How to Compose Action Music for Film
When learning about how to compose action music for film, it’s essential to create an energetic and dynamic soundtrack that enhances the on-screen excitement and intensity. Check out these short videos we created showing how to get started in composing music for action or adventure films:
Create Drums & Rhythm
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Here are a few more tips on how to score action and adventure genres if you’re a film composer:
1. Understand the scene
Study the action sequences in your favorite action movies to grasp the pacing, choreography, and emotional beats. It helps to select action movies where the score also speaks to you! Identify the key moments that require musical emphasis, such as intense chases, fight scenes, or dramatic climaxes. Some of my favorite action film scores are ‘Mission Impossible: Fallout‘, ‘Man of Steel‘, and ‘The Dark Knight‘ trilogy. Or if you’re going for a more classic or orchestral approach, ‘Star Wars‘ is always an amazing option.
2. Build tension and release
Use musical techniques like rising dynamics, faster tempos, and rhythmic patterns to build tension during action sequences. Create moments of release and impact by utilizing powerful hits, stingers, or dramatic pauses when a significant event occurs. A great example of this is the Dunkirk score by Hans Zimmer, and if you need something more old-school, check out the truck chase scene music from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
3. Utilize percussion and rhythmic elements
As shown in part 1 of the Compozly video series above, percussion instruments play a vital role in creating a sense of energy and propulsion in action music. Experiment with various drums, rhythmic patterns, and percussive elements to drive the pace and intensity of the scenes. Try to use unique time signatures or rhythms that not only fit the tempo of the scene but give an interesting sound such as Bane’s chant theme in The Dark Knight Rises or the action music from Man of Steel where Junkie XL utilizes 12 drummers in a drum circle.
‘Man of Steel’ Official Soundtrack | Behind The Scenes Percussion Session w/ Hans Zimmer | WaterTower
4. Incorporate strong melodies and motifs
Develop memorable and catchy melodies or motifs that represent characters, themes, or pivotal moments in the film. These motifs can create emotional connections and provide a sense of continuity throughout the action sequences. If you can’t create something like ‘Jurassic Park‘ or ‘ET’ melodies, go for something more simple but effective. As Hans Zimmer says, “Create main melodies that are something you can play with one finger on the piano, almost like a lullaby.” (But convert that to more action style orchestration or instrumentation)
5. Employ orchestral and electronic hybrid sounds
Combine traditional orchestral instruments with electronic elements to create a modern and dynamic sound palette. This fusion allows for a wide range of textures and can enhance the intensity and impact of the music.
6. Use dynamic range and contrast
Vary the dynamics and intensity of the music to match the ebb and flow of the action on screen. Create contrast between quieter, suspenseful moments and explosive, high-energy passages to keep the audience engaged and create dramatic impact. A great example of this is “The Exchange” from Mission Impossible Fallout
The Exchange Scene – ‘Mission Impossible : Fallout’
7. Sync with visual cues
Synchronize specific musical elements, such as hits, accents, or rhythmic patterns, with key visual cues like punches, impacts, or camera cuts. This synchronization enhances the connection between the music and the on-screen action, intensifying the viewing experience. Some people might call this mickey-mousing but if done correctly it will help to enhance the scene. John Williams action scenes are a classic example of this style done right! Here’s that truck chase scene referenced in tip 2.
8. Experiment with sound design
Incorporate sound design elements, such as risers, whooshes, impacts, and futuristic or industrial sounds, to enhance the overall sonic experience. This can add depth and texture to the music, amplifying the impact of the action sequences. Hans Zimmer uses this really well in the Dune and Blade Runner 2049 scores, where you can hear unique synth sound design mixed with orchestral elements in a way that hadn’t previously been done.
9. Collaborate with the filmmaker
Maintain open communication and collaboration with the director or editor to understand their vision for the action scenes. This collaboration ensures that the music aligns with their creative intentions and helps to enhance the overall storytelling.This is an obvious one but remember to make sure the director loves the style you’re going for, or see if they have a preference themselves!
10. Be flexible and adaptive
Be prepared to make adjustments and revisions based on feedback from the filmmakers. Action scenes can be intricate and fast-paced, so being flexible and open to changes will help you create the most effective and compelling music for the film.
Remember, every action film is unique, so these tips provide a general direction to get you started, but always refer to the director’s notes, vision, or reference music to get the best result! Adapting and tailoring your approach to the specific needs and style of the film is crucial to creating a successful and impactful action film score. Now, get to work on your action movie film score!
About the Author
Adam Robert Galloway