The Music of Sound

Documentary Composer

How does music enhance your viewing experience?


This interactive explores different types of music and how they enhance films and documentaries.

Age range: Good for 10-18 year olds.

Estimated Time: Give yourself some time! This interactive takes about 15 minutes to complete.

Key Technology: Teachers can choose to stream this audio clip on a computer with speakers or to let students listen individually on computers with headphones.

Think About

Listening Strategy: As you listen, stay focused on your purpose for listening. Find out how composers create tension in films using music.

Before you get started, think of what you already know about scary music. Keep this in mind as you explore the interactive.

As you listen, compare and contrast the ways in which composers can transition audiences from one film scene to another.

As you listen, stop the audio track now and then to sum up what you have learned.


  • How do composers create a dramatic moment for listeners?
  • What type of music is often used to score science documentaries?

Critical Thinking

  • What are some instruments or sounds that you think are especially scary or disconcerting? Why do you think they are scary?
  • Why is it difficult to compose music that doesn’t make listeners feel anything?

Reflection: Quiz Yourself!

  • What is an emotionally neutral scene in a film and how do composers score it?
  • What kind of music and instruments would be used to score a predatory scene in a documentary?

Learn More

Dig Deeper!

Learn more about scoring films.

Learn more about the process of scoring films.

For The Educator

Play clips of different scary instrumental music. Ask students to sketch what they are hearing. Have them choose one of their quick sketches to expand upon.

Show students a scene from a documentary like the one described in the audio clip. Ask them to create a brief score for the scene if they play an instrument or, if they don’t play an instrument, have students choose a sound clip or excerpt from a piece of music. Have students create different moods using music (e.g.: suspenseful, scary, happy).

If you have moviemaking software available such as iMovie, have small groups of students make short videos and then score them using the different audio clips available in the program or using music the students have available to them.


This interactive explores different types of music and how they enhance films and documentaries. It is an excellent interactive for arts students and musicians. The interactive is suitable for both group and individual work.

Instructional Strategies

  • This interactive lends itself to large-group or individual listening as well as to both individual and group research.
  • Ask students to list the scariest movies they’ve seen and then to describe the music in the scariest scenes. If possible, download it from the internet.
  • Familiarize students with the music from various horror movies and other films such as Jaws, Friday the 13th and Psycho. An excellent soundboard is available at soundboard.com



Daniella Garran
Original Writer

Editors & Producers


Richard Paul
Audio Producer

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