Anticipating Hit Points

One of the most overlooked things by learning composers is the difference between a hit point that can be anticipated by the audience and one that can’t. Unfortunately, these issues are not discussed a lot in literature on film scoring but are massively important for the dramaturgy of a scene.

If a musical hit point is the climax of an obvious visual development in the movie or is indicated by a motion (e.g. a motion of the arm in a fight that clearly leads to a hit) you would treat that musically differently than something that happens out of the blue and can’t be anticipated. Additionally there is also a difference of a hit point the audience knows is coming up but doesn’t know when exactly. All these things need different approaches musically speaking.

For a hit point that can be anticipated also in the way when it’s going to happen, a musical buildup with a clear expectation can be used without influencing the drama (the most obvious thing would be a clear V-I cadence in an even meter). If it’s a hit point that we know is going to happen but don’t know when exactly, you can still use a buildup but need to make it more ambiguous when it is going to have its climax so you don’t take away the small surprise of when it’s going to happen. If something happens completely out of the blue and you need to accent it, the music should behave accordingly. This means that in some cases you might even want to move that hit point away from a downbeat of a bar as this might be too obvious.

The essence in all of this is to develop a very sensitive understanding of how predictable something is for the audience to happen. This also means to constantly question your perception of something as you might have seen the scene so many times that you can anticipate every hit point exactly which is not true for a first time audience which should always be the perspective that you’re scoring for.

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