The Ennio MORRICONE Solution: How To Write Beautiful Cinematic Music

What Can We Learn From Legendary Film Composer ENNIO MORRICONE?

Tommaso Zillio

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ennio morricone tips

Have you ever wondered why the music in films like “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “Django Unchained,” or “The Thing” is SO infectious and memorable?

Why, because they were written by genius soundtrack composer Ennio Morricone (And no, I don’t only think he’s a genius because he’s Italian like me, but it sure does help!)

So how was he able to compose this wonderful music? What tricks was he using? What are his secrets?

Well, luckily for you, I watched every single interview with Ennio Morricone, and in time, I learned all his “secrets.”

… which are not really “secrets” since he talks about them all the time… but hey, nobody seems to listen ;-)

Morricone indeed attributes his style to two very (deceptively?) simple ideas:

  • A ‘Keep it Simple, Stupid!’ approach to harmony. That’s a saying that is as helpful as it is hurtful, and Morricone knew it very, very well. In the video below, I will discuss the specific simple elements that he uses in almost every soundtrack he has written.

  • An orchestration trick that almost no other Hollywood composer uses. This is something that you will wonder why every composer in Hollywood doesn’t do! (Here’s a hint: The legendary film directing duo of The Coen Brothers do something very similar when they write movie roles specifically for the actors who will eventually play those parts)

Instead of sitting around, guessing what these two ideas might be, you should watch my most recent video, which goes into greater detail on these ‘secrets’.

All you have to do is move your mouse cursor about a half inch down until it’s above the video, then left-click. Yes, it really is that simple - just like Morricone’s techniques.

(if you have trouble left-clicking the link, try your other left).

If you are interested in learning harmony with a similar no-nonsense approach as Morricone does (and from a fellow Italian!), then check out the Complete Chord Mastery guitar course

Video Transcription

Tommaso, why is the music of Ennio Morricone so beautiful? What was his secret, if any?

The music of any Ennio Morricone is beautiful. It is that the person who actually got me into film soundtrack. He has a few secrets, which are not really secrets as you’re gonna see in a moment. But here’s a few secrets.

The funny thing is actually, he talk about those secrets in interviews. So if you listen to an interview with Morricone, he’ll tell you, okay. The secrets are really easy.

The first secret is that all of his music is essentially triads. Okay, Major Triads minor triad. They do occasionally mediation augmented, but mostly major and minor triads. It’s simple music.

Ennio Morricone does not go for sophistication. He goes for solid melodies with solid chord progression.

And that’s what make his music immediately understandable and emotional. Restricting yourself with the simple element forces you to write good music because if you write poor music with those simple elements, it will sound incredibly poor.

Okay, and you will notice and you will change it, while sometimes when you write music with super complex devices, okay, complex chord and stuff, you can write horrible music but you don’t notice at first because those chords by themselves sounds so good.

It forced himself to be as simple as possible in his music to be as simple as possible so that it was obviously good, because if it was too simple and bad, it would have been obvious if it was bad, okay. It will be the first secret.

Which also means do not discount the simple thing in music theory. There is a lot to be learned about triads, okay. Even if they look simple, even if you think yes, I know what my major triad is. There is a lot to be discovered. Okay, about major triads and minor triads that allow you to write that kind of music. That will be the first secret.

The second secret of Morricone that makes his music different than practically anybody else is that Morricone orchestrated his own music.

Okay, and he said this in an interview, okay, that many other composers are composing the music meaning that they are writing the melody and writing a sketch of the orchestra, then they let the orchestrator decide exactly where every note goes, and all this kind of thing.

Ennio Morricone never did that. He wrote the melodies, he wrote the chord progressions, and then he wrote every single note of every instrument himself. And this allowed him to have an incredible experience on how all this works, especially when you have fewer instruments.

So for smaller orchestra for smaller ensembles, okay, he was both a composer and an orchestrator. I think in an interview, they said that Beethoven did not need an orchestrator, Mozart did not need an orchestrator. I don’t see why Ennio Morricone would need an orchestrator, okay? Or something like that, which was very cocky from a certain point of view, but also very true. Okay.

By the way, modern composers for music for film, use orchestrator. And sometimes at this point, they have to use orchestrators because right now to compose a movie soundtrack, The times are so short, you need to come up with the musical ideas and arrange them and orchestrate them and record them in six to eight weeks. The times are super short.

And the only way to complete a full soundtrack and Have you recorded in such a short time is to have more people working on the same project. One write the music the melodies one orchestrates, otherwise a single person will not be able to go through all that amount of work in such a short amount of time.

So these may not be an option anymore, it’d be an option only for some specific projects. Okay. Regardless what Morricone was doing, what he was doing everything by himself.

Of course, he had a circle of friends, he has second opinion and all this kind of thing doesn’t mean he has to work in isolation forever. But he orchestrated his own music, and that gave him a completely different perspective than other composers.

Those two elements are at least a big part of what made Morricone sound so good. The other part if you want is the kind of culture he was immersed in. There is a long tradition of melodic composers in Italy, for instance, and he was totally immersed in this tradition and you want to see the step before Morricone, I suggest you guys listen to anything by Nino Rota. The guy wrote some of the most absolutely wonderful melodies ever written and all for movies too.

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