Composing Action Music

I’m researching tutorials, articles and tips on composing action music. In other words, scoring music for an action scene. Do you know of any videos, articles, or would like to leave a tip here? What are the musical elements you go for with an action scene?

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Hello Joseph,
I actually created a course on “Cinematic Action Music”, perhaps you already took it?

But regarding elements/playing styles for action, here are some quick tips:

  • High Tempo (140+, often up to 170-180 BPM)
  • Intense Time Signatures (6/8, 7/8 are my favorites for action vibe)
  • Lots of Hard Accents (Stabs, Hits, Booms)
  • Lots of Syncopation
  • And of course: focus on rhythm and especially percussion

Thanks Mikael! Those look like great tips. I’ll be sure to watch your course too. I’m watching the Ambient course right now.

I’ll add to @Mikael more ostinato, just look at the score and the instrument that is used on action tracks.

Ostinato is a short melodic phrase repeated: listen the bass, the left hand is doing an ostinato and the right the chords

For instance, if you use a cello ostinato than after you “transfer” the ostinato to the strings the whole tension increase, it’s like a mental tensione, just try it :wink:


Carlo is right, and remember an ostinato does not have to be strings. You can also use pluck synth presets, or other types of sound design “pulses” :slight_smile:


Yes it depends on what you are looking for, I really love orchestral music like John Williams, this is why I refer always to orchestral instrument, but I love synth too, indeed I use it. There are ostinato on drums too, remember the early rap music, they stole loop from other track, usually drum or little melodic phrases and you can ear in all the song lol

just listen only the first notes ahhaha

however I remember what my teacher says about ostinato, it’s hard to get out from ahahha


here is one of my old composition to illustrate a jedi fight
i don’t know if it will help you, but there is a percussion, ostino tempo is near 140 i don’t remember exactly the value

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Unfortunately, not a lot of resources when it comes to film scoring language but I highly recommend Lalo Schifrin’s book on film scoring: Music Composition for Film and Television. It has some fantastic examples specific to film scoring.

As for action music here are some tips:

  • Melodies that use the octatonic scale are very common
  • Odd meters such as 5/8 and 7/8 as well as mixed meters feel unstable and stress the audience.
  • Ostinatos are very common as some have mentioned earlier
  • Horns playing the melodies are very common (it depends on the style and period of course)
  • Fragmented melodies, dissonance, and crescendos help build tension.
  • Some more modern cues use synth pulses and arpeggiators to add more movement.

Here’s a great action cue from Jerry Goldsmith’s The Mummy as an example



those are excellent tips Medhat, thank you for sharing! :slight_smile:

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Thanks Mikael, Carlo, Florent and Medhat. This has been very helpful!

I like Action Movies a lot, even if there is in 90% cases no realism and sense, but it’s just to have a great time. Of course as a composer, you are hearing the music in a different way. What I have heard which really works great is: let’s take an odd-meter 7/8 and you play a riff with violins. You take a couple of bars using violin phrases and then you take the same rhythmic pattern and copy just to another instrument. What happens, people think subconscious “a lot” is changing and fast, but actually you just changed a sound source, nothing more.
What also works great to keep the tension, to start with small patterns which grow in time and at some point they fall back to the almost same for example bass pattern in the beginning. So always tension and release, tension and release…if you look closely to the picture, a lot of times it doesn’t make sense to release, because the shots are still fast and crazy, but most of the times the action scenes are long and you can’t build a super long cue with the max. arrangement because at some point you play the whole orchestra “boom-boom-pau” and nothing happens dynamically and you work against the tension…it starts to get “boring”. Music should more be felt than really heard. If you did that, you’ve won!

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Great points Alexey, another one I just remembered is…unfinished phrases. Our brain hate it, so it creates a lot of tension and unresolved feeling. Which can work great for action music. :slight_smile: