Beyond Words: The Beauty of Instrumental Music in Film

Instrumental music is what makes moments in film memorable. It creates beautiful moments that'll leave you speechless. It's what makes you stop and think.

Music is what helps set the tone. It’s more than just background music, it’s what you remember when thinking of a major event that has taken place in your life. It’s what defines moments in film and makes scenes iconic. 

Let us not forget, Pretty in Pink. You can pinpoint  the beauty of instrumentals especially in one unforgettable scene. It’s almost prom night and Andy Walsh is dead set on sticking it to them. This leads her to start making the best prom dress there is, with a little help from 80’s group New Order.

“Thieves like Us,” the militaristic track which plays as Andy cuts, stitches, and sews her dream dress to life so she could give the big bird to the dream guy that wasn’t (but actually is), doesn’t say one word (well, except for the gruff “Come in” at the very beginning).

And neither does Andy, but no one could ever miss the point of this iconic scene in Pretty in Pink.

The song starts quietly at first, then builds momentum. It paints a picture of this character’s trajectory merely through its sound that you could easily see in your minds eye without watching the movie: the scorned dreamer getting up from the ground, wiping tears off her face until they stop falling altogether, stomping her way to the crafts box in her closet, and grumbling expletives to herself with the first few snips of her scissors.

This is just one of many ways how instrumental music communicates what is being felt and what will transpire through the music instead of the vocals.

Movies seem to take the most advantage of what instrumentals have to offer.

A great example of someone who is well known for this genre is, Han Zimmer. A musician who scores films like, The Dark Knight, Inception, The Lion King and more has also become mainstream. In 2017 he played Coachella, showing that instrumental music in film has a huge market in the modern day.


“Every song has a story. Even instrumental music can tell its listeners a story: a slow, weeping song of two star-crossed lovers, or a cymbal-filled exciting story of a great battle between two armies. It’s virtually impossible to have a song that doesn’t tell some kind of story, or evoke some kind of emotion in its listeners,” says writer LilyaRider in her piece on The Artifice.

Despite how powerful instrumentals prove to be in most movies, the same is not said for people enjoying simply instrumental music in every day life. Instead, many still prefer tunes heavy on the crooning.

WQXR summarizes from a University of Notre Dame study that, “classical music is increasingly disliked by “high-status” young people: 15 percent dislike it today compared with 8 percent in 1993.” also points out how, “By the turn of the century to today, instrumental music (and even featured instrumental sections) has become all but extinct in the realm of popular music (and by popular music I am referring to any new music that is being played on commercial radio – or marketed in a very similar fashion).”

On the other hand, there are those out there who appreciate and recognize the solid foundation of music within a song.

As Stephen Thompson from NPR sums it up, “Music without lyrics is still music, but lyrics without music are poetry.”
Don’t let anyone dissuade you; as many films have proven, there is major beauty in instrumental music. Go ahead and pic a song, close your eyes, and allow it to unravel its own story.

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