Any movie fans over here?

Joker's soundtrack earned Hildur Guðnadóttir an Oscar for best original music. When I heard that, I immediately looked for the album and listened to it carefully. The emotional depth in the album, particularly Bathroom Dance, made me wonder what aspects make a song a catalyst of emotions.

Have you ever experienced being enormously moved by a song that you have never listened to before?

How can a song connect with your most intimate feelings and affect the way you react to a particular experience?

Well, there is a link between musical patterns and emotional stimulation. In other words, music is an emotional bridge between a person and the world, influencing and conducting our perception.

For instance, music in a film induces us to think of a scene as happy or sad. Also, it can help us understand what a character is feeling without the need to be explicit about it.

I feel that music on the screen can seek out and intensify the inner thoughts of the characters. It can invest a scene with terror, grandeur, gaiety, or misery. It can propel narrative swiftly forward, or slow it down. It often lifts mere dialogue into the realm of poetry. Finally, it is the communicating link between the screen and the audience, reaching out and enveloping all into one single experience - Bernard Herrmann*

Music can substitute what words are not capable to express. Let us consider the Joker's soundtrack, which earned Hildur Guðnadóttir an Oscar for best original music. The scores in the film have not immense complexity, for example, Bathroom Dance is a steady and constant tone composition with ominous strings. What makes Guðnadóttir's creation so extraordinary is the emotional depth. Her music takes the audience into the Joker's mind and enables a strong connection with the story. The music was the spirit of the film, suiting a dark and aggressive emotion palette that makes the film what it is.

Bathroom Dance scene - Joker (2019)

To understand the emotional impact the song Bathroom Dance has, let's identify some essential aspects. First, this song is in a minor key: C#m. What does this tell us? Minor scales tend to make us feel quiet and sad. Specifically, C#m induces despair. This scale is perfect if you want to express sorrow, deep grief, self-punishment, and similar emotions. The second aspect to mention is the tempo. Tempo in this score is Lento which evokes slowness and profound reflection.  

Let's go a little deeper. To think about the disposition of the notes in a score gives valuable information. In other words, the melody/harmony analysis is vital. See a Bathroom Dance arrangement that I did for the introduction of the song.

Note that there are no accidental alterations. This is true for this violin arrangement and Hildur's composition. This makes the song coherent and constant with the projected emotion. Just for fun, imagine that the song had accidental alterations. It would add tension and discomfort. Let's imagine something more drastic, like changing from C#m to G in a section of this piece of music. This would have changed the song's emotional effect and the meaning of the scene. But, Bathroom Dance is about a Joker´s deep moment of self-consciousness and sorrow. To reflect that, coherence and constancy are indispensable.

So,

Which are those musical patterns that have such emotional power?

This is a very difficult question to answer, as many factors make a song, or not, a catalyst for emotions. However, some musical theory aspects can improve our communication skills, enhancing our capacity to project the emotions we expect to express in a score.    

We want to share this knowledge with you people, hoping it helps you to grow in your creative journey. Therefore, we have set a series of five articles for the next weeks:

1.Choosing the Key

In this article, we will talk about how to identify and choose the right key for a song in order to project the emotional effect we want.

2.Setting the tempo

We will discuss why the tempo affects our emotional reaction to a piece of music and how to choose the more suitable tempo for our creations.

3.Harmony and melody

For this one, we will give you some basic tools to do a harmony/melody analysis. This would be something analogous to learn how to set the lexicon we use in a conversation.

4.Progression: how to tell the story

Setting a progression is like the plow in a crop. Have you ever questioned why certain progressions are so common in music? Well, we will present an explanation for that.

5. Modulation

Finally yet importantly, we will talk about changing the emotional effect with eloquence trough modulation.

We cannot wait to post these articles and see what you think.  

Sincerely,

Rebeca

*Film composer particularly known for his collaborations with director Alfred Hitchcock.