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20 Questions (Nailing the Emotional Tone)

Film Directors working with Composers often have a challenge describing the music they want for their film. One is a Visual and the other an Aural-centered person. How to cross this divide?

I often use an exercise I call 20 questions.

By asking questions that make us feel with the other senses (especially not aural) we can get a better idea of what emotional qualities we are seeking. I usually do a list of opposites like this:

Hot — Cool
Deep — Shallow
Smooth —Jagged
Glossy — Matte
Organic — Synthetic
Stoic — Flowing
Dangerous — Sheltered
Textured — Fine
Pungent — Fragrant
Bright — Dark
Hard — Soft
Scratchy — Clear
Grainy — Lucid
Spicy — Soothing
Solid — Liquid
Understated — In Your Face
Background — Foreground
Frenetic — Calming
Subtle — Overt
Curvy — Straight

This can be harder for some than others. The idea is to get a common ground that avoids the misunderstandings brought about by descriptors like “very hip, current and cool music.”

I then ask what do you want the audience to feel? Jealousy, anger, regret, pain, triumph, etc which further specifies the exact tone and feel.

And sometimes I ask what colors would be best describe your project? Again, sometimes this draws blanks, but I had a director tell me “burnt sienna and cyan.” This specificity was extremely helpful in achieving the exact tone.

Andrew Ingkavet is a composer with over 2 decades experience creating music for film, theater, advertising and new media.

By ingkavet

Andrew Ingkavet is an educator, author and entrepreneur.
His belief that learning a musical instrument builds skills vital to success in life has led to a thriving music school in Brooklyn, NY. Internationally, Andrew helps music teachers with the Musicolor Method, an online curriculum/training as well as a 5 star-rated book,The Game of Practice: with 53 Tips to Make Practice Fun. He is also founder of 300 Monks, a music licensing company.

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