Sound Type / Sound Source

Listening Challenge

Click on the soundboard below to hear examples of sounds grouped according to their:

  • Common properties


  • Common source

Recognising and Grouping Sounds

If we are going to work with sounds, then we need to be able to tell them apart. We need to be able to listen, recognise the individual character sounds and then group a series of these sounds based upon their similarities (and differences). The most basic way to do this is to divide them into categories based on either their: common properties or their common source.

Composition Tip

When composing a piece, it is useful to know whether you want the audience to recognise the common properties or common source of the sounds that you use.

If you’re interested in exploring the common properties of different sounds, then you need to try and hide or reduce any strong source connections.

If you’re interested in exploring the common source of sounds, then you need to protect and highlight the source connections.

Sounds with Common Properties

Sounds that have common properties will sound similar to one another in some way (but might still be individual). For example, they might be a group of sounds that are all pitched or a group of sounds that are all grainy (granular sounds). We can describe these sounds as being a particular TYPE of sound.


The basic properties of sound might prove to be useful starting points:


  • Pitch – the quality of a sound or tone, ranging from high to low.
  • Loudness – the relative volume of a sound, ranging from quiet to loud.
  • Duration – the length of a sound from short to long.
  • Rhythm – a repeating pattern of sounds.

Sounds with a Common Source

Sounds that have a common source will all come from the same object or location. They will probably sound very different to one another, but they will relate to one another because they all come from the same place. We can describe these sounds as having the same SOURCE.

Composition Tip

Taking multiple sounds from a single location can be a really great way to create a piece that is focused around a specific inspiration, but has variation. We can take the sounds from this one location or object and then develop and explore them, revealing the inner world of the source.

More information:

Often, sounds that come from the same source will share similiar shapes or Energy and Flow energy profiles.

If different sounds are being caused by the same process or action, they will share patterns in their activity.

For example: there is a car towing a trailor. The faster the car travels, the louder the engine sounds. BUT, also the greater the sound of rattling from the trailer. Both of these parameters of sound are linked and will change together.

But Which Is the Most Useful Way to Think About Sounds?

Using simple distinctions, we can begin to group sounds in ways that are useful to us. And really, the best solution to use is the one that works best for us individually for a specific purpose. If we start to think about sounds as objects on their own, separate from their source, it is more useful to distinguish them based upon their common properties.


Sound Property Record Cards, and use them to note down the properties of sounds. RecordCard_Individual (Print out as many sheets as you will need). When you have the sounds recorded on each of the Record Cards, experiment with the different ways in which you can arrange the sounds into groups.

  • Think about their common properties and try to build relationships between the different sounds.
  • How many different types of relationship can you draw?
  • Compare your groupings with those of others.
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