The Legend of the Running Iron: How to Score a Western

Musical score is an important yet often overlooked process in creating a film.  It gives context to the images we see and adds emotional significance to important moments. The heroic and powerful orchestras, from Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, add to the film’s larger than life feel. The simple whistling and twangy guitar of The Good The Bad and The Ugly’s final showdown allow us to absorb the tension building between the characters. It’s a dimension of film, that if done properly, carries the viewers on an emotional journey, without them even realizing it.

A well done musical score can set us very clearly in a place in time. Recently, we produced a western period piece, The legend of the Running Iron. To accompany the distinctly western visuals, Co-Founder/producer/musician Rob Jornayvaz, had the goal of creating a score that would add an immersive element to that western feel. 

The three main instruments Rob found to create a western feel were the acoustic guitar, the electric guitar, and the piano.

Rob used the acoustic guitar to form the base of the chord progressions so that, at the core, the soundtrack was built around an instrument associated with “The West”. To add his own twist, Rob left his guitar pic on the sidelines and used only his fingers to strum the chords. This allowed for flexibility in the strum pattern, using a fast pattern for the uptempo scenes, and picking with his fingers for the slowed-down scenes. 

Of the instrumental trio, the electric guitar is the most expressive. Rob used his telecaster to add that twangy spaghetti western feel. Additionally, he used it to paint the melodies of certain scenes without overpowering the narrator. The guitar builds in the fast cutting sections, giving the feel of excitement and speed, without shouting about it. When the electric guitar slows, it allows the audience to take a breath and re-establish their whereabouts in the piece. 

The piano adds the cream. What is the cream you ask? It’s like the icing on the cake. The big sound generated from the piano swells into the score to enhance certain heroic moments. Used sparingly, it is more powerful than if used throughout. 

From the director’s initial vision, through the cinematography and editing, the score brings the whole piece together. 

Check out this interview with Rob, the creative behind the musical score, for a specific breakdown of just how he created a custom musical soundtrack. 

  • December 2020


RELATEd blog posts