Wondering how music can enhance your masterpiece?

As a filmmaker, understanding the difference between diegetic and non-diegetic music is an invaluable skill that can push your project to the next level. Learn how to think like a seasoned music supervisor and use these simple tools to tell your story with music. Here’s what you need to know!

Diegetic Music

Diegetic music, also known as source music, is any music that comes from the world of your narrative. In most cases, this is the music that the characters are listening to in a scene. With diegetic music, the audience is aware that the music playing is what the characters are hearing as well. Common examples of diegetic music include music playing on the radio, overhead music playing in a cafe, as well as any music played by musicians that are performing in a scene. Often, a music editor will add filters to diegetic music to give the effect of how a character would be hearing the music in their environment.

Most importantly,  diegetic music is a tool that allows the audience to experience the world of the characters. In some cases, specific songs may be mentioned as part of the storyline. As a storyteller, think about scenarios in which your characters would be experiencing music and how that music can add emotion to your story.

Here are some scenarios and scenes where you might add diegetic music to your project:

  • Coffee shops
  • Grocery stores
  • Restaurants
  • Scenes in a car where a character is listening to music on the radio,  music out of a speaker, record player, etc
  • Concert scenes
  • Scenes where a character is dancing to music
  • Live musicians performing  

Check out this example of diegetic music where John Cusack plays Peter Gabriel’s song “In Your Eyes” from a boombox in the 1989 film Say Anything.

Non-Diegetic Music

Non-Diegetic music is what only we, as the audience can hear. While this music is not part of the character’s world, filmmakers can use non-diegetic music to enhance the emotions of the viewers watching. Non-diegetic music can include scored music from a composer, licensed music, and sound effects. Using non-diegetic music can amplify the emotions of a scene, create suspense and give viewers a better understanding of how a character is feeling within a scene. Use non-diegetic music to establish the tone, atmosphere and sonic world of your story.  

In this example, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” is used non-diegetically to add emotion to the final scene in The Graduate, 1967.


Start using diegetic and non-diegetic music in your next project. Experiment, have fun with it, and explore the ways music can enhance your storytelling!

Find the perfect song now!