either diegetic or non-diegetic depending upon the context.  If in question, ask yourself if the characters onscreen can see, or hear the orchestra/ensemble/jazz band or whatever is making the music.  If Purple Haze is the music for a cue in 17th century England, for example, that music is non-diegetic.


Digital Artifact:  Small, unwanted portions or elements of a sound often caused by improper edits or an excessive amount of signal processing.  


Dissonance:  Harsh, discordant, or unharmonic music.


Distortion:  Most commonly occurs when an audio signal’s input level exceeds the capabilities of the system receiving the signal.  The distortion one gets on an all-analog recording console may be forgiven depending on the severity, while the distortion (clipping) inherent to a digital system is likely undesirable in a music production.


Dithering:  The process of adding a very low level noise to a recording to mask small amounts of distortion that can occur when switching to a format with a smaller bit-depth resolution.  


Doppler Effect:  The change in pitch perceived by the listener as the sound source moves away, or towards the listener.  This effect is best showcased by the sudden drop in pitch as a fast-moving vehicle passes the observer. 


Drone:  Some kind of held monotonous tone, hum, or buzz.  Usually in a low register, similar to a pedal tone.


Dubbing:   The recording and synchronization of dialogue, music, and sound effects during post-production.


Eclectic Score:  A score that uses a wide variety of styles throughout.


Envelope:  The combination of attack, decay, sustain, and release of a sound, plotted across time. The attack refers to the time taken for a sound to reach it’s maximum amplitude. The decay refers to the time taken after the attack for the sound to reach a sustained level or amplitude. The sustain describes the time during which the sound remains at a consistent level or amplitude. Lastly, the release refers to the time taken after the sustain, for the sound to reach a level of zero.


Establishing shot:  First shot of a new scene, introduces audience to a new area/landscape.

Equal-Loudness Contours:  A measurement of sound across the frequency range of human hearing which takes into account differences in hearing ability at each frequency.   

Fanfare:  Flourish of brass instruments, usually to introduce a new event. 


Film Noir:  Genre of film originating in the USA in the 1940s.  These films featured unsettling plots, twists, dark settings, brooding characters and frequently include detective stories.


Fingerboard:  Surface of the neck on string instruments, where fingers are pressed down onto the strings, adjusting pitch. 

Form and development:  Are dependent on the film’s needs.


Glissando:  Sliding between two specific pitches, sounding each pitch in between.


Headroom:  A term often heard in relation to music-production which refers to the amount one can increase the level of digital sound prior to it reaching a maximum peak level of 0dBFS.


Heterophony:  Playing of two nearly identical melodies simultaneously.


Hitting:  Mickey-Mousing; may be used to strengthen a weak scene.


Homophony:  Music with one melody, and harmonic support.  Can also mean music played in unison, all parts being the same.


Idiophones:  Percussive instruments that produce sound by the vibration of their entire body, includes xylophones, clappers, celesta, cowbell and gongs.


Indefinite Pitch Percussive Instruments:  Percussive instruments that have no definite pitch or tuning, such as bass and snare drums, tambourines, and cymbals.


Infrasonic:  A sound which exists past the lower threshold of human hearing, typically near 20Hz.


Legato:  Notes played in a smooth fashion, all connecting together in a constant flow.


Leitmotif:  Thematic motive that is attached to some object/character/action and is recurring throughout.  Leitmotif:   A German term associated with Richard Wagner that designates a recurring theme linked with some aspect of drama.  The technique can be found in numerous film scores.  Some of the most famous leitmotifs in film are the themes for Darth Vader (The Empire Strikes Back, 1980), the shark (Jaws, 1975), and Tara (Gone With the Wind, 1939).


Long Shot:  Camera shot from a long distance, used to make characters feel small and spaces seem large.

Mag Strip or Full Coat:  35mm film tape that has been coated with the same coating as an audiotape.


Marcato:  Playing each note as if accented.


Medley:  Musical piece containing sequences from several songs/pieces, very common in musicals.  


Membranophones:  These instruments produce sound when their membrane is struck, includes bass and snare drums, congos, timpani, and tom toms.


Metaphor:  The use of musical metaphors or text painting to relate to actions in the scene.  


Mickey Mousing:  Synchronizing a musical score to action onscreen in an ongoing fashion, as opposed to the short punctuation a sting provides. Good examples are many Hanna Barbara bits with Bugs Bunny and company, and Fantasia. This is generally used in children’s and comedic films; the mimicry of the action onscreen using music is not a staple of serious dramatic film in such a fashion. :  A derogatory term for the mimicking of physical action in film music to such an extent as to suggest cartoon music-for example, creating musical accents for footsteps.


MIDI:  Musical Instrument Digital Interface


MIDI Bytes per second:  3.125Kbauds or 3,125 bytes per second.

MIDI Through:  is a direct copy of MIDI in.


MIDI Time Piece:  is a MIDI through with a synchronization clock.  Using either MIDI or SMPTE time code.


MIDI Interface:  used to send multiple midi channel messages to a variety of devices.


Mapped Instruments:  a different percussion sound assigned to each, or at least, several individual notes on a MIDI keyboard.


MIDI Cables:  are 5 pin DIN shielded.


MIDI Transmission:  serial transmission of one byte at a time.


MIDI Bytes:  there are 8 (10) bytes used in midi for a combination of 256 possibilities.  Data bytes are represented by 0-127 and status bytes are represented by 128-255.  Data bytes follow status bytes and are an elaboration of the status:  pitch, velocity etc.


MIDI Lag:  the anomalies that occur when data is sent through several microprocessors.  


MIDI Channels:  there are 16 possible MIDI assigned channels.


MIDI Modes:  there are four MIDI modes:   Omni On Poly, Omni OFF Poly, Omni On Mono, and Omni OFF Mono.  Omni means receive on all channels while off means receive on the selected one.  Poly means polyphonic instrument while Mono means mono instrument.  


FSK:  frequency shift keying.  One tone (FQ) sent to an analog device to record start and end times for all devices.  It is subject to pitch shift for tempo variances.


Daisy Chain:  standard MIDI connection for multiple MIDI devices.


System Messages:  Real time and Common such as tempo, programs, time signatures, start and stop.


Channel Messages:  mode, local control, and events particular to the assigned channel.


Local Control:  on or off if you want to hear the keyboard sound or controller sound.


Quantization:  setting the note values to a specific rhythmic element.


Controllers:  note on/off, touch sensitivity, key-pressure, velocity, and after-touch.


Advanced Integrated:  AM, FM, VCS, oscillators, envelopes, noise generators, and sampling technology used to create virtual sounds.


Multi-timbral:  more than one color.


Polyphonic:  more than one pitch.


System Exclusive Messages:  messages particular to a manufacturer.


Minimalism:  Musical style incorporating static or very slowly changing harmony and repetition of cells/motifs/phrases/figures. Common elements include atmospheric and natural sounds, drones, silence, and real world objects; anything from bicycle wheels to dropped surgical instruments.  See Le Monte Young, Terry Riley, Philip Glass, John Adams.  


Mise-en-scene:  This refers to all the elements of a film from the visual standpoint:  Sets, costumes, lighting, and how the cinematography is done.


Modality:  Modal music is an excellent tool for use in film scoring.  Tonal music retains common practice methods such as distinct keys, voice leading, and a tonal center.  Modality dispenses with common functional harmony in the tonal sense.  It is diatonic   of pitches built off of major scale intervals, but the altered pitches change our perception of the scale.  A mode does have a ‘final’ pitch, a tonal center (D Dorian for example, has a tonal center of D). With the disregard of leading tones, and voice leading, modal music allows much more freedom for composition.


Monotone:  Repetition of a single tone.


Motive:  A short melodic idea or pattern that runs throughout a piece of music.  A small melodic unit that is treated as a theme or used to build a larger melodic idea.  A passage of underscoring from entrance to the cues end.  The number and length of cues in a given film vary greatly.


Multiple Stops:  Playing two, three, or four notes simultaneously on a stringed instrument.


Musical Independence:  Can the music be enjoyed outside of the film?


NAMM:  National association of music merchants.


Newman System:  The Newman system was a flash on the screen or projector, so that a conductor wouldn’t have to look at the screen.  A hole was punched through every other frame for about twenty frames.  This caused the flash.


Nyquist Theorem:  A principle governing analog-to-digital conversions which states that to one must use a sampling rate that is at least double the highest frequency that is being sampled/recorded.


Orchestration:  The study of musical instruments and arranging pieces of music for an orchestra.  The art of assigning instruments or voices to the various musical ideas that have been created.  


Original Score:  A new score that is written entirely by a composer or team for use in a specific film.


Ostinato:  A repeated harmonic, melodic or rhythmic pattern, quite effective at create a forward drive.  Commonly used in lower register instruments, or by use of percussion.


Overlap cues:  Cues that overlap across scene transitions.


Overture:  Generally thematic in musical texture.  Overtures were predominately used in older films, as an introductory phrase of music during which the credits rolled. An Overture is usually catchy, may contains allusions to motifs used later in the film, and is used to draw the audience into the movie with the music as well as the visual experience.  They are also used frequently to establish exposition, while keeping the audience captivated with musical prowess.


Pedal:  A pitch that is sustained for a long period of time, usually in a low register, although high pedal tones are also used, most commonly played by violin.


Pentatonic Scale:  A scale that uses only five notes, usually omitting the fourth and seventh notes, or the second and seventh notes of a diatonic scale.

Percussion (Secco) Notation:  Specific notation for percussive instruments without definite pitch. Noteheads are marked with an ‘x’, and the neutral clef is common practice, which appears as two parallel upright lines.


Period Film:  A film set in a specific historical era.


Period Music:  This is music from a particular time period, usually one corresponding to the era and/or region within which the film/scene takes place. This technique is used to further immerse an audience into a certain time period or locale.


Partial:  Another term for harmonic.  A partial represents one single frequency, amongst many, which all sound when a particular pitch is played.


Passacaglia:  Baroque dance with a short, recurring melodic bass line.


Pizzicato:  Pitches that are plucked instead of bowed on string instruments.


Plate Reverb:  A thin steel plate is suspended under tension in an enclosed frame.  A moving coil, acting like a speaker, vibrates the plate.  A microphone picks up the plate’s vibrations and returns the signal.  The multiple reflections from the vibrating plate create the reverb.  Generally, they have more than two seconds of reverb.  With higher levels the low-end frequencies tend to be increased disproportionately to the other frequencies.  This type of reverb is no longer manufactured commercially.  


Polyphony:  Counterpoint, several harmonizing melodies played simultaneously.


Ponticello:  Playing a stringed instrument at or near the bridge, creates an eerie, shrieking kind of sound.


Portamento:  Sliding between two pitches, without sounding each individual note in between. 


Post Production:  The film is given its final shape through the editing process and the addition of sound effects and music.


Psychoacoustics:  The study of sound in relation to the human hearing mechanism. 


Punches:   Punches are paper hole punches in two to three consecutive frames that create a flash on the screen.  Punching used to be done with a red grease pencil.


Research:  As it pertains to the film composer, research can include several aspects that are entirely dependent on the subject matter of the film. Some forms of research can include experimentation with new instruments or playing techniques, travelling to new locations for ideas, knowledge, or understanding of the land and culture, and communication with individuals who may give one a stronger sense of the musical language to be used throughout the film.


Reveal:  A shot in a cue that reveals something important; an object of significance, a prominent figure, breathtaking landscape, or an opened door.  A subject fills the frame, and moves, or the viewpoint changes, and something is revealed.  Watch for these, they are good opportunities for a synchronized point of music, silence or sound effects.

Running Counter to the Action:  In film, the term describes the effect when the mood of the music contradicts the mood of the projected images or the plot.


Screenings:  May happen during the post-production process as new, differing cuts of the film are being edited. Screenings can also refer to early theatrical showcases of a film at festivals or in private settings, as well as widespread public releases.


Self-Plagiarism:  The act of re-using or repurposing previously composed ideas, themes, or motives.  Self-plagiarism is quite common especially in a high stress environment. 


Serial Music:  Composition based on a chromatic scale and 12 tone (tone row) technique. 


Shrill:  Refers to a an extremely high-frequency sound at an uncomfortable, or painful level.


Silly Symphonies:  Disney worked on more sophisticated musical settings in a cartoon series entitled Silly Symphonies.  The first, and one of the most popular, is The Skeleton Dance.  The Skeleton Dance combines elements of the compilation score with music mirroring specific gestures of the skeleton crew.  Other Silly Symphonies relate short stories, often without dialogue or singing. 


SMPTE Time code:  Standard Time Code for labelling individual frames that is used in film and video for use in editing, identification, synchronization and audio recording and placement. The format displays the following information:  Hours: Minutes: Seconds: Frames.


SOCAN:  The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada. The main organization in Canada who facilitate copyrights and royalty distribution for musicians.


Sound Mass:  This technique uses clusters of notes that are close together in pitch space, meaning pitches relative to each other on a chromatic scale, without respect to range differentials.  The focus here is more about timbre, dynamics, and ensemble tone than it is about individual pitches.


Source Music (diegetic music):  Music that has a logical source within the narrative of the film, such as a radio, dance band, or jukebox.  Also known as diegetic music, it can be thought of as a type of sound effect.


Spiccato:  Bouncing the bow on the strings while playing, giving a somewhat staccato sound.


Spotting:  This is where you watch a film or cue and take notes on where you want music to be placed (Normally the director will tell you).  Look for sync points, scene changes, dialogue, reveals, and any kind of onscreen action you can use to your advantage.  Always ask questions like these:  “What kind of music would I need to make the audience feel thusly?  What kind of psychology is going to work here?  How should it be presented?  How should it be mixed? What instrumentation and style?  Should it be under or overstated?”


Streamers:  A streamer is a 3 to 5-foot line, drawn by the music editor.  They appear and move across the screen diagonally from left to right; once the streamer hits the right-hand side it indicates the end of a cue.


Sting (silent and non):  A sting is a synchronized punctuation point between onscreen action and music/sound effects/silence.  Examples can include any number of things such as a crescendo or loud accented note during a moment of interest, such as a gun being pulled out, objects or people colliding, a slap, a cliff-hanger, etc.  Stings can also be extremely effective when using silence to exemplify a moment instead of sound.  Creating a moment of utter silence at dramatic moments or revelations in plot, things like people falling over cliffs/roofs, car chases, revealed identities, plot twists, reveals etc.  A sudden impact, such as a slap in the face or an object hitting the ground, can be accompanied by an accent in the orchestra, often referred to as a sting(er).


String Instruments:  Includes violins, violas, cellos, double basses, guitars, harps, piano and harpsichord. 


Syncopation:  Interrupting the prevailing rhythm with accents on off beats. 


Sync Point:  Any point or sequence in a cue that can be synchronized with music. Look for scene changes, camera cuts, or any kind of onscreen action that can be used as landmarks when writing your score. 


Sforzando:  A sudden, strongly accented note or chord.


Sweep Second Clock:  A large sweep-second clock is a clock mounted on the end of the conductor’s stand, which ensures that the conductor ends the music at the right time.


Temp Tracks:  These are pieces of music that director`s will commonly put to scenes as a placeholder, and as a guide for composers to work off of.  This can result in problems, however.  A composer can feel very limited and obligated to write something too similar to temp tracks, which can create a confined thinking pattern about what is written for a scene.  In Alex North`s case for 2001:  A Space Odyssey, your compositions can also be replaced by the temp tracks, if the director sees them as a better fit for the film.


Temporalization:  Influence of sound on the psychology of viewer to disrupt or change passage of time.  I.e. montage, slow motion, time lapse footage, flashback, etc. 


Temporal Fusion:  An effect which causes the listener to perceive a single sound when two sounds reach the eardrum within 50ms of one another.  Also known as the Hass, or precedence effect.


Temporary Threshold Shift:  A shift in one’s auditory threshold often due to experiencing sound at a very high volume.  A common symptom is a temporary hearing loss.


Thematic Transformation:  Thematic transformation helps to create variety and gives support to dramatic situations.  In the simplest terms, a leitmotif can be altered when it recurs during a film.  

Theme/Motive:  A small unit of music that is catchy, easy to remember, and normally recurs whether in its natural state, or transformed, whether by timbre, transposition,

orchestration, instrumentation, rhythm etc.


Through composed:  This kind of music is known for being non-repetitive, being extremely linear in organization, and non-sectional.  A flow of music from beginning to end; without necessarily having cadences, typical phrasing or motivic development. 


Timbre:  The quality of voices or musical instruments that distinguishes them from one another.  The element of music dealing with the colors or tone qualities produced by voices, instruments, and the various combinations of voices and instruments.


Transducer:  The device inside a microphone which detects the physical changes in sound pressure and converts them into electrical energy. 


Transient:  The initial onset of a sound which typically marks the beginning of a note, phrase, or recording, before the sound transitions to a steadier amplitude.


Tremolo:  Fast repetition of a single pitch, or rapid alteration between two notes. The technique places more focus on volume changes that pitch.


Tutti:  Passage where the entire orchestra/ensemble is playing at once.


Ultrasonic:  A sound which exists past the higher threshold of human hearing, typically near 20-22kHz.

Underscoring (non-diegetic music):  Music in film that does not emanate from a source seen (or implied) on the screen.  It is also known as non-diegetic music.


Vibrato:  Quick alternation between notes, with a periodic and pulsating variation in pitch.


Virtual Instrument:  A piece of software which uses either a form of synthesis, or recordings of authentic instruments to closely emulate the sound and/or feel of real instruments to be performed or programmed via a MIDI controller and a DAW.


Wall-to-Wall music:  When music plays throughout the entirety of a film without stopping.

Whole Tone Scale:  A six-note scale where each note is separated by two semitones, or one whole tone.  


Woodwind Instruments:  Includes flutes, piccolos, oboes, clarinets, bass clarinets, and bassoons. 


Wurlitzer Organ:  Wurlitzer, American’s largest organ maker, began producing special instruments designed for movie theatres.  In addition to the greater volume and enormous variety of colors an organ can produce, additional mechanical devices were created for the instrument so that musicians could produce non-musical sound effects, such as the sound of a rooster, car horn, telephone, or gunshot.

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