Silent Movie Music Lesson Plan

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson plan, we help our students understand the importance of music in silent films through experiencing silent films and discussing their music both in small groups and as part of the class.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Recognize the purpose of music in silent movies
  • Interpret the meaning of music in silent movies


1 hour

Key Vocabulary

  • silent film


  • clips of silent films
    • note: many silent films can be found, in their entirety on YouTube, so you may only need internet access
  • projector

Curriculum Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1

Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1.c

Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.


  • Before class, watch the silent films you have collected (or accessed on YouTube) to determine key scenes where the music aids the viewer in interpreting what is going on in the scene. You should compile at least three different scenes, for example:
    • one scene where the music indicates drama, action, or excitement,
    • one scene where the music indicates romance, and
    • one scene where the music indicates humor
  • When your students enter the class, play one of the selected scenes (2-4 minutes) with the volume turned off.
  • After the scene ends, ask your students what they think is happening in the scene. Write their responses up on the board.
  • After a few responses, play the scene again, but with the volume turned on. Hold a short discussion asking your students how listening to the music changes the way they experience the scene. Some example discussion questions include:
    • Does the music change what you thought was happening in the scene?
    • Does it change your experience viewing the movie?
    • Do you feel the music is appropriate? Does it accurately capture the scene the actors are portraying?
    • Would you use a different piece of music?

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