AS Media Studies: TV Drama
Sound: Micro Elements
Sound in TV Drama
• Sound has the power to
create certain moods,
to create character and
can signal events that
are about to happen.
• The power of music to
manipulate audiences
emotions has always
been acknowledge in
television and film.
Sound in TV Drama
The entire sound track is comprised of three essential ingredients:
• the human voice /dialogue
• sound effects
• music
• In TV drama these create a balance between the realism of the
world of the text/programme and drama that is created by the
use of sound
(in the real world dialogue is less polished and music/ soundtracks
don’t appear!)
Types of Sound
The world of the TV programme we see on screen is called the
There are two main types of sound in TV drama…
Both are used in TV drama to create VERISIMILITUDE – realism.
VERISIMILITUDE = the believable logic of the texts
world (which appears real)
Diegetic Sound
• DIEGETIC SOUND is any sound or music
that happens inside the world of the story
This sound is part of the programme’s
world (diegesis) and can be
dialogue/speech, footsteps and sound
effects with a source.
• For example if the drama portrays a
character playing the piano, the sounds of
the piano are projected.
• DIEGETIC sounds contribute to the
realism of the programme and also help
to create a particular atmosphere.
Diegetic Sound or Actual sound
• Sound whose source is visible on the screen or whose source is implied
to be present by the action of the film:
• voices of characters
• sounds made by objects in the story
• music represented as coming from instruments in the story space ( =
source music)
• Diegetic sound is any sound presented as originated from source
within the film's world
• Digetic sound can be either on screen or off screen depending on
whatever its source is within the frame or outside the frame.
• Another term for diegetic sound is actual sound
• Diegesis is a Greek word for "recounted story"
The film's diegesis is the total world of the story action
Diegetic Sound
The “click” of a door being opened
may simply serve to convince the
audience that the image portrayed
is real, and the audience-may only
subconsciously note the expected
However, if the “click” of an
opening door is part of an ominous
action such as a burglary, the
sound mixer may call attention to
the “click” with an increase in
volume; this helps to engage the
audience in a moment of
Non-Diegetic Sound
• Non-diegetic sound is sound that which takes place
outside the world of the story.
It is usually placed on later in the post-production
process e.g. music and soundtrack.
Such sounds are included so as to provide an
appropriate emotion or mood and they may also
add to the realism of the drama.
Non-Diegetic sound or commentary sound.
• Sound whose source is neither visible on the
screen nor has been implied to be present in the
• narrator's commentary
• sound effects which are added for the dramatic
• mood music.
• Non-diegetic sound is represented as coming
from the a source outside story space.
Diegetic and Non- Diegetic sounds
Task: In pairs, watch the opening sequence of Life
on Mars and identify as many examples of
diegetic sound and non-diegetic sound as you
Dialogue - modes of address
Voice Over
• The use of voice over is generally
used in TV drama as a narrative
• This is first person narration.
• The voice over can also allow us
information about the central
character and build his/her
• They can also allow privileged
information – so sometimes we will
know more than the other characters
on screen- which creates drama!
Narrative Devices =
Elements that help explain
the narrative (story/plot)
e.g. voice over, captions
and extended dialogue
Task: Watch the opening of Life on Mars – what do we learn in the first two
minutes about the narrative?
Dialogue/Speech: Modes of Address
Direct Address
• Direct address = when the characters on
screen directly address the audience.
• It is an alternative to the voice over.
• This is rare in TV drama but when used
can create humour or can act as a
narrative device , giving us more
information about the narrative.
• It tends the break the verisimilitude of the
drama and stops the action taking place.
(Breaking the 4th wall.)
The Importance of Music in
TV Drama
• The soundtrack/score in TV drama is often used to
tell the audience how we should be feeling, whether
this is sad, happy, scare or amused.
• This use of music is a convention of TV drama.
Task: Watch the sequence from Jeckyll – what
emotions do you feel in this sequence and how
do the programme makers achieve it through the
use of music?
Incidental music
• This Incidental music is used to add emotion and rhythm to a
drama. Usually not meant to be noticeable.
it often provides a tone or an emotional attitude toward the
story and/or the characters depicted.
• In addition, background music often foreshadows a change
in mood. For example, dissonant music may be used in film to
indicate an approaching (but not yet visible) menace or disaster.
• Incidental music may aid viewer understanding by linking
scenes. For example, a particular musical theme or sound
motif associated with an individual character or situation may
be repeated at various points in a text in order to remind the
audience of ideas (think the Bond theme in Bond films or
Indiana Jones films.)
• Sound is comprised of conventions and
• We have come to expect an acceleration of
music during car chases and creaky doors in
horror dramas.
• Yet, it is important to note as well that sound
is often brilliantly conceived. The effects of
sound are often largely subtle and often are
noted by only our subconscious minds
Parallel and Contrapuntal Sound
Sound can be used in one of two ways…
Parallel sound = when we watch a TV drama the
sound we hear usually compliments and follows
what we see on screen. For example fast paced,
loud music in chase scenes or action sequences.
2) Contrapuntal sound = is sound that does not fit the
images we see on screen. Usually done to create
an effect e.g. classical music over violent scenes
• A Sting = either a brief crescendo stab of music used to
enhance the drama of the current situation just before a
change of scene (called a "dramatic sting" when used this way)
• or a brief comical stab on music to enhance a punch line at the
end of a scene (most famously, the so-called "rimshot" -- badum-bum-ching).
• "Sting 'em and sling 'em" is a phrase used to describe this kind
of break.
• When used for a cheap shock, the sting becomes a scare chord.
E.g the end of an episode of Eastenders
Ambient Sound
• Ambient sound, also known as natural
sound = The sound occurring in the
area where they shoot the drama. It is
often used or created in dramas to
create verisimilitude (realism)
Theme Tunes
• Theme tunes are used over the
opening titles of TV dramas.
• They are a recognisable piece of
music that the audience will
associate with the drama.
• The purpose of the music is to
establish a mood for the show
and to provide an audible cue
that a particular show is
• These are a ‘call to action’ for
audiences so they will sit down to
watch the programme.
Theme Tunes
• Little Britain Extract
• Name your favourite TV theme tunes…
Theme Tunes Task
• In groups watch and listen to the opening
sequences of…
• Coronation Street
• Hustle
• Dr. Who
• Casualty
Does the theme tune fit the mood and themes
of the drama?
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