Sound effects are another means of auditory communication. Sound effects can add realism, punctuation, drama, or comic effect. In professionally produced videos, at minimum two channels of audio are recorded, one for the talent, another for ambient noises and sound effects. Ambient sound tracks add realism to a video and are usually only noticed when absent. Unfortunately, the digital video cameras that students will most likely use will only be able to record one track of audio. Therefore, ambient sound and sound effects may have to be recorded separately and added to the video in postproduction.
Recording sound effects is simple; use the camcorder to record the desired sound. With editing software you will be able to separate the soundtrack from the video and then add that soundtrack to another video requiring these sound effects. Another option is to record directly into the video using the voice-over feature in the editing software. Here you can actually watch the video track as you record an audio track into it. This is how the choir sang their jingle in perfect time to the images of the video. This is also how another group added the clatter of typewriter keys to letters that appeared in the opening credits of a video.
In addition to recording your own sound effects, you may want to use software programs with libraries of sound effects like dogs barking, trains whistling, wind blowing, and crowds cheering. For a more robust set of sounds, you will want to direct your students to the Internet or purchase a set of CDs that contain sound effects. Sound Dogs (www.sounddogs.com) has thousands of public domain (royalty-free) sound effects available for download at no cost. I have used this site to get a clanging school bell, a ringing telephone, and cheering crowds. I have use of a 60-CD set of sound effects from the BBC, which our theatre department bought for use in their productions and I borrow for student videos when necessary.
Distorting a sound is another form of sound effect. There are sound editing software tools that you can use to distort your voice so that it sounds as though the voice were being heard over a loudspeaker in a stadium or echoing off cavern walls. A low-tech way to distort voices is to have students talk on walkie-talkies, record in a shower stall, or speak through a mailing tube.
Next month: A class activity for study of TV communications.