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Sound Design

Editing sound and music

Sound is a critical element of film production. It can complement an image, contribute to character development or be used to indicate mood, time or action. Discordant sound can be used to elicit certain ideas or emotions by provoking the audience to re-interpret the on-screen images they see.

Sound in film can be divided into two main categories:

  • Diegetic sound: Diegetic sounds are on-screen and off-screen sounds that emerge from the story itself and are heard by the audience as well as the characters within the story – for example, a door slamming, the wind blowing outside or a car crashing on the street.
  • Non-diegetic sound: Non-diegetic sounds are added during post-production. These sounds are not directly related to the characters or the on-screen action. Non-diegetic sound is not heard by the characters and may include sounds such us a musical score or a voiceover narration.

Types of sound

The following types of sounds help develop the narrative and enhance the atmosphere or intensity of a scene:

  • Sound effects: Used primarily to enhance realism, sound effects intensify dramatic action as well as helping to define a location.
  • Dialogue: Dialogue, like actions and gestures, contributes to character development. Tone, pitch, selection of words and expression can reveal important information about a character and contribute to narrative progression. Dialogue externalises a character’s thoughts, feelings, plans, ideas and motivations.
  • Music: Music helps to indicate theme, mood, time, location and action. Particular music may be associated with specific characters. When images are edited to coincide with the pace and rhythm of music, the result can alter the mood of a scene and influence the audience’s emotion, adding suspense, mystery, excitement and drama. Music is often used to establish the style or genre of a film, and it has the power to change the entire meaning of a scene.


A film editor works with the rhythm of the music to complement the visual action.

When selecting and editing music, consider the following:

  • Choose music that matches the emotion or dramatic tension of a scene.
  • Use the natural beats of the music, along with narration where applicable, to move from one shot to the next.
  • Select music that will intensify the action.
  • Use music to fill dead air or pauses in action rather than throughout a scene.


Consider carefully the use of copyright music in small-scale or low-budget films. To avoid problems with clearing copyright, it is often easier to use original music. Films with uncleared copyright music cannot be exhibited in public.

For more information, visit Copyright Law and Ethics.