Famous movie soundtracks provide some of the best music to play and to learn from. They are easily recognizable and wow your audience. But there is more. They evoke the emotions of the movie and tell you more of what’s going on in the plot than visuals or words could do. Also you are transported back to the film when you hear the sound track again in your everyday life.
So, if you are ready for a nostalgic trip down memory lane with your piano, then you are in the right place… As Yoda might say, “learn many new and interesting things about film music, you will!”
Did you know we just released a Soundtrack Course, with 31 theme songs for you to play? Click here to check it out!
Movie soundtracks on piano
Film music started in the days of silent movies. It was provided by live pianists in the theater or cinema. Very often the musicians would improvise based on what was happening on screen. Between the 1890s and the 1920s the piano was used the most because of its expressive versatility. Music was considered a vital part of the film experience, because it communicated atmosphere and emotion. Today film music still heightens your experience of the movie.
Let’s start your piano journey in 1973. The Oscar-winning film, The Sting, used the jaunty ragtime classic “The Entertainer” as its theme. Here you can learn to play it on Skoove.
Film music works in 4 different ways:
It communicates the emotion on screen
Film music adds depth and complexity to a character’s emotions. It speaks directly to the heart and is also called “the invisible narrator”. The effect is more immediate and natural than a complex verbal exchange would be. Remember Ben in The Graduate? The “Sound of Silence” is used to communicate his emotional emptiness that seems to creep into his awareness. The lyrics “sound of silence” suggests hollowness. The music is made more poignant because it is written in a minor key.
Movie soundtracks heighten the mood
The “Game of Thrones” theme builds tension and expectation through an ostinatio (a motif repeated throughout the song). Layered above it is a strong melody. This is first played lower and then higher as the excitement builds. It sets the tone and mood of the film.
Another example is the theme from Psycho. The high screeching sound of the violin jars the nerves and sounds very much like a human scream. There is an instinctual response to get away from the unpleasant sound but, just as the victim, the audience is caught in the unfolding horror. You might like to experiment by making your own horror film soundtrack. Playing neighboring high notes on the piano will give a similar impact as the film music for Psycho. You might choose an ostinato for your left hand to play. Check out how to easily read notes for the left hand on piano.
The theme for Jurassic Park communicates a feeling of awe felt by the visitors. It draws the audience into the experience of the characters. Now you can learn to play this theme on the piano.
Film music foreshadows
The theme from Jaws, composed by John Williams is extraordinary. It is made up of just two notes, yet has the power to foreshadow the arrival of the shark. The simplicity of the theme communicates the animal instinct. The theme is then intensified by an increase in volume (in music we call it ‘crescendo’). This reflects the energy of the shark and imminent danger. When a musical phrase is linked to a character it is called a ‘leitmotif’. It tells the audience the shark is near even when it has not yet swum onto screen. What does your shark sound like?
Famous movie soundtracks set the scene and era
There is so much to say about “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic. Its solo haunting theme played by the tin whistle takes us back in time. It suggests the simpler lives of hard-working people. It also established a Celtic connection; the Titanic was built in Belfast.
Movie soundtracks have great impact, especially when performed on piano. The versatility of the piano (it provides both melody and accompaniment) makes it the most used instrument in film music besides strings and horns. After all, film-music reaches far deeper than words. Communicating these emotions is what makes playing the piano such a personal and vital part of life. It is why people love to play piano.
Find more film music to play on piano in our new Soundtrack Course!
More movie soundtracks to play on piano:
- Amélie soundtrack and more: famous piano music from movies to learn
- Learn to Play the Piano like Ryan Gosling with La La Land’s Dazzling Piano Soundtrack
Author of this blog post
Roberta Wolff – Pianist, Teacher, Mentor
Visit Roberta’s website