Music is generally used to underline the emotional moments of the story. But sometimes it isn't used so much to underline the emotion as much as announce with a bold (figurative) trumpet that the Golden Moment is incoming. This is especially common in Sitcoms as characters sit down and have a discussion to resolve the conflict, and you know this is the climax of the story because the music kicks in. Usually soft and slow with any combination of high strings, low brass, woodwinds and maybe even a light piano melody. And once the hugs go around the Studio Audience gets in their "aww"s or applause.
It's a prime source of ridicule largely for how "on the nose" it can be, as sitcoms rarely have a musical score except for this one scene. It can show up elsewhere under similar circumstances.
Compare Montage Out.
- Linda Bloodworth-Thomason is apparently fond of playing sappy music during emotional scenes. This happens frequently on Designing Women and to a lesser extent on Hearts Afire.
- Scrubs featured a particular few bars of piano music so often in emotional moments that they eventually decided to hang a lampshade on this by having JD say that he always imagines this piece of music playing at emotional moments in his life. From that point on in the series, the music is mainly used in subversions of emotional moments.
- That music was featured so much that the actors themselves imagined that tune during emotional moments of their own lives.
- Project Runway's "Auf Wiedersehn" music (give or take a clarinet).
- Arrested Development parodies the phenomenon in season two every time someone drops a hint that Buster is actually Oscar's son instead of George Sr's.
- A staple of Miller-Milkis-Boyett Productions.
- Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, and Joanie Loves Chachi all used sentimental renditions of their respective theme songs to underscore emotional moments.
- The former Trope Namer, Full House, did this during every Golden Moment, complete with An Aesop. (Which, in this show, is about Once per Episode.) Mind you, Full House (as well as pretty much every Sitcom in the TGIF block) tended more for light bass guitar or a synthesizer on high notes over a clarinet, but it was the late 80s/early 90s.
- Family Matters, Step by Step and Perfect Strangers all did this as well. Family Matters was also quite fond of using a sappy 7-note piano riff at the end of a sad or dramatic scene, more or less Once per Episode.
- Beverly Hills, 90210. Nearly EVERY dramatic scene was underscored with some sappy "teen drama" music. Mind you, this continued even after the characters all moved on to college.
- Occasionally used during the first five or so seasons, usually during a particularly dramatic Ross/Rachel moment.
- There was plenty of this in the episode where Ross's grandmother died.
- Same problem when Mr. Heckles dies in season 2 and the group leaves his apartment for the final time.
- Usually inverted by The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: Emotional moments have no music at all, to contrast with the lighter moments of the show, which are usually accompanied with a light hip-hop beat.
- This seems to be a staple of Modern Family, particular accompanying the ending voiceovers.
- In a non-sitcom example, Minute to Win It does this 2-3 times per episode when everything comes to a screeching halt so the contestant(s) can tell some kind of a sob story about their loved ones.
- Boy Meets World was another TGIF show to use this. It was mostly used as transition music at the end of serious scenes though it was sometimes played during the scene if the scene was particularly emotional.
- Parodied in the That's My Bush! episode "Trapped In A Closet." Every moment where two trapped characters work out their issues/differences is humorously scored to the exact same sappy music.
- Beautifully averted by Frasier which never used music to support scenes. Parodied in one episode where he plays pre-recorded sappy music when apologizing to Martin's girlfriend Elaine on the radio.
- Good Luck Charlie slows down the melody of the opening theme of the show at the end of the scene when Teddy finds out that her boyfriend, Spencer, is cheating on her. Most of the time, the theme music is played in a more up-tempo, cheery manner. This one of (if not the only) time the show uses this trope.
- Air Crash Investigation, a.k.a Mayday, Air Emergency and Air Disasters, a documentary television show about aircraft disasters usually plays this trope straight at emotional scenes (victim funerals, photos of the plane wreckages, the last few seconds when there's no hope, the first few seconds after the crash, etc).
- In The Brady Bunch, many episodes have a mellow or dramatic cue played as Mike or Carol are offering that episode's moral.
- Another non-sitcom example, Chuck had a light piano cue that played throughout the series whenever Chuck and Sarah had a heart-to-heart moment.
- Lampshaded in an episode of Last Man Standing, as Eve invited her friend Cammy to stay with her family while her parents went overseas, without the approval of her parents. Cammy is good hearted but obnoxious, she plays the oboe in the band and they can often hear her from the garage. Mike managed to arrange a new place for her to stay, and had a heart-to-heart with Eve about how best to help friends in those sort of circumstances. Eve noted at the end it was an appropriate place for some sad oboe music.
- A Chorus Line uses a slow instrumental version of the "I Really Need This Job"/"Who Am I Anyway?" motif as underscoring for several emotional moments in the monologues.
- Averted in Final Fantasy Tactics, since there's considerably less melodrama in that game than in other Final Fantasy games.
- Parodied in the Family Guy episode "Holy Crap" in which Peter has a band on hand to play the Sentimental Music at the appropriate moment.
- Also parodied in the South Park episode "Cripple Fight", when Big Gay Al is at home moping over his firing from the Mountain Scouts. We hear sappy Full House music in the background, but Big Gay Al soon reveals that it's actually a pianist at his home playing mood appropriate music. He then asks the pianist to play something a little more upbeat.
- In Doug, the same music would play during every emotional moment. In this case, it depended on the writing/performances in a given scene. Some of them averted this by being written/performed in a savvy way (usually with dry humor - a great example of them doing this brilliantly is in "Doug's Doodle").
- Believe it or not, The Yogi Bear cartoons of the early-60's (along with the late-1980's "New" Yogi Bear Show revival) used this a lot, even in scenes where it made almost no contextual sense (such as when Yogi and Boo Boo are discussing Ranger Smith's birthday in the episode Slap Happy Birthday).
- Beavis and Butt-Head used this from time to time in its later seasons (beginning with the episode "Top O' The Mountain"). The episode "Bad Dog," in particular, makes hilarious use of this music cue by playing it when their dog runs away, only to shift to the classic heavy metal guitar closing when Beavis and Butt-Head perk up and decide to get a new dog.
- BoJack Horseman features this in the first season when he reconnects with his former Horsin' Around costar, giving her his TV Guide Award and humming the theme to their show himself.
- In the Ready Jet Go! episode "Jet 2", sad electronic piano music starts playing when Mindy explains what jealousy is to Jet, and when Jet confesses his jealousy to Sean and Sydney, they apologize for what happened, and Jet learns his Aesop.