4 ways music is used in movies to create suspense

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Music has been used to entertain us since what feels like the dawn of time. The tone of the music, the rhythm and even the instruments have a significant impact on the emotions conveyed through a movie scene.

Maybe you’re a movie buff or want to know a little more about what makes your favorite movie so great. Understanding how music affects a movie’s suspense is a daunting task, but we’ve condensed it into 4 key elements.

Drums

The drums are one of the most critical parts of a band. They alone provide the beat, rhythm and underlying melody. If done right, the beater will become crucial.

Throughout the drum story, their ability to capture the public’s attention is unmatched. One way drums are used to build suspense is through the use of fake crescendos.

You may have been tricked into thinking that something terrifying or exciting is about to happen, only for the predictable climax to result in silence. This effect, mainly used in the horror genre, will eventually lead you into a false sense of security, to shock you for real!

Dynamic

Dynamics is often the first introduction to the musical elements of a film, as they impact the direction. The dynamics in this context are sometimes dubbed “The Suspenseful Build-Up”.

Dynamics refers to the volume of the music, whether it is a gradual increase or a sudden drop in that volume. A sudden burst of dramatic music is a surefire way to thrill an audience, especially if the on-screen visuals are appropriate.

The gradual build-up and then the sudden explosion essentially replicates the traditional story arc, where we experience a build-up of action and an ultimate climax. Next comes the falling action, where the rhythm slows down and we approach a resolution, which is picked up in the dynamics by a gradual decrease in sound or silence.

Rhythm

In the suspenseful moments, you’ve probably heard continuous rhythmic pulsations that perhaps mimic a heartbeat, speeding up as you approach the scene action.

Heartbeat type rhythms are used so often that you might not even notice them anymore. What’s particularly impactful is when you get used to a steady beat, only to have it drastically cut out. The sudden silence is deliberate, hoping to instil an unsettled feeling. Scientific Research found that silence, even during conversations, can lead to distress.

Contrast

Another word for contrast is juxtaposition. For example, playing beautiful melodic music in a horror scene will make it even more gruesome.

The juxtaposition is meant to create a scene that perhaps gives insight into a character’s mental psyche and makes you feel something as an audience member. Contrasting music can create suspense, resulting in an uncomfortable and confusing feeling.

magic movie

Soundtracks shape what we see, like music makes us feel something.

Music isn’t the only device used in movies to put you on the edge of your seat, but it’s an important factor. The next time you watch your favorite movie, look for the musical devices that make it so great.

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