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“Getting the Score – Pacing in American Beauty”

Posted By: ryan On:


Master composer and teacher Alain Mayrand has written a great post about his study of Thomas Newman’s score to American Beauty. He gains insights on pacing, timing, music vs. silence, and length of cues. The whole article is worth a read, and after reading I had a few additional thoughts of my own.
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  • Studying scores with a specific purpose in mind is the best way to do it. If you just think to yourself “I’m going to check out the score to American Beauty” you will probably lose focus and get caught up in the film, and try to absorb so many aspects of the music at once that you’ll miss important insights.
    Better instead to choose a single purpose of study, in this case the amount of music vs. space and the length of cues. This study was more about time and pacing than about themes, harmony, orchestration etc. All valuable things to study, but if you can get yourself to focus on a single point you will end up gaining far more value.
  • “Very short cues, as short as 23 seconds, are fine and feel complete natural – as long as they follow the narrative.”
    I used to think that very short cues were to be avoided at all costs, because you ran the risk of making the score sound less like a film and more like a TV show. I can even remember telling this to directors on some of the first features I scored. But now looking back, I think I was just parroting something I had heard in school or from another composer. If it makes sense for the story, then it doesn’t really matter how long or short the cue is.
  • There is a certain risk in comparing what works for one score with what will work for another. It’s kind of like counting the bars in one specific movement of one specific symphony. “Well if the second movement of Beethoven’s 3rd has 185 measures, then my piece needs to be 185 measures!”
    The best remedy is to study a wide range of scores in a variety of genres. Then you will begin to gain a sense for universal approaches and don’t run the risk of focusing too much on what could turn out to be an outlier. “Castaway” famously has no score for the first 30 minutes of the film, but it doesn’t mean that always works![/list]

Be sure to read Alain’s original post and check out the other articles on his great site!


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