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O. A. R. S.

The acronym O. A. R. S. (Observation, Analysis, Reflection, Synthesis) represents the heart of what we will do in this course. Throughout the course, you will be acquiring and refining the skills necessary to conduct informed and insightful examinations of film music. Your instructor will model this approach for you many times in the lessons, and you will have ample opportunity to practice. The exams, the discussion boards, and the final paper, in particular, will test your ability to demonstrate these skills.

The metaphor for our examination of film music is rowing:

  • Observation is equivalent to placing the oars in the water (the essential “first step” of the process).

  • Analysis is equivalent to pulling the oars through the water (the “real work” of bringing observations to consciousness).

  • Reflection is equivalent to the point of repose in the stroke (taking the necessary time to derive meaning).

  • Synthesis is equivalent to pushing the oars back into position (each insight builds on the momentum of previous insights).


Frequently answers very matter-of-fact questions, such as, “Who?”, “What?”, “When?”, and “Where?”

What do you see?
What do you hear?
Who appears in the scene and does what?
Where does the story take place? When?
When does the scene or shot begin? When does it end? How long does it last?
When is there music? What kind of music? When is there not music?


Connects observations to identify relationships and patterns, and can often answer “How?” or “In what ways?”

How does the dialogue relate to the action?
How is the music connected with the dialogue and action? To the various characters?
How does the music reinforce the narrative unfolding on the screen?
How is the effect achieved?


Begins to answer questions related to interpretation and meaning, such as

Why does the scene work?
How does the music make me feel the way it does?
What is the significance of the shot? The scene? What’s its relationship to the whole film?


Is a process of weaving analyses and reflections together into a greater understanding that provides insight into the significance and meaning of a film, and music’s role.

The process can sometimes be characterized by “aha” moments, when realizations shed new light and bring about new interpretations of meaning.
We will have more to say later about this approach and how to carry it out. For now, just keep in mind that O. A. R. S. will guide your examination of film music in a systematic and reliable way. It also bears mentioning that Observation and Analysis are interrelated processes, like two sides of the same coin. By the same token, Reflection and Synthesis are similarly interrelated.