The One-Minute Sound Story

Students create a one-minute long sound track that tells any story that they choose using only non-verbal sounds. The sound stories are then played for the class and everyone except the person who created the story tries to determine what happened. Following this discussion the story’s creator describes their intention for the action of the story. The class then discusses which aspects of the story communicated well and how to improve those that did not.

Activity Objectives

The primary objectives are not measurable in the artifacts that are created for this project. In fact, the success of the project depends on the creation of some artifacts that do not communicate their stories effectively. Therefore, the primary student outcomes are listed under activity goals below. However, in the process of achieving the primary student outcomes the students will also learn:

  • how to gather and/or create sound effects
  • the basics of digital audio editing
  • how the controllable properties of sound affect the communication of story
  • what types of information can and cannot be clearly communicated by sound
  • how sound functions in the absence of visual information

Activity Goals

As described above, the primary goals for this project are to actively demonstrate how sound communicates story to an audience and to generate an in-class discussion about what causes that communication to be clear and effective or unclear and ineffective. This activity provides an excellent introduction to the language of sound design and functions best at the beginning of a course or unit on sound design. The students’ comprehension of these concepts is not measurable in this activity, but should be measurable in all subsequent projects related to the storytelling aspects of sound design.


Initial Requirements given to students during the first class period: Without using dialogue or spoken words, create a 1 minute long sound-track that tells a story. Try to be as specific as you can. Don’t tell anyone else in the class what your story is about and don’t play it for them before the presentation in class. During the presentation day, the class will listen to all of the stories and will try to guess the details of the story you have created. The purpose of this project to generate a conversation about effective and ineffective communication with sound. The project will not be evaluated on the fidelity or quality of the sound, only on the effectiveness of the communication of the action of your story.

During this first class, students are also provided with links and assigned to watch video tutorials for basic audio editing on free, cross-platform digital editing software such as Reaper, Garage Band, etc. before the next class period.

During the next class period:

  • Students are introduced to several methods for sound effect acquisition such as:
    • sound effect database search engines for libraries owned by the institution
    • free recording apps for iPhone and Android if students want to record their own effects
  • The instructor provides a demonstration of simple editing techniques that will be necessary to complete the project to insure that students understood the video tutorials. These techniques should include at least:
    • Importing media/sound files
    • Trimming/Splitting media into clips
    • Basic cross fades
    • Volume and panning envelopes
    • How to Mixdown to an uncompressed audio format such as .wav or .aiff
    • How to submit the project when finished.

During the final class period:

  • Play all of the projects (or a random selection if there are more that 8-10 students) in class to generate the critiques and discussions described above.

Time Length

This iteration of the project was developed for a course that meets for 50 minutes, three times a week. The project is due, and discussed in class, two class periods after it is assigned. For a course with longer periods the content could be divided differently. Students typically spend 4-6 hours outside of class viewing the editing tutorials, acquiring sound effects, and editing their project.

Required Materials

Access to computers and the internet are the only things that are required.


As mentioned above, the project can be used with larger class sizes. If there is not enough class time to play all of the stories, students can be informed that a random selection of stories will be played and discussed in class while the remainder will be evaluated by the instructor outside of class.


The objectives will be measured and evaluated by the instructor and the class through a comparison of the information that each story communicates to the audience (everyone in the class except the creator) and the intention of the creator. Each of these critiques will be followed by a discussion of which elements of the story communicated clearly and how the unclear elements might be altered to become more effective. Since the goal of the project is to be able to compare effective and less effective communication, the evaluation of the project is Pass/Fail based upon completion.

Don Tindall, Ithaca College adapted from a project developed by Rick Thomas, Purdue University