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Q&A: What song forms are used for film scoring?
By Mary Dawson - 07/17/2007 - 12:37 AM EDT


Hi. I read your articles about song form on Really great info! Thanks.

I was wondering if you had any information on song form for film scores (like John William or Alan
Silvestri) or video games. These songs usually don't have lyrics, and from listening to them I don't think they follow the major song forms to a tee. So, I'm trying to figure out what to call each of the sections of the song I hear.

For example, a composer named Sean Hannifin - AKA WizardWalk, wrote a beautiful orchestrated song called Broken Swords. He says it's in ABCBA format. Here is the song:

Do you know common song forms used for film scores and videogames?  Also, would you recommend any good books (or websites/articles/courses, etc) that also deal with song form? Thanks.


Hi Terry:

Excellent Question! I listened to "Broken Swords" and it is lovely and very creative...perfect for a film.

Personally, I don't believe a film score requires strict adherence to form as a commercial "hit song" would. Usually music for films is the background for action taking place on the screen and takes its "form" from what is happening. Seldom would you hear a whole composition from start to finish unless it was at the end under the credits or something.

In "Broken Swords" there is definitely a main melodic line, but it doesn't change much melodically. It changes by adding instruments and dynamics more than by adding what we would term a "chorus" or a "bridge."

My articles on song form are more geared toward what we would call "commercial songs" -- that is, songs containing both words and music that you might hear on the radio. While it may be possible in some instances to define those same sectiond in an instrumental piece, it is not as necessary. You can really call each section whatever you wish...a movement, a refrain etc.

If, by chance, there are repeated sections that clearly sound like a "chorus," you can call them that. Or if there is a very contrasting section that goes to a different place musically and then resolves back into the repeated theme, you can call it a bridge.

I hope this helps a little. Thanks so much for your interest in my articles.

Every Blessing,

Mary Dawson

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