Sound and Music in Fiction Film/TV

Sound and music shapes film and Tv, creating an atmosphere that imitates the reality to make the audience believe that everything that they see on screen is real. Music gives a sense of continuity to the film and it is required to define a character.

In films and Tv we can find two types of music, according to their relationship with the image:

  • Diegetic music: in the image appears the source of the sound or music, for example a piano in a restaurant, so you listen to the piano melody.
  • The non-diegetic or incidental music: the sound source does not appear on the scene. It is a music or sound that only the audience can perceive. For example when you are watching a really beautiful landscape and the director decided to add a beautiful music so you can see a prettier landscape.

Here you can watch a video of diegetic and non-diegetic sound with some examples:

One of the most important elements on a film without a doubt is the music. Music in film can set a story in a certain time and place. The scenes related to the medieval period, do not have the same music as the scenes that happen in modern time. It also can be used as background for the dialogues and give them a point of dramatization, etc. Or replace those dialogues that are unnecessary.

Music  can help us to know the personality of the characters. It also helps to clarify the directors intentions through a scene. But one of the main purposes of music in film is involving the viewer emotionally. Music can influence the feelings and emotions that the viewer experiences throughout the film, modifying the sense of the image or anticipating a certain situation, as in the famous shower scene of Psycho.

But music is not the only important sound in films or TV, we also have sound effects that are created by specialists, and those specialist are called foley artists.

Foley is an essential part of sound design for films. It consists of recreating sounds of all kinds for an audiovisual production. Sounds that vary from everyday things to sound effects invented to give more meaning to something in particular.

The technique is very useful and almost necessary for filmmakers, since in the recording of the scenes it is more important the need to collect the voices of the actors perfectly. This can lead to the loss of more subtle or secondary sounds, and even so small that the microphones fail to record in the first instance.

The foley effects are used to add real sounds that are part of the scene and that are not differentiated by the audience. Foley artists have the goal of making the audience believe that those sound effects are real.

Here you can read an article about foley and the most famous sound effects created by foley artists.

In addition to these famous foley effects you can also watch the video below to know how foley artist made the dinosours sounds in Jurassic Park.

If you are interested in foley you should definitely check out this video because is about the process of creating foley effects for films and it is really well explained:

And if you even want more information about this topic here you can watch a TED talk about sound design and how it is done.

But what if we mix music and auditory illusions? Then as a result we can have amazing outcomes. As an example we can talk about Dunkirk sound design, it won the best achievement in sound editing and sound mixing winner of this year at the Oscars 2018. It was also nominated for best achievement in music written for motion pictures and in production design. Dunkirk is a Christopher Nolan’s film and the original soundtrack is composed by the famous composer Hans Zimmer.


Christopher Nolan

Hans Zimmer










In this film its soundtrack, leaves practically no space for silence, being there constantly and being especially overwhelming. The composer’s trick to generate this feeling is an effect known as Shepard Tone.

Shepard tone


Sheaprd tone is an auditory illusion that makes us perceive that a sound does not stop raising – or diminishing – its tone progressively and infinitely. This is achieved by superimposing three scales of notes with a separation of one octave between them; in this way, when making them sound in a loop, the feeling of an endless ascent will be created. Anxiety assured.

As he Nolan explained to Business Insider:

There’s an audio illusion, if you will, in music called a ‘Shepard tone’ and with my composer David Julyan on ‘The Prestige’ we explored that, and based a lot of the score around that,” Nolan said. “It’s an illusion where there’s a continuing ascension of tone. It’s a corkscrew effect. It’s always going up and up and up but it never goes outside of its range. And I wrote the [“Dunkirk”] script according to that principle. I interwove the three timelines in such a way that there’s a continual feeling of intensity. Increasing intensity. So I wanted to build the music on similar mathematical principals. So there’s a fusion of music and sound effects and picture that we’ve never been able to achieve before.”

You can check Dunkirk’s original sountrack here:


As Vox explains in the next video the Shepard tone is used so many times before in Zimmer’s and Nolan’s work but this time has been huge.

And as Independent explains:

He [Nolan] is clearly fascinated by it (its illusory nature feeling akin to his general obsession with the non-linearity of time and space) and even influenced how he wrote the screenplay for Dunkirk, a film which consists of three storylines that you could think of as three octaves.

As we’ve seen music and sound are a really important part to film and tv because it can make everything more natural and realistic.



Guerrasio, J. (2012). Sound in Filmmaking. Recovered from:

Hooton, C. (2017). The Shepard tone: The auditory illusion that makes Hans Zimmer’s Dunkirk score so powerful and even shaped the screenplay. Recovered from:

Wikipedia. (2018).  Shepard tone. Recovered from:

Wikipedia. (2018). Foley. Recovered from:



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