Sound Effect Scavenger Hunt

Students must find a specific list of three sound effects using found objects to create those sounds.

Activity Objectives:

A significant portion of a sound designer’s role in productions is to find or create sound effects.

  • This activity aims to encourage students to deconstruct sounds into parts. Once a particular sound is broken out into an aural math problem of sorts (this plus that equals the sound effect they are looking for), students can begin to get creative as to which objects can be combined to reproduce the desired sound. If, for example, students are assigned the sound effect of a gong in this activity, they must first think about the physical and aural characteristics of that sound before they can begin an informed search for an object(s) that can reproduce the same or similar sound.
  • Sound is a playful field by nature. Another objective of this activity is to motivate students to play and experiment with sound. The first ten objects they find may not be the right sound, but the hope is that they accept and use these “micro-failures” to their advantage before succeeding in finding the right sound. Maybe one object isn’t quite what they were looking for, but could it make a great ________ for future use? Sometimes sound designers need to make a ruckus before finding the right sound and the wrong turns are part of the journey!
  • It is important that sound designers can talk clearly about their work. The third objective of this activity is to increase the vocabulary that sound designers use to explain sound to other artists, such as directors. Sound is an intangible and invisible medium, and talking about it clearly requires practice (as it can be quite challenging). Is the sound effect bright? Sharp? Dull? Harsh? Warm? Hollow? Metallic? It can often be extremely helpful to explain sound in visual terms to directors, even lighting designers, and this activity aims to further cultivate such vocabulary.


This activity can be completed in class, allowing for approximately 30 minutes for students to search, and another 30 to 50 minutes to present to the class OR students may be given time at home to complete the search, bringing objects to class. Both options above are great for early designers; difficulty can be increased for more advanced students by adding the requirement of recording and editing the sound effects before presentation.

  1. Assign a list of three sound effects for the scavenger hunt. Students will each receive their own, unique list of sound effects.
    1. Example 1: – gong – dry leaves – wind
    2. Example 2: – bird – gunshot – rain
  2. Rules:
    1. Students may not use pre-recorded sounds from computers, phones, tablets, etc.
    2. Actual items may not be used. (For example, dry leaves or fake leaves cannot be used for a dry leaves effect. Or, taking the class outside to hear wind would not be acceptable for a wind effect.)
    3. Students must make sure it is okay for them to take objects found (if done during class). They must also secure permission (if necessary) to hit objects together, scrape, scratch, smack, rip, or rub items if they belong to others. (Doing this activity near a scene shop can be fun as long as it does not get in the way of shop work, is permitted by the shop manager, and is safe for all students involved).
    4. Students should stay within the vicinity of the building where class is held.
  3. After the allotted time is up, students must present /perform with their objects to the class. (It can be fun for the rest of the class if each student does not explain which sound effect they were attempting to achieve, thus allowing the remainder of the class to guess.)
  4. Class discussion: All students must not only present their own effects, they should also add to the discussion of their peers’ work.

Time Length:

  1. Maximum time investment for in-class activity: 1 hour and 20 minutes
  2. Maximum time investment for activity outside of class: 1 – 2 hours (w/o recording), 3 – 5 (w/ recording and editing)
  3. 30 minutes (in-class) should be sufficient for students to search if in a location that has a healthy volume of object options. (Lists can be created with this in mind.)
  4. For beginning classes, it is helpful to do this assignment as an in-class activity so that the instructor can be present should a student need a bit of additional advice and guidance.

Required Materials:

It can help to hold this in-class activity in a location with many types of items; again a scene shop is an excellent place to find many sounds. A location where students have access to metal objects, cloth, paper, etc. is highly recommended. If search is done outside of class, stores such as Home Depot and IKEA can be fantastic sonic playgrounds as long as students are respectful and do not damage merchandise.
If recording and editing is done for more advanced students, the presentation space will need to possess some form of a sound playback system (including input cables).
In the case of recording/editing being added to the activity, it is helpful to require that students provide an electronic means of presenting their work (computer, tablet, etc.).

Possible Adaptations:

This activity was originally created for a small class of six students. Should anyone like to use this activity in a larger class setting, they may consider assigning slightly longer lists of sound effects (5 to 6) and splitting the class into small groups, each group with their own list.


Students are evaluated based on:

  • Completion of finding all assigned effects
  • How well they deconstructed each assigned sound – How well they followed all rules
  • Participation in giving feedback to other students

Students will not only receive feedback from other students, but the instructor also should provide constructive feedback.

  • This object would be great for ________ with a little EQ and reverb…
  • You could pitch shift this down a bit to more clearly achieve your effect.
  • If this were made of wood as opposed to metal…
  • Experiment with how hard and with what you hit that object with; what does it sound like if struck with a fist, a rubber mallet, a fist wrapped in soft cloth?
  • If students are good at describing what a sound is (scary, soothing, aggressive), the instructor can ask questions to guide them towards understanding the WHY of those initial feelings. For example,
    • Student: “That sound puts me on edge.”
    • Instructor: What about that sound puts you on edge, or what don’t you like about it?”
    • Student: “It is loud AND high pitched.”
    • Instructor: “How can you use that information in a production to achieve that desired effect?” This line of guided questioning can help students arrive at solutions for those aural math problems mentioned above.

Jennifer Jackson, University of Utah