Film Music 101: Underscore

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In film music, the underscore refers to music that specifically accompanies a scene with dialogue.

The underscore functions in much the same way as underlining a piece of text: it’s meant to emphasize a particular piece of dialogue and tell the audience: THIS is important, you should really pay attention to this scene!

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A very good example of underscore can be found in Aragorn’s speech at the Black Gate in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003).

This moment takes place on the cusp of the final action climax of the trilogy: Sauron’s army is pouring out of Mordor, the Army of the West is outnumbered 100 t0 1, and the men are rightfully scared. But, as Aragorn reassures them, this is no time to break the vows they have sworn, this is the time to stand and fight!

Return of the King: Stand Men of the West!

Drno1

Bond…James Bond.

Another example can be found in the first James Bond film Dr. No (1962) during a calypso party at a restaurant in Jamaica. The scene opens with the party in progress and the music continues while Bond (Sean Connery) talks with Felix Leiter (Jack Lord). In this scene, the music doesn’t so much increase the drama as it provides a contrast with the cheery mood of the crowd (they are talking about the criminal Dr. No and how to get onto his island Crab Key to investigate).

Dr. No: Calypso Party Scene

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See also:

Film Music 101: Sidelining

Film Music 101: “Test” Lyrics

Film Music 101: The First Film Score

Film Music 101: Borrowing

Film Music 101: Arranger

Film Music 101: Anempathetic sound

Film Music 101: Empathetic Sound

Film Music 101: Foley

Film Music 101: Montage

Film Music 101: Compilation Score

Film Music 101: Leitmotif

Film Music 101: Orchestration and cues

Film Music 101: “Stinger” Chords

Film Music 101: Dubbing

Film Music 101: Diegetic vs. Non-Diegetic Music

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19 thoughts on “Film Music 101: Underscore

  1. evelynfilmfan

    In pirates 2 or 3, where Keira Knightley’s character gives that speach on the boat. That is an amazing scene with a brilliant score! it’s called “What shall we die for” Love it

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    Reply
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