I wonder how background music should be used during a video on a complicate topic and requires some analysis. I think that:

  • If it's about giving information, then having background music can increase the attention span of the viewers/uplifting them
  • If it's about analyzing information, then having background music may distract them

However, the line between giving information and analyzing it is very blurred, and I think when the speaker are giving information, the viewers are analyzing it too. In this example video about traditional Japanese archery, it seems that there is always background music when the narrator speaks. The only times it is silent are during interviews. Does that mean there will always a suitable background music, and one just need to find it out?

So how to know when background music should be used? Is there any pointer on this so I can research more? In my case, it requires the viewers to analyze and even verify the information a lot, so I want to have them concentrated (need silence) and not being bored (need music).

Background music - Wikipedia
Musical analysis - Wikipedia
• Relevant question: How would a piece of music about challenging assumptions and correcting misunderstandings look like?

  • For noisy enough topics, such as arcade gaming or the obvious concert documentary, there's also considering when to let the music recorded at the scene take over. – Dekkadeci Jul 22 '19 at 5:14
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    We seem to be considered as needing music as background noise for everything. In supermarkets all it does for me is speed me to get out. As background for any video stuff, that's exactly what it should be - background. Not obtrusive enough to distract the viewer (listener) from the more important stuff, and certainly quiet enough for that to happen. Film music is of course a very different kettle of fish... – Tim Jul 22 '19 at 8:57
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not about music practice or theory as outlined in the help center. – Todd Wilcox Jul 22 '19 at 12:57
  • @ToddWilcox there is no theory for background music? As music is an important part of movies, I thought theories for background movies should be rich? – Ooker Jul 22 '19 at 13:06
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    Music theory is a specific area of study. What type of music to use for a video and when to use it in a video is not music theory. I would guess that is more in the realm of film studies. – Todd Wilcox Jul 22 '19 at 13:26

There may be some hints of cynicism following...

For possibly the most extreme opposites,

Watch one of those daytime TV sensationalist documentaries, the ones where half the show is spent telling you what's going to be in the other half... with sirens & bits shot on a phone.

Then watch Blue Planet.

Then decide what your intended audience is & whether you have narrative & footage that would support the Blue Planet style, or whether you're going to have to keep yelling at your audience to try stop them switching channels.

Your example, though I only watched the first 3 or 4 minutes, is firmly in the 'sirens' camp, even though its subject matter should have been more deserving of the 'blue' treatment. The makers couldn't quite bring themselves to soften the approach, leaving the look & feel all a bit unstructured. Not enough action for the 'sirens' treatment, in too much of a rush to give it the 'blue' treatment.
Not enough connection to the subject.
It's all shot & also presented in rather a 'distant' & disconnected manner, keeping the audience separated, almost pushed away, from the subject rather than included in it.
[cutaways inside boxes to explain to us what Karate is... made me cry a bit inside.]
Their use of the sensationalist push-zoom + music hit is ... ermm... poor.
In fact, the more I watch of it, the better it becomes as a lesson in 'how not to do it'. They do a dubbed interview, with rampant over-orchestration way out in the background - not loud enough to listen to, too loud to ignore - before eventually introducing the presenter, who doesn't make an appearance until 3 minutes in, immediately turns her back on the camera & they cut away to some dull wide of the archery butts again... fail.

I dug out an example of one show I think does it 'well' for a given definition of 'well'.

Grand Designs - an episode picked at random - They follow a similar pattern each week.
Start with an opening by the presenter on what is going to be the 'special point' of this week's show, all with their trademark library music style - a tad hokey but not too dominant.
Then cut to opening credits with 'known' theme.
Then some more 'expensive' shots, fields, flowers, wide apertures, lots of out of focus - accompanied by some sweeping waffly music to go with it. This continues as they set the scene for what is to be this week's show; introducing the subject couple & what they are going to build.
By the time we're 3 minutes in, the music has gone.
We're into the actual meat of the show.
That approach takes you from the 'known' presenter, through some broad introduction of 'new characters' & then to the main structure of the show in a way that draws you in rather than pushes you away.

They will repeat this functionality several times through the show - pull away to do a recap, get in some more 'arty' shots, then quickly drop back to the 'meat' again.

This is not 'genius' program-making, but it is very functional, & survives repetition. They're currently broadcasting Season 19.

  • While I still don't know what's wrong with the kyudo video, the way you structure this answer is exactly the content of the my work. If you are to make this one a video, what music would you choose? How would a piece of music about challenging assumptions and correcting misunderstandings look like? – Ooker Jul 22 '19 at 11:07
  • I honestly couldn't choose any music without first seeing at least a rough cut of the program as it's meant to look. If you're doing this for a college project etc, then go ask your professor what is wrong with that kyudo video... see what [s]he comes up with ;) – Tetsujin Jul 22 '19 at 11:25

Sparingly. The background music in most of the shows on Discovery Investigation channel interferes with the story being shown. We don't need "danger music" every time the cops show up to investigate a crime. The music covers the speaking. It seems as if the producers just added stock music like in the silent movies. (Perhaps they are too cheap to hire a composer.)

I'm not singling out this channel because it's especially bad, but because I like the shows. Other channels are also pretty poor.

For good background, check out Alfred Hitchcock's films and others from the 1950 to 1970 time period. After that, the special effects dominate so different rules apply.


I like the suggestions in the other answers so far. Just to also add that in a documentary, consider at what points there's the opportunity to allow the location recordings to take centre stage. For example, nature documentaries often do this when...

  • They feature interesting animal calls
  • The recordists have managed to capture sound as part of the action - e.g. getting close enough to a fight to record the corresponding thumping and grunting sounds
  • There are interesting environmental sounds that 'set the scene', such as the sound of the rainfall, crickets chirping, etc.

...and then you might want to use music where there isn't an obvious corresponding sound, e.g. a close-up that produces little recordable sound; something shot from too far away to record sound; or a development/summary section spliced together from different shots.

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