What is a Film Scoring Degree?

Degree programs in film scoring teach students how to create music for film, television, video games, and virtual reality experiences. The typical curriculum covers scoring terminology, techniques, and aesthetics and includes at least one hands-on project of scoring a short film. Some programs provide multiple recording opportunities, from sessions with soloists to scoring for string and symphony orchestras.

Students may also have the chance to collaborate with and score projects for schools of other fine arts such as animation, game design, visual arts, or fashion. In addition, they may participate in scoring competitions and meet with composers, songwriters, and industry executives.

The overall goal of these programs is to begin to build a portfolio of composition work by learning about the following:

  • The history and traditions of scoring
  • The process of writing music for film
  • Composing music in a variety of dramatic styles
  • Creating a unique artistic sound
  • Incorporating pre-existing music into a score
  • Scoring techniques and software
  • Editing sound track recordings
  • The expectations of professional scoring

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Film Scoring - Four Year Duration
Most people who work in film scoring hold at least a bachelor’s in the field. Here is an example of a film scoring bachelor’s curriculum.

Core Courses:

  • Aural Comprehension
  • Music Theory
  • Keyboard Skills
  • Music History – Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque/Classical, 19 Century, 20th Century
  • Recital

Specialization Courses:

  • Form and Analysis
  • Practicum: Strings / Composers
  • Practicum: Wood / Bass / Composers
  • Percussion Practicum for Composers
  • Applied Counterpoint
  • Orchestration: Strings
  • Orchestration: Winds / Percussion
  • Conducting
  • Chamber Ensemble: Composers
  • Contemporary Scoring
  • Film Music: Historical and Aesthetic Approaches
  • Recording Technology
  • Composing for Film and Multimedia
  • Screen Music Editing
  • Advanced Film Orchestration

Bachelor’s programs in film scoring are commonly structured as follows:

  • a liberal arts component made up of courses in a foreign language, essay writing, math, and science
  • lectures
  • mentorship with individualized instruction
  • recording sessions
  • opportunities for students to have their works performed
  • networking opportunities
  • an option to study abroad

Master’s Degree in Film Scoring - Two Year Duration
In general, master’s degree programs in film scoring expand upon the topics introduced in the bachelor’s level curriculum (See above). At this graduate level, however, students focus on composition, scoring, and editing. Emphasis is placed on building a professional portfolio. Students record with different ensembles, have their scores performed, and work with composers, music editors, orchestrators, engineers, and publishers.

While master’s students may choose from among electives like computer music, music technology and production, conducting, songwriting, and the music business, core classes at this level typically include:

  • Seminar in Composition – theoretical and technical foundations of producing unique sounds using acoustic instruments and digitally processed sound
  • Scoring Techniques – real-world scoring scenarios in a specific area of screen music
  • Contemporary Scoring – digital audio production software
  • Advanced Orchestration for Screen Scoring – blending instrumental acoustics with electronic music
  • History, Analysis, and Aesthetics of Screen Music – research and analysis of topics concerning the history and aesthetics of various kinds of music for the screen
  • Music Editing for the Screen – processes of editing and shaping the soundtrack of a film
  • Screen Music Forum – dialogue with professionals in the music industry

Doctoral Degree in Film Scoring - Four to Five Year Duration
The Ph.D. program in film scoring offers a flexible curriculum that can be tailored to individual students’ areas of interest. Many doctoral candidates plan to pursue a career in research or academia. In addition to conducting specialized research in preparation of their thesis, they collaborate with performers, dancers, and actors, and other industry professionals to schedule performances of their own works.

Doctoral candidates choose courses in consultation with their faculty advisor. Some common courses offered at this level are:

  • Literature and the Arts
  • Aesthetic Foundations of the Arts
  • Research in Music and Music Education
  • Music Criticism
  • Psychology of Music
  • Computer Music Composition
  • Advanced Orchestration
  • Stylistic Analysis
  • Analysis of Contemporary Practices
  • Scoring for Film and Multi-media
  • Music in Non-Western Civilizations

Degrees Similar to Film Scoring

The musical score is the heartbeat of a film. This degree field, therefore, presents another option to students drawn to film and film scoring. Depending on the level of degree, programs in this discipline may include courses in music theory, composition, and performance; as well as production techniques and methods and the business of music.

Music History, Literature, and Theory
The focus of this degree program is the exploration of the history of music styles, musical instruments, musical techniques, and what has been written about them over time.

Musical Theater
The focus of the musical theater degree is training in acting, singing, and dancing.

Acting is another one of the performing arts that is, of course, aligned to music and film scoring. It is not uncommon, in fact, for students to study more a single fine arts discipline, either via a double major or a major/minor combination.

Art and Music Education
Students who major in this field learn how to teach music and music appreciation.

Music and choreography go hand in hand, because the choreographer’s job is to create compelling dance routines in ways that convey emotion through movements that are often put to music.

Theatre Arts
A degree in theatre arts certainly has a connection to film scoring, which is a form of dramatic expression. While film scoring is a very specific performing art form, a theatre arts degree program offers a more general study that can be applied to performing in or producing both live theater and film.

Music Therapy
Degree programs in music therapy teach students how to use music as a therapy to support health and well-being and treat and rehabilitate patients with physical, mental, or emotional illnesses or disabilities. This degree is of particular interest to individuals who have an interest in and appreciation for the art of music, the science of healthcare and rehabilitation, and the psychology that connects them.

Skills You’ll Learn

The study of film scoring leaves students with some widely transferable skills:

The process of writing, composing, and effectively combining different genres of music is most definitely creative.

Attention to Detail
Scoring a film is about scoring a story. And every story has many different moments, from frightening to sad to happy to triumphant. Film scorers must pay attention to each of these emotions so that the score is in sync with the every nuance of the story being told.

Film scoring is a collaborative process. It involves working with producers, directors, audio engineers, and post-production teams.

Time Management
The life of a student of film scoring involves attending classes, studying, rehearsing, recording, and performing. Being able to manage one’s time is essential.

Part of a film scoring student’s learning involves working with other students and members of bands and orchestras. Being prepared for group presentations and performances is a must.

What Can You Do with a Film Scoring Degree?

In the sectors listed below, film scoring graduates may work as film scorers, composers, assistants to composers, copyists (proofreaders of scores), music editors, orchestrators, or session conductors.

  • Film
  • Television
  • Video Games
  • Concert and Stage

In the following fields, graduates of film scoring degree programs may apply their knowledge and skills in less direct ways:

  • Music Education
  • Event Production and Management
  • Wellness (injury prevention and intervention using music)


Discover what you’ll learn—and what you can do after you graduate.

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