How important is musical training to a sound designer? What, if any, instruments do you play, and has this affected the way you 'compose' a design? I play the cello and piano,nowhere near as well as I would like to, and I like to think that this benefits my work.

16 Answers 16


I play guitar. A knowledge of harmony and music theory can get you a long way towards a better sound design.

Anything I have done within the context of music had been beneficial to my designs, like going to a symphonic concert and trying to understand the acoustics.

In most cases, there is an emotional bond between the instrument and the player, and instrument translates its player's emotions into something beautiful. I get bored listening to someone talking about a break up with his girlfriend but i can listen to love ballads all day.

So being an instrument player helped me a lot to analyze the emotional dynamics of a scene during sound design/composition.


Jazz drummer here. While I've used my percussive experience to better "pull" sounds out of an object, or to help pace the sound to the scene, I think playing as an ensemble has been the most helpful. Knowing what sounds I can contribute that will work best with others, trying to compliment and not compete, knowing when to drive the tune or pull back, and knowing when to be creative and when to back off and just keep the time.


I'm a bassplayer (electric & double bass) - also piano, synth, melodica, basic drums & guitar...

I think having good relative pitch & a sense of rhythm is hugely beneficial to sound editing/design, both for its own sake & also collaborating with composers, pitching FX to relative to score etc...

I was reading a book about music & the brain, and one benefit of music lessons as a child that it sited was that it also trains your ear to listen - which is beneficial irrespective of if you ever play that instrument again as an adult... And it is self evident that critical listening is a hugely important skill which not everyone has - some people just hear a sound & cannot discern individual elements etc...


In my humble opinion, to being an instrument virtuoso and having the dexterity, is not going to make a noticeable improvement in the way you design, edit mix, wathever. However, i think the rhythmic sensitivity and "soul" that goes into playing an instrument, can make a significant difference, as far as knowing what "moves" the listener. Its also definitely useful to have musical instruments kicking around to squeeze sounds out of them! Not necessarily musical sounds.

Just the opinion as someone who doesn't master an instrument, but looks forward to read from people that do!


I'm agreeing with all the guys above, it's not a requirement but it can be highly beneficial.

I studied music at University before I did an MA in Sound for film and it certainly helped me. It will give you a link between emotion and sound, certainly useful in story telling. It will also help train your ear. Honing your skills in analytical listening and being able to break apart music into its constituent parts is extremely useful.

I personally focused on composition and music technology. Put me on a stage with an instrument and I'll fall apart, even though I got quite good. Composition was especially useful as not only does it help train your hearing through analysis it also gave me an appreciation of structure but also the arrangement. Why do 150 odd people in a full orchestra and choir sound so good, cohesive and not at all muddy? It's because thought was applied to how each section interacts with each other, both horizontally (what note is played in relation to the one before and after) and vertically (what instruments are playing which note at the same time? What will that sound like combined and which instrument is the most important and should play loudest out of the group).

It is things like this that help inform my work in sound.

Also isn't post production sound an alternative career for us failed musicians? :)


I'm also a drummer, although lately I haven't really been playing. I never had proper musical training, but I don't feel like I'm missing out. If anything, using my gut feeling rather than theory might be well suited to my personality. I tend to think logically about the story, but then let the process of designing the sound happen organically.

That said, to answer your question, when the project calls for it I do feel that my penchant for rhythm influences my design. Actually, now that I think about it, I just spent today designing the sound for an animation where the whole thing was heavily rhythmic and full of percussion instruments :-)


I think some knowledge of music theory can't hurt, but I certainly don't think it's a prerequisite. I think a lot people with backgrounds as engineers sublimate a lot of musical knowledge from constant exposure to it without getting any formal training, forming a more intuitive sense of what works/doesn't work for mixing, music, rhythm, and more.

In response to your very first question, I've played saxophone, guitar, and piano, for many years at various levels of averageness and ineptitude.


I've played guitar for many years. It's hard to say how much it influences how I work or if it just made me more aware of my ear.

I went from guitar player, to live sound mixer, to production film mixer, to post production mixer. I think along the way, everything I've picked up has helped me form the tool set that I have now.


I would argue it is very hard to mix music without having a good understanding of the theory and structure of music in terms of rhythm, bass, harmony and melody. Being able to play an instrument is an added advantage as it helps you to communicate effectively with the musicians and to be able to read music is even better so that when there is an issue or you need to edit, referring to the score can make it much easier. So basic theory, non-negotiable, playing helps and reading music helps some more.



I've played keys for twenty-one years, sax for fifteen, and guitar and bass for twelve (admittedly, I should be better at all of them). Honestly, I can't tell you if it helps or not because it's the only thing I've ever known.


I play guitar, bass, and have been recording music for over 7 years. It helped that I already had good knowledge of protools and layering sound. By no means does it mean you'll be a sub-par sound designer if you didn't play and instrument.....but I think that playing gives you an opportunity to be involved in more phases of the post-production sound side....like musical scoring, ability to create moody ambiances quickly.


I play guitar and piano, and did my degree originally in music! it's definitely affected my sound design techniques and I always strive to make my sound design musical in some kind of way- although these days i feel like i tend to think of music in a sound design way-rather than the other way around!


Guitar and piano player here, I think we've pretty much solved the fact that musicianship and understanding sound go hand in hand...although some of the best sound designers I know aren't musicians..


I started as a trombonist and moved through all of the low brass instruments before picking up a bass guitar and eventually a sound effects library! If you are noticing a pattern, I love the timbre of instruments in the bass clef!!

As to how it relates to Sound Design, it is all about what that experience does to your ability to perceive (and control) sound and what effect that is having on your audience. I wouldn't say that it is a necessity to being a sound designer, but it certainly helps. my experience as a young musician has very much dictated who I am sonically (and personally).


Guitar and all fretted instruments for 40+ years and keyboard noodling. Always have at least 3 or 4 string instruments in my edit suite for unwinding and decompressing. Love to play with a couple of my sound buddies Dino DiMuro and Alan Rankin.

It's funny you ask because years ago I noticed that most of the people I work with are frustrated musicians.

Almost every REALLY good editor/designer I know is some sort of musician. Those that aren't might not have had the opportunity to learn an instrument and this whole sound thing is their instrument.

Does it help? Heck yeah. Is it necessary? No, not at all.


I consider a computer/an audio sequencer an instrument, so yes. I find traditional or real instruments boring (although they can sound good), because their tone options and ways to play them are limited. Also learning to play them well takes a lot of practice. I prefer sampling and sequencing.

I don't consider there to be a difference between music and sound, when it's worked by utilizing a computer. Real instruments and bands/orchestras vs computers are where there's a clear practical difference.

The only relevant aspect of music in "sound design" would be the basic understanding of pitch and pitches, because it makes a difference, whether the pitched sounds you have are in a certain interval and don't sound dissonant (or if they do, there's a reason for it). Possibly rhythm and pacing as well, but those aren't really as strict in anywhere else as they are in music.

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