Listening Guides and Soundscapes

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears...

We are more likely to focus on multi-literacy strategies for analyzing print texts and images than strategies for analyzing sound, but when we tap into our students' natural fascination with music and sound effects by engaging the too-often-overlooked sense of hearing, their understanding and appreciation of a video or film clip deepens.

In this collaboration, an English teacher and a music teacher composed a guide to listening comparatively to the sound track in the opening shot sequence of several different film productions of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, but this listening guide will also work with any video or film clips that combine vocal, musical, and environmental sound.

Hearing the Cinematic

Jonathan Mitchell and Alec Waugh

1.  What mood does the music create?  What specifically about the music accomplishes this mood?

2.  Describe the tempo of the piece.  Is it fast, medium, or slow?  Is it constant, or does it change?  What effect does the tempo have on the meaning and mood of piece?

3.  What do you notice about the volume?

4.  What instruments do you recognize in the piece?  Why might the composer have chosen these particular instruments?

 5.  What effect(s) do the vocals (if any) have on the piece?

 6.  How do the lyrics contribute to the mood and meaning of the piece?

7.  Is there a repeating sound or idea in the music or lyrics?  What effect does this repetition have on the piece?


Click here for a user-friendly handout, Hearing the Cinematic.

Sixty-Second Soundscapes

Adapted from Seeing and Believing: How to Teach Media Literacy in the English Classroom. Ellen Krueger and Mary T. Christel

Extend the work of analyzing sound by challenging students to tell a story without words. 

Students  plan and record a one-minute audio or audio/video composition that tells a story, narrates a series of events, explores an issue, or explains a process using environmental sounds, sound effects, music, silence, and vocals (no more than five words, and these are optional).

Directions to Students:

  1. Write a descriptive paragraph that summarizes the action of your soundscape.
  2. After writing the paragraph, combine sounds and images that are natural to the action and the setting. Use the Cue Sheet to write a title for your soundscape and to list each action (the “action” will be primarily the sounds produced by the action). Approximate the start and end times for each action-sound in the sixty-second sequence.
  3. You can add no more than five words of vocal dialogue.

 Example, from Seeing and Believing:

There is a terrible storm on the night of the last football game of the season, and the quarterback is preparing the team for the final play of their high school careers. He preps them and there is the crowd yelling in the background as the quarterback and the team take the line. There is the snap and the quarterback scans the field for the best person to throw the ball to. He finally picks the one player who hasn’t caught a pass all season – me. I catch the ball and run it back for a touchdown without realizing that I have been tackled in the end zone and am badly injured. The crowd, in the middle of the storm, goes wild.

Click here for a user-friendly handout, Sixty-Second Soundscapes.