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.

This class helps me understand the film industry even better. I'm passionate and living every day of dreaming a film director.

Great inspiration and wonderful tips from a true master of the craft. Thanks to both Ron and Masterclass for a wonderful experience. Now, it's time to put everything into action!

This was excellent and makes me want to go back to some of the other classes on storytelling and directing. I have picked up a lot of tips on making a story work visually and the importance of planning shots. I never thought of the lighting or the scenery as charater.

I´ve learned so much! I am very happy with the introductory into directing. I do feel more confident next time I shoot something I will take more things into consideration about how I want to tell the story.


A fellow student

Howard es generous with the things he knows....maybe the sound in Hollywood sometimes is domed...

RJane @.

I understand Peter and Hans. The score is about the characters and the scenes. @RJanesRealm


Film composers are, for most movie goers, the symphonies of films. I used to be a huge collector of film soundtracks.

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!