Film Score and Music’s effect on Emotion



One of music’s most basic functions in film is to convey emotion to the audience. This blog post attempts to break down a scene and how we perceive the musics method within the scene, considering what does the music evoke in or communicate to us? In the book ‘Hearing Film’ Kasabian states “Music draws filmgoers into a film’s world measure by measure” and argues that music is film is “at least as significant as the visual and narrative components that have dominated film studies”

In the following clip below from Marvels, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) is an example of redundant music, which is one of several music types used in film defined by Stam, Burgoyne and Flitterman-Lewis (1992)

  • Redundant Music, Refinforces the emotional tone
  • Contrapuntal Music, which runs counter to the dominant emotion
  • Empathetic Music, which conveys emotions of the characters
  • A-empathetic music, which seems different to the drama
  • Didactic contrapuntal, which uses music to distance the audience, in order to elicit a precise idea in the spectators mind

The music accompanying  this scene has a strong emotional force in support of the images and narrative which see’s Steve Rogers visiting the Captain America museum and remembering his past. The story of Captain America is one of great heroism, but also loss and sacrifice and the score here reinforces that emotional tone.

Breaking Down The Scene

This piece is written in the Key of C Major, and modulating to its relative minor A minor. According to Schubars Affective Key Characteristics the key of C is considered as  ‘having qualities completely pure. Its character is: innocence, simplicity, naivety, children’s talk’ and the key of A minor elicits a ‘tenderness of character’

  • The scene starts and the cue begins with sustained high violin lines, and timpani rolls creating an ambiguous feeling for the listener. Rona (2000) refers to beginning cues as “making a subtle entrance. If done right, the audience won’t notice the cue starting or stopping, but they will get the music’s full impact when needed”. As the camera pans away from the war ships we hear the first variation of the leitmotif played by the oboe’s and flute
  • As the camera pans on the Captain America imagery and the museum voiceover begins at 0.27 “A symbol to the Nation” we hear the leitmotif on the french horns now with a variation consisting of larger intervals of a major 5th to the octave and back again, a military snare drum is used in response to french horns. Both instruments are associated with military and war.
  • The camera focuses on a shadowed figure from behind and It isn’t until we see that it is Steve hiding his identity at 0.43 walking in front the large captain america image, that we hear the leitmotif with harmony in full on the brass and strings when his face is revealed.
  • A  cluster on the woodwinds at 0.56 as the camera focuses on the children. High register woodwinds suggests an innocence and childlike quality. The use of the woodwinds here are considered bright playful colour and is bringing the attention of the viewer to the children in the museum.
  • At 1.00 is an important moment. Among the children mentioned above, a young boy in a captain america shirt recognises Steve and this is where we first here a delicate solo violin motif. Steve smiles at the boy and holds his finger to his lips, the boy nods in response. The function of the solo violin here could be considered as recognising the unsaid bond between this boy and captain america.
  • The music takes on a more underscore approach in the scenes following on from 1.10, this is more than likely result of scoring under the narration dialogue
  • The leitmotif returns again on the trumpet this time when the camera goes to Steves childhood friend and war hero ‘Bucky Barns’  1.29 this time with a slight variation in the timing that feels like the first two notes are shorter and last note  held for longer with strings sustaining as a texture underneath, creating a sense of anticipation and or/ sadness.
  • At 1.45 another theme variation is played, not so much the leitmotif but more so acting as a transition into the next scene which cuts to Steve watching the interview of his old love. The music then returns to underscore to close the cue.

Listen to ‘The Smithsonian” from Captain America: The Winter Soilder OST, by Henry Jackman


  • Captain America, The Winter Soldier (2014) Marvel
  • Davis, Richard (2010) Complete Guide to Film Scoring (Berklee Guide) Berkley, MA
  • Green, Jessica (2010) Understanding the Score: Film Music Communicating to and Influencing the Audience, The Journal of Aesthetic Education, Illinois,
  • Kasabian, Anahid (2001) Hearing Film, Tracking Identifications in contemporary Hollywood Film Music, New York
  • Stam, Robert. Burgoyne, Robert and Flitterman-Lewis, Sandy (1992) New Vocabularies in Film Semiotics, New York,
  • Schubar, Christian,  Ideen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst  Affective Key Characteristics (1806
  • Rona, Jeff (2000) The Reel World, Scoring for Pictures, San Fransisco, CA


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