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What is diegetic sound and non-diegetic sound in film?

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What aspects of sound design do you need to consider when producing your own videos? That's where diegetic and non-diegetic sound come in.

What is diegetic sound and non-diegetic sound? And how to use them when you're editing a video? Read on for all the answers you need. 

What is diegetic sound and non-diegetic sound in film?

What is diegetic sound?

Diegetic sound is sound that comes from the setting of the film. Non-diegetic sound is sound that comes from our world, such as the soundtrack or scoring.

Diegetic sound could include the voices of characters, utensils clattering in the background, or music coming from a piano being played on-screen.

If you're wondering what the diegetic definition is, diegetic actually means occurring within the context or the narrative, which is an easy way to distinguish between diegetic and non-diegetic sound.

Why is it important to understand diegetic sound?

It's important to understand diegetic sound because it's what makes the world of your film feel real. Knowing how to use diegetic and non-diegetic sound in film will set your film in a specific time and place that the audience can recognize.

While non-diegetic sounds, like narration or the score, can help stylize your film and help your audience feel the emotion of the scenes you are showing, diegetic sound is what truly creates a film.

It's also important to understand that diegetic sound doesn't necessarily have to be captured live. Sometimes, you need to add sound effects or clean up your sound design in post-production. That can also include automated dialog replacement lines after the fact.

This all still counts as diegetic sound, since it's intended to be a part of the actual scene rather than the framing of the scene after the fact for the audience.

Essentially, if a character in the scene would be able to hear a sound (assuming that they aren't Deaf or hearing-impaired), then it's probably part of the scene's diegetic sound.

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When to apply diegetic sound to videos?

Unless you're making a silent film or a music video, you'll almost always be using diegetic sound in your videos. So, you'll want to carefully consider your diegetic sound when creating video content.

Because the voices of your characters are part of diegetic sound, thinking about how audible people are and how their voices carry in the film can completely change how your dialogue is perceived.

You may also want to consider transdiegetic sound when you're creating video content. Transdiegetic sound is sound that switches from being diegetic to non-diegetic or vice-versa. This sort of sound may be used, for example, when transitioning to different locations between scenes.

The music play at a bar may become part of the movie's soundtrack when the scene transitions to another location. This sort of sound can help the pace of the movie, and make it feel like the plot is moving when the characters do.

Musical episodes of television shows, such as the musical episodes of Grey's Anatomy and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, also heavily use transdiagetic sound to transition between non-diegetic sound and diegetic sound.

How is diegetic sound used in social media videos? 

There are some types of social media videos that you'll want to consider diegetic sound for.

If you're making an exercise video for Instagram, for example, you'll want to think about whether or not you'll be including the sound that you make with each movement or while using equipment. 

It can, in some cases, be impactful for the audience to be able to hear the sound of a jump rope hitting a sidewalk, for example. It makes them more able to understand the impact of the movement. The same can be true for different types of videos on different social media platforms.

However, there are some types of social media videos, such as TikTok videos, that will usually only use non-diegetic sound.

That's why it's so important to understand how to use both types of sound, since they are each important in their own ways depending on what sort of content you happen to be creating.

Diegetic sound is used to full effect in many different, amazing films. Some examples of diegetic sounds in film include:

  • In the song Edelweiss in The Sound of Music

  • Fight noises and gunfire in the Netflix movie Gunpowder Milkshake

  • Typing on keyboards, phones ringing, and clicking on the Office

  • Ice skating, sticks hitting pucks, and the audience cheering in the Mighty Ducks movies and Mighty Ducks: Game Changers

  • Gavels banging, the witnesses testifying, and Elle's dog barking in Legally Blonde

  • Different street sounds in Breakfast at Tiffany's

  • The in-studio orchestra, the sound of audience laughter and clapping in the background of late-night television shows, like The Late Show with

  • Cars crashes, driving, wheels squeaking, and other racing noises in the Fast and the Furious series of films

There are just a few examples of diegetic sound. Most movies and television shows since the silent film era ended have used diegetic sound to full effect.

Get started using diegetic sound on Clipchamp video editor

Now that you understand what diegetic sound and non-diegetic sound are, you'll be able to incorporate them into your work. Explore the royalty-free audio library and find sounds of just about anything you can imagine!

Step 6. Add stock music

Want to start making content ASAP? Get started with Clipchamp video editor.

Make sure you also visit our video glossary to learn even more about video production and editing.

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