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Unit of study_

MUSC2663: Survey of Film Music

Semester 1, 2024 [Normal day] - Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney

This unit is an introductory survey of the history and aesthetics of film music from the late 1890s to the present day. Topics for discussion will include the dramatic function of music as an element of cinematic narrative, the codification of musical iconography in cinematic genres, the symbolic use of pre-existing music, and the evolving musical styles of film composers.

Unit details and rules

Unit code MUSC2663
Academic unit Analysis, History and Cultural Studies
Credit points 6
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Phillip Johnston,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Participation Participation
Attendance/Participation/Reports (random selection Q&A in class on reports)
20% Ongoing 1000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO6 LO5 LO4 LO3 LO2
Small test Assignment 2: In-class analysis
Written test in class (Golden Age)
20% Week 04
Due date: 12 Mar 2024 at 17:00
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO6 LO5 LO4 LO3 LO2
Small test Assessment 4: In-class analysis 2
Written test in class (Herrmann)
20% Week 08
Due date: 16 Apr 2024 at 23:59
50 minutes
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO7 LO6 LO5 LO4 LO3 LO2
Assignment Assessment 3: Licensed Music task
Practical task + notes
20% Week 10
Due date: 10 May 2024 at 23:59
3 minutes of music + 500 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7
Small test Assessment 5: In-class analysis 3
Written test in class (Songs/Licensed Music)
20% Week 13
Due date: 20 May 2024 at 09:25
50 minutes
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO7 LO6 LO5 LO4 LO3 LO2

Assessment summary

  • Participation: Participation in tutorial discussions and Film Reports
  • In-class analysis: Writing an analysis of film music from a scene shown in class.
  • Licensed music task: audio/visual + essay (see Canvas for details)


  • Detailed information for each assessment can be found on Canvas.
  • Note that information here may not match assessments in Handbook. The information here is correct.

Assessment criteria

The following assessment criteria are used for written work in this unit of study:

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100

Demonstrates high level of initiative in research and reading; sophisticated critical analysis of evidence; high level engagement with theoretical issues, innovative use of reading/research material and impressive command of underlying debates and assumptions; properly documented and written with style, originality and precision.


75 - 84

Demonstrates initiative in research and wide, appropriate reading; complex understanding of question and ability to critically review material in relation to underlying assumptions and values; analyses material in relation to empirical and theoretical contexts; properly documented; clear, well-developed structure and argument with some signs of literary style.


65 - 74

Evidence of broader understanding than pass level; offers synthesis with some critical evaluation of material; coherent argument using a range of relevant evidence; some evidence of independent thought, good referencing. A high credit (70-74) shows some evidence of ability to problematise and think conceptually.


50 - 64

Written work meets basic requirements in terms of reading/research; relevant material; tendency to descriptive summary rather than critical argument; makes a reasonable attempt to avoid paraphrasing; reasonably coherent structure; often has weaknesses in particular areas, especially in terms of narrow or underdeveloped treatment of question; acceptable documentation.


0 - 49

Work may fail for any or all of the following reasons: Unacceptable paraphrasing; irrelevance of content; poor spelling; poor presentation; grammar or structure so sloppy it cannot be understood; failure to demonstrate understanding of content; insufficient or overlong word length.

For more information see

For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

Support for students

The Support for Students Policy 2023 reflects the University’s commitment to supporting students in their academic journey and making the University safe for students. It is important that you read and understand this policy so that you are familiar with the range of support services available to you and understand how to engage with them.

The University uses email as its primary source of communication with students who need support under the Support for Students Policy 2023. Make sure you check your University email regularly and respond to any communications received from the University.

Learning resources and detailed information about weekly assessment and learning activities can be accessed via Canvas. It is essential that you visit your unit of study Canvas site to ensure you are up to date with all of your tasks.

If you are having difficulties completing your studies, or are feeling unsure about your progress, we are here to help. You can access the support services offered by the University at any time:

Support and Services (including health and wellbeing services, financial support and learning support)
Course planning and administration
Meet with an Academic Adviser

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 Introduction: Film Music Analysis/Theory/History; Overview of Unit Content, Structure, Assessments & Protocols Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Introduction to scene analysis Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 02 The Silent Film Era Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Writing a short scene analysis (for assessments) - Introduction and practice Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 03 i) The Golden Age of Film Music (Hollywood in the 1930s-1940s); ii) Claudia Gorbman’s Classical Hollywood Practice Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Discussion of Readings: Gorbman & Donnely K.J. Donnelly: ‘The Hidden Heritage of Film Music’ Claudia Gorbman’s Classical Hollywood Practice Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 04 Film Noir and Neo-Noir: Evolution of a Genre Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Assessment 2: In-class test 1 (Golden Age) Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 05 Licensed Music Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Introduce Assessment 3 (Licensed Music Task). Discuss Powrie/Stillman - "Changing tunes: the use of pre-existing music in film" Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 06 Bernard Herrmann: The Music of the Irrational Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Discuss Reading 4, “Tracking Identifications” Hearing Film (pp 141-148) Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7
Week 07 Silver Age of film music Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Student clips Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 08 Jazz and film music Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Assessment 4: In-class test 2 (Herrmann) Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 09 Electronic Music in Film Music Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Further clip analysis (Morricone/Rota) Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 11 Songs in Film Music Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Discuss “The Popular Song as Leitmotif in 1990s Film” (Rodman, pp 119-125) Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 12 Contemporary Film Music: State of the Art Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7
Debrief on Assessment 3 Licensed Music Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 13 Television & Streaming Screen Music Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7
Assessment 5: In-class test 3. (Songs/Licensed Music) Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7

Attendance and class requirements

  • Attendance: Students are expected to attend a minimum of 90% of timetabled activities for a unit of study, unless granted exemption by the Dean, Head of School, Program Leader, or relevant Unit of Study Coordinator. The Dean, Head of School, Program Leader or relevant Unit of Study Coordinator may determine that a student fails a unit of study because of inadequate attendance. Alternatively, at their discretion, they may set additional assessment items where attendance is lower than 90%. This applies to both Lectures and Tutorials, beginning at WK3.


Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Required readings

Bibliography (for readings: see Canvas for specific pages and weeks):

  Brown, Royal S. Overtones and Undertones: Reading Film Music. Reprint 2019. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1994. Online.

  Donnelly, K. J. Film Music: Critical Approaches. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2001. Print.

  Gorbman, Claudia. Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music. London: BFI, 1987. Print.

  Kassabian, Anahid. Hearing Film: Tracking Identifications in Contemporary Hollywood Film Music. New York: Routledge, 2001. Online/Print.

  Phil Powrie & Robynn Stillwell, ed. Changing Tunes: The Use of Pre-existing Music in Film.  Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006. Print.

  Rodman, Ronald. “The Popular Song as Motif in 1990s Film” in Changing Tunes: The Use of Pre-existing Music in Film (ed. Stillwell & Powrie). London: Routledge, 2017. Online.

Other Recommended Readings: (not required)

  Butler, David. Jazz Noir: Listening to Music from Phantom Lady to The Last Seduction. Westport: Praeger, 2002. Online/Print

  Hubbert, Julie. Celluloid Symphonies: Texts and Contexts in Film Music History. 1st ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. Online.

  Kalinak, Kathryn. Settling the Score: Music and the Classical Hollywood Film. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992. Print.

  Wierzbicki, James Eugene. Louis and Bebe Barron’s Forbidden Plane: a Film Score Guide. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 2005. Online/Print.

  Wierzbicki, James Eugene. Film Music: a History. New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.

  Donnelly, K. J. Occult Aesthetic: Synchronization in Sound Film. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. Online.

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. develop an understanding of the history of the art and craft of screen composition, and its relationship to other art forms and worldwide culture/history more broadly.
  • LO2. analyse film cues, articulating the composer/director’s creative decisions.
  • LO3. understand the concepts relating to the technical skills of screen music: choosing a point of view, expressing drama, realizing intent, trapping, negotiating diegetic music, and using licensed music.
  • LO4. display a working knowledge of the relevant principles of dramaturgy and cinematography.
  • LO5. understand the implications of genre and style in scoring and arranging for the screen.
  • LO6. examine the relationship between the dominant ‘Hollywood’ paradigm and that of independent film/world film, specifically regarding gender, class and culture.
  • LO7. understand the business and commercial aspects of the film and TV industry.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.



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