The purpose of sound design

Supporting the style of a production

Like all of the design elements, sound and music will help to support the overall style of a production. For example, a play in a naturalistic style would use realistic sound effects to create the impression of real life.

Creating mood and atmosphere

Sound and music can be an effective way to create mood on stage. Music can be used to heighten the mood of a scene, eg the use of sad strings to underscore an emotional monologue. Music can also be contrasted to the action on stage for dramatic effect.

Sound designer Duramaney Kamara plays the piano while creating a score for a theatre performance.
Sound designer Duramaney Kamara composing

Conveying the time period

Music is a particularly effective device for conveying a play’s historical context. For example, a play set in the 1940s may use a style of music popular in that period, such as swing, to help transport the audience to that era. Sound effects can also reinforce a play’s period, eg a horn from a steam train.

Conveying setting

Sound and music can help set the scene. For example, a play set in the Highlands of Scotland might utilise bagpipes, and the sound design could include wind and rain sound effects to give the impression of a cold, harsh climate.

Conveying time of day

Sound effects can be used to help establish the time of day. A scene set in the early morning might feature the sound of birdsong, while a scene at night could use the sound of crickets chirping.

Communicating themes or symbols

Music and sound can be used to communicate thematic or symbolic ideas. For example, where power is the central theme of a play, strong and dramatic classical music with a heavy brass sound might be used.

Influencing pace

Music can influence pace on stage. For example, a fast piece of music with a pulsing drum and bass rhythm will energise a scene.

Communicating a character’s personality

Some plays use a musical theme or sound effect to represent a character on stage. This can be subtle but at times is very obvious, eg a thunder sound effect and tense music when a villain enters the stage in a pantomime.