Disney Melodies

The Magic of Disney Music

by Karl Beaudry | Release Date: March 30, 2015 | Availability: Print, Kindle

The Magic of Disney Music

It's all around you. The lyrics, the melodies, the sonic presence of Disney, whether you're in a theme park, in a movie theater, or browsing a play list. What makes Disney music so, well, magical? Why do these songs get stuck in our heads, and why do they represent, for many of us, the intangible appeal of Disney?

Musician Karl Beaudry examines the art and the science of Disney music, from the technical aspects of a successful Disney song to how Disney uses these songs to enhance the appeal of its films and theme park attractions. You’ll learn why Disney wants you to listen to certain songs at certain times and in certain places. And why you respond in just the way Disney expects you to respond!

Disney Melodies includes these "tracks":

  • A layman's look at the melodies, harmonies, and rhythmic structures used to compose most Disney songs.
  • How consistency plays a large part in the success of Disney music, and why it's the reason most of know whether or not a song is a "Disney song".
  • The use of both music and sound in the Disney theme parks, and how no themed area is ever silent.
  • Short biographies of Disney composers known and not-so-well-known, including lists of their top tunes.
  • Analyses of the most popular Disney songs and shows.

Find out why you can't get that Disney song out of your head!

Table of Contents



1The Great Disney Composers

2Was Walt Disney a Musician?

3Disney’s Magical Musical Timing

4Disney’s Musical Familiarity, Repetition, and Consistency

5Disney Music’s Melodic, Harmonic, and Rhythmic Structure

6The Magic of Musical Consistency

7Disney Music’s Magical Quality

8Magical Musical Highlights

9A Word about Disney Sounds and Production

10Final Refrain


There are two hobbies in my life that consume much of my time: Disney and music.

When I was 11 years old, my parents took me to Walt Disney World. The year was 1971 and the month was December. If you are a true Disney fan, you’ve already realized that this was the first Christmas at Walt Disney World. The crowds were massive and the lines were long, but the frustrations were far outweighed by the magical influence that trip had on me. I can clearly remember standing in line at the Transportation and Ticket Center and being in awe of the Monorail overhead, its sleek shape and quiet motors portraying a futuristic preview of what I would see inside the park. I was smitten by the Disney bug and have been back countless times since that first trip, soaking up all I can about the parks and all things Disney.

Music, on the other hand, has been a talent and interest handed down through the family. My parents made sure that I had piano and instrumental lessons from the time I was very young. Now that I’m an adult, I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert with music. I’ve been performing, writing, arranging, and conducting all my life. Professional, semi-professional, television, church, local, school—you name it—I’ve experienced it musically. I am a music theory enthusiast and I love the challenge of hearing music and analyzing it in my head for both rhythm and harmony. My wife and I regularly perform concerts together and find music to be a great escape from the realities of the world.

As a result of this combination of interests, I am not surprisingly obsessed with the music of Disney. The only music I have on my iPhone comes from a 2-CD set of Walt Disney World park and attraction music. My ring tone is a portion of the opening theme from “Illuminations: Reflections of Earth”. The first notes I play when sitting at the piano are usually familiar phrases from Beauty and the Beast or Aladdin. And what about my morning wake-up music? You guessed it—the music heard every morning on Main Street, U.S.A. In addition, I’m probably the world’s greatest Sherman Brothers fan. (We will discuss the Sherman Brothers at length in this book.)

But my obsession with Disney music has led me to some intriguing questions I’ve never been able to answer. What is it about Disney music that has me so glued to it? How do they do it? What kind of acoustical science must they be using to draw people in like the Pied Piper’s rats? After all, this is Disney we’re talking about. It is simply not possible that the music of Disney would just be carelessly recorded and mixed without some vast marketing philosophy to control its existence. There has to be some sort of unwritten conspiracy behind each composition. There must be some sort of formula that infuses each song with a powerful magnet, giving it the ability to move people in one direction or another, convince them to buy something, or control their moods during the day. After all, Disney marketing created the most recognizable icon in the world with three simple circles (right up there with the Coca Cola scripted letters). A company with that level of branding ability is going to study the effects music has on its customers. We know, of course, that music’s effects can be powerful. Consider this paragraph from the muzak.com website:

The power of music is undeniable. Music creates a connection and sets a mood. It can motivate, attract and engage. It can be a competitive advantage and a reason for customers to come in and come back. Let Muzak help you use the widest selection of fully licensed music solutions to create an environment that will enhance your brand and build your business.

Those of us who know Disney’s methods can be confident that they have invested an immense amount of time and effort into studying how they use music and how it will affect their ability to gain and keep customers. So what were their conclusions? How do they use music to “trick” their customers into thinking that Walt Disney World is the Happiest Place on Earth? How do they use music and sounds to wrap me around their corporate finger?

Several years ago I started to seek out answers to those questions. Despite my knowledge of music and its construction, I was still not completely sure of what I would discover. My investigation led me to some fascinating realms of musical and psycho-acoustical theories. Of course, my research also led me to Walt Disney World itself many times. (It’s a rough job, but somebody has to do it.) I can still remember my amazement at the construction of the theme music for the SpectroMagic Night Time parade along Main Street. It was at that time I decided to push further and truly hunt for some conclusions to satisfy my own curiosity.

This book is a result of my study. I must admit that I have spent far too long on the entire project, but I also know it is one of those things that will possibly never end. On the other hand, I am excited about what I can share with you right now regarding the ingredients in a Disney song (and many other songs) that keep people listening. The book will be covering music (and sound effects) in Disney theme parks and resorts, along with the famous Disney film and television music that one would expect to be included in a study such as this. (Note that I’ll be introducing some rather advanced musical terms; I define these for a lay audience in the appendix.)

There are two very important points to be made clear before embarking on this study, or any study of music as it relates to the tastes and preferences of listeners:

  • It is impossible to apply what we will discuss here to all Disney music. Because music is an art, there are no comfortable corners that we can fit every song into. While we can emphasize certain characteristics of the better-known songs, we will always run into an inevitable list of hit songs that do not fit into any of our “theories”. That is a good thing! It is the variety in music that makes it so wonderful. When one considers the thousands of songs in the Disney repertoire, there can be no doubt that many of them will represent the square song that does not fit into our round hole.
  • Many readers will most certainly get through half of this book and start to wonder if there’s anything new under the sun. They will read of the various “hooks” within Disney music that make it popular and ask why these same things could not be said about any music. While it is my firm belief that there are certain exclusive characteristics of Disney music, I am also not naïve enough to believe that Disney musicians have a monopoly on the techniques they use. After all, the use of these familiar techniques for all music is most likely what makes it so comforting to us. There are definitely certain features in most popular songs that make their patterns predictable. That ability to predict provides us an unconscious form of relaxation and security, while at the same time increasing our desire to hear the song again. It is clear that Disney does not hold the exclusive patent on the “hooks” we will discuss, but they just may be the best at using them over and over again in an ever-increasing variety of contexts.

So why should I be the one to write this book? Am I the expert on this topic? Absolutely not! But I was truly amazed to find that after years of searching for material on this subject, I could find nothing. There are many great books on the topic of Disney music, but none covering the wonderful features that make it qualified to be “Disney”. I look for the behind-the-scenes magical formulas that make Disney what it is and I am rarely disappointed. Since I am also a musician, I find that my “mouse ears” are often tuned to everything going on at the parks and in the movies. As a result, at the very least, the reader of this study can expect a child-like sincerity and excitement, combined with a lifelong passion for and study of both Disney and music.

PS. Throughout this book, you’ll find short comments by Disney fans about the kind of Disney music they enjoy, and why it’s meaningful to them. I think it’s important not just to study Disney music as a quasi-academic topic, but to give examples of its use “in the wild” and the effect it has on people like you and me.

Karl Beaudry

Karl Beaudry became a Disney fanatic when he found himself standing underneath a monorail track waiting for his parents to buy Walt Disney World ticket books in December 1971. The anticipation of experiencing the Magic Kingdom combined with the fantasy of seeing transportation and architecture unlike anything he had ever seen before was enough to spark a Disney obsession that continues to this day.

Karl spent the past several years studying the history of all things Disney. He has always been fascinated with the stories of the great people involved with the legacy of Disney productions and projects. When he isn’t writing about Disney, he spends a lot of his time with church activities and planning vacations for future Disney fanatics. His hope is that he can encourage Disney park visitors to go beyond the parks and into the undiscovered country that is Disney.

A Chat with Karl Beaudry

Coming soon...

Other Books by Karl Beaudry:

Most Disney songs take advantage of a simple, yet effective melodic technique known as “sequencing”. While there are several interpretations of what a sequence truly is, for our purposes it is the repeating of a short melodic or rhythmic phrase with just enough variation to enhance the overall result. The psychological theory behind the effect is that essentially our minds seek familiarity, even with the sound of something we’ve just heard. Therefore, when a phrase is repeated, but altered just a bit the second time, excitement and interest is added. The effect is similar to that of suspense or surprise, but it happens so quickly that it is interpreted in our minds as just an extra “plus” for the song.

Of course, this technique is as old as music itself, and Disney’s use of it is nothing new. However, a carefully balanced use of this technique with pleasant rhythms and the right orchestration are truly a major reason why Disney songs are Disney songs.

One great example of this technique is with the melody for Beauty and the Beast, by Alan Menken. In the illustration below, anyone can pick up the sequencing technique simply by looking, even if they know nothing about music. The notes here are those that are song with the following words:

Tale as old as time
True as it can be
Barely even friends
Then somebody bends

The pattern that is set up is repeated. But, as noted by the red arrows in the graphic, the second sequence is altered just a bit. Also, in the second line of music, another sequence occurs, this time with rhythm, but with the melody changing direction.

Musical Notation

One could also point out that the entire clip being shown could be a single sequence due to the similarities in rhythm. The beauty of this example (no pun intended) is that a good song uses sequencing and a great song can actually have sequencing within sequencing. Many astute musicians have concluded that, with today’s music anyway, the more sequencing that occurs, the more likely the song will be a winner.

Continued in "Disney Melodies"!

Disney music isn't the only sonic experience you'll have at the theme parks.

We have discussed several “hooks” within Disney music that cause us, as listeners, to enjoy the songs. While we have mentioned sounds now and then, it is worth a chapter here to cover them in more depth. The same hooks that apply to the music also apply to the sounds that have become so popular. At Walt Disney World, the sounds of the boat horns as they approach the piers on the Seven Seas Lagoon offer an exciting treat for those who remember their stays at the Contemporary Resort or any of the lagoon or Bay Lake resorts. The sound of the train coming into the station provides a thrill for those just exiting the monorail station and getting ready to enter the park. At all parks, the sounds in the attractions themselves, the cannon balls hitting the water in Pirates of the Caribbean, the creaky doors in The Haunted Mansion, the ethereal space music in Space Mountain, and the “Paging Mr. Morrow” line in the TTA PeopleMover all offer sweet memories to those who visit the parks multiple times. And who can forget the now famous, “Please stand clear of the doors” line from the monorail spiel?

By now, many people are aware that Imagineers have rigged up a way to disperse the aroma of chocolate chip cookies in the oven throughout Main Street, U.S.A., using a fan and some scented chemicals. This is certainly a fun way to create a hometown feel (and sell a lot of cookies!). What many do not realize, however, is that there are also some “fake” sounds throughout the Disney parks. One obvious example is the sound of screams from the “Everest Expedition” coaster at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It doesn’t take very long for the avid listener to notice that the screams begin to sound alike after a while. And they are timed pretty regularly, as well.

The audio techs at the Disney parks are among the best at what they do. Starting from the design stage, audio takes a huge role in determining the overall effect of an attraction or show. Throughout the unique structures of Disney architecture are hidden speakers designed to blend directly into the background, whether it be plant or building. Rarely, if ever, is a speaker seen, unless it is part of an attraction that calls for it to be present. Inside an attraction are hundreds of speakers, many with different roles, all placed appropriately to be hidden and to represent whatever portion of the scene they connect to. A young tuba player in the “it’s a small world”, for example, will have his own speaker playing the tuba part just behind him and out of view. A dog in the Pirates of the Caribbean will have his own speaker assisting him with his well-timed howl. What is that you hear when you pull the rope at the well just outside of the Indiana Jones show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios or when you touch the apple at the entrance to the Snow White attraction at Disneyland?

The always clever sound effects and audio techniques found in the Disney parks are all part of the hook that brings people back. For those of us who enjoy staying at the Ft. Wilderness Campground, the sounds of the boats going back and forth to the Magic Kingdom are truly priceless. They are the reminder that things are OK and that your day will be a magical one.

Continued in "Disney Melodies"!

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