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Background Music

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However, only panicked background music played in my head.
Is It Tough Being a Friend? Volume 5

You may have noticed that in every visual work, characters seem to have music playing in their heads at all times. Not songs they've heard. Not even classical tunes they’ve listened to. These are tunes that seem to just come out of nowhere, off the top of the character's head.

This technique is used because it makes you sympathize with a character's emotions. Without music, you would not be able to connect with characters and feel their emotions.


If music is shown in one character's perspective, but then the perspective switches to another character who can't hear the music, that's Sudden Soundtrack Stop.

The pieces that are most closely tied to characters or events are Leitmotifs. If music is meant to make us think of a certain character's name, that's Fanfare.

Specific instruments and Standard Snippets are used to create a Mood Motif.

For further exploration of this topic, listen to Anna Russell's "The Ring of the Nibelungs (An Analysis)".

This trope lists lampshades of the phenomenon; straight examples are too many to count. For subversions, see Left the Background Music On. For aversions, see Reality Has No Soundtrack.

Compare Mickey Mousing, for when music that is meant to set the mood is actually being played by a character in-universe.


See also Background Music Override, Variable Mix, Diegetic Switch, Theme Tune, and Image Song.

Alternative Title(s): BGM