From Ron Howard's MasterClass

Music and Scoring

Ron explains how the most talented composers pick up on details of actors’ performances and build music cues that deepen a story.

Topics include: Talk to Composers Like Actors • Use Score to Reinforce Theme • Frost/Nixon Score • A Beautiful Mind Score • Find Music Before Shooting


Ron explains how the most talented composers pick up on details of actors’ performances and build music cues that deepen a story.

Topics include: Talk to Composers Like Actors • Use Score to Reinforce Theme • Frost/Nixon Score • A Beautiful Mind Score • Find Music Before Shooting

Ron Howard

Teaches Directing

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The very best composers are-- they're like another screenwriter. They key in on little things. Camera moves, an actor's, you know, flickering eye. A glance down that suggests an emotional state of mind that may not have anything to do with the dialogue, or the plot. And they often pick up on those things and begin to build cues around that emotion in very surprising ways. But music is such a challenge for me. Oh, I could play the guitar a little bit, but I can't read music. I'm not a musician. And yet, I understand how powerful it is. And I learned early on to talk to composers the way I would talk to an actor or a screenwriter. Just talk about the ideas. Talk about the feelings. Talk about the reason that I shot or staged a scene in a particular way. What I love about a performance. What I hope it conveys. And very often they're able to really reinforce that. Music is written to be, what, listened to, experienced. Now sometimes a piece of music-- always written with themes and ideas that the composer has that, you know, aren't specifically articulated, but you're meant to feel on some primal level. So intuitive level-- sometimes it works great for a movie. But there-- in my opinion-- there's nothing like score. Score is music that is written specifically for a scene, for a movie. Themes that represent something of a character. Sometimes movies have two or three different themes representing two or three different feelings or characters, characters who fall into the category of a certain kind of feeling. Maybe representing oppositional sides in a conflict. Sometimes there are no themes, sometimes there are only feelings. Sort of sound beds, beats, tempo. And sometimes there are both. So, again, in the world of working with composers or making decisions on your own, it's so much about asking yourself the question, what should the music be. And you'll have, probably, an instinctive answer, and that may be right. But it's always worth saying, what else. The development of the musical score for Frost Nixon was one of the most surprising creative experiences that I've ever had, because I was so certain I wanted a rock and roll score. This took place in '77. I wanted to evoke that era. I thought, here, I love those movies that do that. This is a chance to do one of those. And we kept trying songs. I had lengthy meetings with Hans Zimmer who was going to do some score. But I told him, I thought, Hans, it's probably only going to be seven or eight minutes of score, I really want a lot of songs. Peter Morgan, the writer and one of the producers on the movie, he was OK with it. I think he was a little suspicious of that idea, but when we started putting songs in, audiences said they kind of liked it, because they like those songs. But both Peter and Hans said I think you're selling the movie short. ...

Direct your story

Ron Howard made his first film in 15 days with $300,000. Today, his movies have grossed over $1.8 billion. In his first-ever online directing class, the Oscar-winning director of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind decodes his craft like never before. In lessons and on-set workshops, you’ll learn how to evaluate ideas, work with actors, block scenes, and bring your vision to the screen whether it’s a laptop or an IMAX theater.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I have learned so many new things about directing movies and the process of making a movie, from finding a story to the shooting and editing of the movie. This was such a fun experience that I hope will help me in my future, and has definitely given me a new set of skills, knowledge and motivation. Thank you.

The important improve i've got with this masterclass is the sensibilitity of Ron Roward about the process of filmmaking. The little detais and perceptions that adds energy and spirit to a film.

This was immensely helpful. As I expected, great insights and advice, and the workshopping of staging and blocking was among the most useful and interesting things I've wittnessed. I would love to see even more of that as well as examples of shots, sound, etc,. in films he's speaking of as he's speaking of them. Overall a fantastic class!

I have to say this is one of my favorite MasterClasses. Ron does such a phenomenal job walking through his process with such clarity from start to finish. I hope one day our paths will cross, I'd love to meet him.


James K.

Consider this, I often hear music in my head while I'm shooting. Perhaps the scene inspires a certain piece and often as the music is playing in my mind it inspires how the camera moves, how long shots are, the framing and how the sequence might come together. This feels like discussing music with your actors but getting key members of the crew in the groove too.

Lorilyn B.

I don't understand the few people who complain about Ron simply talking. He's teaching, and he's brilliant at it. If you want to be entertained, go watch one of his movies. The one basic quality all directors must have is the ability to visualize. If you can't visualize what Ron is talking about, perhaps directing is not for you.

Frank D.

I like to have a song or music in my head while I write the script. Why wait till the end. Good stuff Howard.

Marguerite K.

I am going to use the suggestion for obtaining music to inspire the actors, as it's mainly a two person movie, I think this will be very helpful to motivate them. Thank you! What an amazing idea!

Robert A.

I am a musician. And I use to make the musical score for my films during the filmmaking process. But now I've been letting that be one the things that comes last. Because aside from everything else thats vital to putting the film together, the music score plays a very important part as well, and it has to have a huge impact on the audience aside from the film and story and acting etc. You got to focus on everything such as editing etc first. Awesome stuff Ron!!!. Onward!!!.

Mercile M.

Composers keying in on scenes or dialog in the emotion that they convey. Experience music on a emotional level, great! themes represent feelings or characters wonderful and so very true.

Anthony Lee M.

cool lesson, loved Ron's insight to talk to composers as if you were conversing with an actor or screenwriter. To talk ideas and feelings and to let them bring to the table their skillset.. He really is the truest of what we call collaborators! Must be amazing to work with!


That whole bit about Hans Zimmer composing a subtle score instead of the rock songs Ron Howard was so sure about is just one of the many genius things he's done. Has anyone listened to his music for Gladiator, Last Samurai, Sherlock Holmes, Inception, etc? Those scores are amazing. Another great example of his amazing talent has to be what he did for Interstellar. Christopher Nolan didn't tell Hans anything about the movie other than the father and son aspect that serves as the emotional center of it. He didn't even know that it was a space movie! Hans thought about his own relationship with his children and somehow came up with a score that perfectly captures the sci-fi feel of it. And as it turns out, not only was it a space movie, the son was actually a daughter. He must've been pleasantly surprised.

Daniel C.

"Coerce, yes. We are all coerced to learn about a story and sometimes the music influences us to become the story. People always carry themselves with interest. Their choices of music suggests that we are harmonic in our area. Sometimes, we need help with getting through tough issues and we need some relief which a movies' score could help us withdraw and relax to contemplate our fate. I understand how the youth of now, wear headphones. It's their way of releasing themselves from the discordance of daily routine(s). Yes, even preparing coffee has a dull theme which leads us to feel detached. Altho, when those who do get that fatigue in energy, they usually grab their earphones and put that great energy back into their life driven world. It's inevitable, but it's true. Music builds and keeps us motivated. It recalls our memories to inspire an emotion. It's there, it just needs to be thoroughly filtered by you and a great musician. Why could you, Mr. Howard (reference to Frost and Nixon) used a score of those seventies rock songs. Because I hear many rock songs played by a piano and the THEME flows like water. You know, music is a easy learning animal that will comfort you in many ways and all that's needed is time. Slow the time down on a musical piece and you have created a mood that suggests [Thought]. Speed the music up and you have chaos with energy leading the viewers which sometimes keeps their feet floating like a balloon."

Mike F.

I personally like to work things out before I actually shoot. So I have a sense of what I'm going for when the cameras are rolling. However this takes some extra 'homework', but thankfully it's work I love doing. I start by storyboarding so that I can visualize while also putting my head in the moment and feeling it and seeing it unfold. Then what I typically do is edit my storyboards. This gives me a chance to put some music in to see if my initial hunch was correct. Sometimes you hear a piece of music and think it's going to be great, but then you cut it into some storyboards ('animatics' I suppose) and all of a sudden it's isn't exactly right? Well you can then swap other types/styles of music in and out. This helps me greatly and is one of my favorite parts of the process.