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Playing the Heart Strings

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For the best reading experience, play the music from this video while reading.

Where the drama/violence/awesome is too much for real sound or even sound effects to convey. The soundtrack is reduced in volume, and/or muffled, or even muted altogether.

Except for the strings.

A string section plays a mournful piece, usually built around subtle chord progression. The peaceful yet haunting sound provides dissonance with the image, and yet this dissonance echoes the conflict on the screen. Often used to accompany a dramatic death, or a climactic battle, especially if the fighting is between people who should normally be friends.


Easily parodied, as there are many well known pieces of music that could be used to produce this trope.

Subtrope of Simple Score of Sadness. Compare with One-Woman Wail, which is often used in the same way. See also Lonely Piano Piece. See Mood Motif.


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    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Platoon. Sgt. Elias' death scene used Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings. See it on YouTube, starting at 2:00. The piece is used at several other points in the film.
  • The Lord of the Rings features this on a Norwegian fiddle, especially when the riders of Rohan join a battle.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Order of the Phoenix does this, after Sirius' death.
    • The Half Blood Prince also has a go.
    • Deathly Hallows Part 2 also has a bit of an attempt, and this one works wonders. The song Courtyard Apocalypse is played as the trio fight their way through the Hogwarts courtyard, and they see some pretty vicious stuff. The sound is slightly muted, but it is noticeable.
  • In Sherlock Holmes (2009), Watson gets one of these when caught in an explosion.
  • Used in the first Spider-Man movie when Peter comes home to Aunt May after Uncle Ben's death.
  • The Departed as Queenan is tossed off the building in slow-motion.
  • Star Trek (2009): This is the music that plays during the opening Curb-Stomp Battle / Heroic Sacrifice.
  • In Three Kingdoms, Phoenix Heights battle between the Zhao and Cao's top commanders, the dramatic strings with bass beats are diegetic; Cao Ying herself plays the zither while her soldiers beat the drums. A few other times Cao plays to unnerve the defenders, and it works, since even Zhao finds her sinister.
  • The ten-minute finale of Michael Mann's 1992 adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans plays this trope for all it is worth, as seen here.
  • "The End" from United 93 is pretty much this trope in its pure, distilled form.
  • Used several times in Casualties of War. This is the best example (starts around the halfway mark).
  • Danny Elfman's score for The Wolfman (2010) makes very good use of the strings, probably as a subtle Shout-Out to the original score.
  • The climax of Avengers: Infinity War features I Feel You, full of bittersweet splendor, when Vision allows a tearful Wanda to destroy the Mind Stone keeping him alive as a last-ditch Heroic Sacrifice to stop Thanos, all while the rest of the Avengers desperately try to Hold the Line.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Abed and Shirley's outro in Community episode "Modern Warfare".
  • Doctor Who:
  • In Season 9 of How I Met Your Mother, Barber's Adagio for Strings plays when Marshall nearly delivers the seventh slap onto Barney, in slow motion.
    • Season 5's "Jenkins" uses the same piece when Robin turns the tables on Ted's class's drinking game, and during the resulting hangover.
  • Rimmer's possibly-death-scene gets this treatment in the last episode of Red Dwarf's Series VIII.
  • The Granada adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes adventure "The Final Problem" has a sorrowful violin piece accompanying Holmes and Moriarty's plunge into Reichenbach Falls. That said, this whole series made good use of violins in the opening theme and the rest of the soundtrack, since Holmes plays the violin himself.

  • Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, one of the saddest, most moving pieces of music out there, fits this trope to a T. Among other things, it was used to commemorate the death of Roosevelt and the Twin Tower bombings.
  • The song "Harder To Believe Than Not To" on Steve Taylor's album I Predict 1990 is played entirely in this fashion, giving it a very mournful feeling.
  • The Cruxshadows use an electric violin in many of their songs.
  • Garbage's "Happy Home" uses this to make their usual Downer Ending ballad even more depressing.
  • The finale of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 9 is a string-dominated slow movement with sad melodies and anguished harmonies. The final page of the score, in particular, has only strings playing very slowly and quietly, with the operative performance direction being ersterbend (dying away). Leonard Bernstein described this ending as "the closest we have ever come, in any work of art, to experiencing the very act of dying... It is terrifying, and paralyzing, as the last strands of sound disintegrate."

  • "Åse's Death" from Peer Gynt. Peer continues talking when muted strings play this piece quietly during his mother's death scene, ironically oblivious in her dying moments as he tells her a wild tale.
  • "Billy's Death" from the ballet Billy the Kid.
  • Cirque du Soleil's Volta has a major Tear Jerker example during "The Bee and the Wind", in which the Woman in White performs an electric violin solo, adding a One-Woman Wail in the last third, while a BMX flatland rider and a ballet dancer re-enact Waz's childhood memories of bicycling with his mom.

    Video Games 


    Western Animation 


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