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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.

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

Examples of Playing the Heart Strings include:



  • Platoon. Sgt. Elias' death scene used Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings. See it on YouTube, starting at 2:00.
  • The Lord of the Rings features this on a Norwegian fiddle, especially when the riders of Rohan join a battle.
  • Harry Potter and the 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 2009 Sherlock Holmes film, 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.
  • This is the music that plays during the opening Curb Stomp Battle / Heroic Sacrifice in Star Trek. Oh, yeah.
  • 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.

Live-Action Television

  • 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.
  • As the Doctor is forced into the Pandorica, only the triumphant strings can be heard.
    • Way back in series 2, they decided to subvert this in favour of the One-Woman Wail. Lampshaded on Doctor Who Confidential.
  • Rimmer's possibly-death-scene gets this treatment in the last episode of Red Dwarf's Series VIII.
  • Abed and Shirley's outro in Community episode Modern Warfare.


  • 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.

Video Games

Western Animation

Web Comics

Web Original

  • Done in this Youtube video about WWII.
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