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Music in theme park; the anonymous hero of theming

By Sara Tavakoli: musician and kid’s piano instructor 

Imagine a beautiful, clear morning at Universal Adventure Park. For some reason, you decide to take a long walk through the park to get to Wizarding World of Harry Potter. As you pass through Jurassic Park, you slow down. Even though the Jurassic Park river adventure has yet to be made, you are immersed in the beauty of the forest landscape. You are almost alone here, and as the theme music from Jurassic Park wafts, you suddenly feel as if you are in the movie, an observer with hidden eyes!

You have to leave this theme park and cross the bridge to go to another place. But, what a passage! As you begin to pass, you will notice the music is changing. You are suddenly in Harry's world, with all the wonders and possibilities Harry experiences in books and movies. The magic becomes real before you get on Coca's robot arm, even before you go under the arch. Here the question arises, how does music help to create magic in theme parks?

Music, especially the background music that plays around you as you visit a themed environment, is often designed not as a focal point, but as another layer to the theme. In today's most immersive themes (like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter), music works way more than addition to the theme, it actually creates the illusion that you're in a movie. This is your life, even better, and with a soundtrack!

Theme park music is often anonymous hero of theming. There are few elements in theme park design that are subtly employed to have such an effect. Music plays an important role in theme park experience. It helps how you interact and feel about rides, attractions and park itself. This note is to provide you some of the main reasons music affects the performance of theme park, which we may appreciate its role in creating a theme park experience.

Atmosphere and space

The first obvious reason why theme park music matters is atmosphere and space it creates. Music in theme parks creates a sense of place. This is clearly seen in traditional theme parks, especially with specific lands and themes. As you travel from one land to another, the music helps to create the architecture of land's atmosphere. The tone and style of music shapes the world around you and determine your expectations of the land experience. For example, as you enter the Islands of Adventure in Universal Orlando, the music creates an adventurous style. In fact, park entrance helps you set the theme for the rest of your day. This adventure and discovery is fully incorporated into the musical cycle of this area.

Another example would be classic music in Space Mountain queues in Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World. As you cross your way through long tunnels, you will be transported to a space station. Music helps this transition from Tomorrow Land and its attractiveness.


Nostalgia often evokes an intense emotional reaction for many guests. This is why theme park music often tries to penetrate our memories. This connection to past happy times helps replicate the same experience in park visitors. Music will often be timeless and bridges the generation gap. It helps to create shared experiences despite age gape. Disney often relies heavily on this angle. They are proud of themselves on their romantic notions of nostalgia and childhood and often traditionally seek to create emotional experiences in rides and attractions.

Familiarity and world building

This final point somehow ties the previous two factors together while adding a kind of familiarity. This often helps bridge the gap between interested guests who are revisiting or those who are visiting for the first time. It creates a space and a world.

Regardless of how much you pay attention to it, theme park music is a shaping piece of aural architecture that forms your experiences and the world around you. It is one of those aspects you might not notice unless it is gone. I suggest take your time on your next visit to theme park and listen and appreciate the sound design of the land you're in.