How can different instruments and musical techniques create atmosphere in a film? What is meant by Foley, diegetic and non-diegetic sound? How can you produce a simple soundtrack?

From the songs of West Side Story and The Sound of Music, to the foreboding music of Jaws or Psycho, a film’s soundtrack is often one of its most powerful and enduring features. Exploring the part that music plays in our enjoyment, understanding and creation of film is an engaging and effective way to develop students’ knowledge and appreciation of music and spark wider interest in the subject.
There are many ways to celebrate music in film, from enjoying a great musical in your school film club to delving more deeply into the role of music on the big screen. Into Film offers a large choice of films with iconic soundtracks, and many more in which music is a central theme, for students to watch, discuss and review – from classics such as Singin’ in the Rain and Meet Me in St Louis, to musical documentaries, biopics, popular titles like the High School Musical and Pitch Perfect franchises, stylish spectacular Moulin Rouge and compelling drama Whiplash.

It has also created a new curriculum-linked resource called ‘Spotlight on Music’, in which film soundtracks selected from the current GCSE music specifications, related activities and a glossary, provide a range of inspiring ideas to support the study of music at all levels. The resource is aimed at 11-16 year-olds and is free to download from; all the films are free to order for schools with an Into Film Club.

Into Film Recommends

West Side Story (1961, PG) 7+
The tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet, reimagined in 1950s New York. Originally a Broadway play, West Side Story was later adapted for film and sets the scene for the star-crossed lovers in the city streets where bitter gang warfare rages. The film’s themes are as relevant now as they were in the ‘50s, covering street crime, tensions around immigration, the American dream. The addition of some amazing songs and dance routines make this a dazzling spectacle.

Discussion questions
1. What is a riff? How are riffs used to convey ideas about the gangs and the atmosphere they create?
2. How is music used to tell the audience about the backgrounds of each different gang?
3. How do the characters’ solos further reference the Shakespearian origins of the film?

Review starter: West Side Story is an updated take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with a vibrant, energetic soundtrack…


(1975, 12) 11+
Set in the quiet American seaside resort of Amity, Jaws had an instant effect on moviegoers when it was first released in 1975 – it stopped them ever wanting to go swimming again! With its tale of an enormous great white shark causing terror to locals and tourists, this is still one of the most thrilling (and terrifying) movies ever made.

Discussion questions
1. What is a ‘leitmotif?’ How and when is it used in the film?
2. How does the use of music and sound emphasise the scary moments?
3. What does the music tell us about the shark and the way it operates?

Review starter: Jaws and its instantly recognisable theme song struck fear into the hearts of cinema-goers in the 1970s and continues to do so today…

Man on Wire (2008, 12) 14+
Phillipe Petit famously performed on a high-wire between the Twin Towers (then the tallest structure in the world) in the 1970s. In this documentary a combination of archive footage, interviews and dramatic recreations show the development of Phillipe’s ambition and the gathering momentum of his dream. An insight into an amazing heist-like feat told from the ground up.

Discussion questions
1. How does the soundtrack help shape the dramatic style of this documentary?
2. Which instruments can you hear? How do they imitate and express the nature of Phillipe’s schemes?
3. How does Phillipe come across as a person in the documentary? How does the music support this representation?

Review starter: The story of one man’s ambitious scheme to conquer the tallest structure in the world…

Into Film is a UK-wide education organisation which puts film at the heart of young people’s learning and personal development through access to a catalogue of over 3,500 films, curriculum-linked and enrichment teaching resources, filmmaking opportunities and educator training.

To set up a free Into Film Club, download resources or sign up for free training, visit; you can also follow @intofilm_edu