Particularly in film and television, visual imagery can be used to convey additional meanings besides their literal ones. Is there a word for when the same is done using audio or musical cues?

I would like to say something like this

The way the music changed key during this scene was very symbolic

But I'm not sure that symbolic is the correct word.

  • If you say 'symbolic' you have to say what it is symbolic of. Does it convey emotion? Does it imitate the sounds of nature? Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 19:15

5 Answers 5


I would suggest that symbolic is a perfectly acceptable word to use in this instance. Depending on the wider contexts, you might consider that it could reflect, indicate, illustrate, or represent something. These verbs are really just stand-ins for symbolise, however.


I'd say that evocative may convey the idea you are expressing:

  1. to call up or produce (memories, feelings, etc.).
  2. to suggest through artistry and imagination: a poem that evokes sounds and images of urban life.



One might use the word 'representative'. A symbol is something that is representative of a notion or thing. A Musical cue could easily be representative of a notion or thing as well. I think it would also be conventionally acceptable to just use the word symbolic in the described context.


When an all-instrumental score is intended to suggest or evoke a story it is called programmatic or program music. This is not an additional meaning besides a literal one since there is no literal one in such cases. This does not cover all the phenomena you might seem to be asking about—it would not, for instance, cover the mysterious sound of the distant snapping string that occurs twice in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard—but maybe it is a start.


I think you might mean apposite or fitting.

  • 1
    I think this answer would benefit from explaining what these words mean, since they don't mean "symbolic." As it is, an English language learner reading this answer might be misled to think that "apposite" is a synonym of "symbolic."
    – herisson
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 21:09

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