“Music is one of the most effective ways of preparing an audience and reinforcing points that you wish to impose on it.”

Stanley Kubrick, film director

The London Philharmonic Orchestra has been recording film soundtracks for almost 50 years – from Lawrence of Arabia by composer Michael Jarre, to The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit with composer Howard Shore, to Thor: The Dark World by Brian Tyler. In this part of The Studio, we talk to film music experts, find out their advice for would-be film composers, and suggest starting points for your own music.



Playlist: Introduction to Narrative Film Music
In October 2016, Dr Vasco Hexel, composer and academic, gave a talk to LPO Soundworks participants about the roles music can play in narrative film – that is, any film that tells a story. The full playlist features Vasco giving an introduction to his talk, plus highlights from the live talk itself.


Introduction to Narrative Film Music

Videos in the playlist:

• Introduction to narrative film music
• Setting the scene
• Linking scenes
• Emotion and meaning
• Creating characters

Explore more

  • • Star Wars. In video 4, Vasco talks about the 'Imperial March' from John Williams' Star Wars scores, used to represent the character of Darth Vader. You can listen to the March and find out how the musical elements of the theme evoke Darth Vader's evil and powerful nature here.
  • • James Bond. In the same video, Vasco mentions the way the classic James Bond theme is used and has evolved over time, appearing in subtler ways in later films. Find out more about this in more detail. 
  • • The Leitmotif. Vasco mentions the term leitmotif - an important idea in film music. A leitmotif (German for "leading motif") is a short musical idea that a composer links to a particular person, place, object or emotion.  The theme from the 'Imperial March', for example, is Darth Vader's leitmotif. A leitmotif quickly tells us about a character's main traits, and can be transformed to reflect what is happening in the narrative - perhaps played in different keys or instrumentation. John Williams uses leitmotifs throughout his Star Wars scores, and also in other soundtracks, such as Harry Potter scores (most famously Hedwig's Theme). You can also hear leitmotifs throughout Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings trilogy: have a look at an in-depth breakdown of how they are used. For a flavour of the making of a soundtrack, watch a behind-the-scenes film of the LPO recording of The Hobbit.

Playlist: Film Music - the Industry
How does a composer start writing music for a film? How does the relationship between director and composer work?  What is a temp track? Find out what happens in the industry from film composer Alex Harwood, and see the LPO behind the scenes recording the soundtrack to The Hobbit, with insights from composer Howard Shore.


Film Music - the Industry

Videos in the playlist:

• Alex Harwood - the industry process of composing for a film
• The Hobbit - Making Of Music

Playlist: Most Influential Film Scores
In a genre that’s only just over 100 years old, composers continue to innovate alongside the development of narrative film and technology.  Which film scores have been the most influential to date? Our film music experts give their opinions in the playlist below.

Most Influential Film Scores

Videos in the playlist:

• Dr Vasco Hexel - Top 3 influential film scores
• Alex Harwood - Top 5 film scores

Explore more

  • • If you enjoy Max Steiner's classic score for King Kong (1933), which laid down the 'ground rules' for film music, check out his soundtracks for Gone with the Wind (1939) and Casablanca (1943). 
  • • The LPO's The Genius of Film Music 1960-1980 CD includes tracks by Nino Rota and Bernard Herrmann's famous score for Psycho (1960). 
  • • Vasco recommends Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score for Arrival (2016) as an example of an unusual take on the genre, which could become influential in the future Jóhannsson explains how he created the soundworld for the film, and the ideas in the narrative that it reflects in this podcast.
  • • To find out more about Alex Harwood's recommended composers, James Horner's website includes clips of his work, and you can hear music from Michael Giacchino on this website.

Creative Area


Playlists: Creative briefs 1, 2 and 3 – Film extracts created by young filmmakers from BFI Future Film Academy, with guidance
Using these playlists, we invite young composers to create music for three short clips, taken from films created by young filmmakers from the BFI’s Future Film Academy.  The first video in each playlist is the film extract itself, with the original sound removed so it is completely silent and ready for your music.  The second video in each playlist features guidance from film composer Alex Harwood on how to approach composing for the preceding clip.


Creative brief 1: Paper Faces and guidance

Videos in the playlist:

• Creative brief 1: extract from Paper Faces
• Creative brief 1: Approaching the brief
• Responses 1–3: LPO Soundworks East Sussex Ensemble
• Response 4: LPO Soundworks London Ensemble
• Responses 5–9: Blatchington Mill School, Hove
• Response 10: Karol Nepelski
• Response 11: Lillie Harris


Creative brief 2: Father/Daughter and guidance

Videos in the playlist:

• Creative brief 2: extract from Father/Daughter
• Creative brief 2: Approaching the brief
• Response 1 - LPO Soundworks East Sussex Ensemble
• Response 2 - LPO Soundworks East Sussex Ensemble
• Response 3 - LPO Soundworks East Sussex Ensemble
• Response 4 - LPO Soundworks London Ensemble


Creative brief 3: A Book Has To Be Read and guidance

Videos in the playlist:

• Creative brief 3: extract from A Book Has To Be Read

• Creative brief 3: Approaching the brief


Creative briefs 1, 2 and 3: Create music for BFI Future Film Academy clips

  • • For tips on how to approach the briefs, watch Alex Harwood’s guidance videos (second in each playlist).
  • • You can watch the full BFI Future Film Academy films, with original soundtracks, by following these links: Paper Faces, Father/Daughter, A Book Has To Be Read.
  • • One of the BFI Future Film Academy filmmakers created some excellent behind-the-scenes interviews with the filmmakers, with a closer look at the filmmaking process and 2017's LPO Soundworks London ensemble's response to the films: Paper Faces, Father/Daughter.
  • • What did you come up with? We would love to hear your compositions, to sync to the films and include in our video playlists.  For this, you can use any instruments(s) or software available to you, and compose in any style you wish.
  • • If you would like your music to be featured on the playlists with the film clips, send your compositions (by email or file transfer) as audio files to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. including your name, the names of anyone else playing on your track, your age/school/college if relevant and any comments about your piece you’d like to share