Listening is such a huge part of what we do as sound designers. Whether it’s making sounds for a AAA shooter or a casual kitchen game, we have to be able to listen and determine if what we’re making fits the game.

Some sound designers think it’s very important to specialise within a certain area, for example sci-fi guns, but I’m completely the opposite. While I think it’s important to know your strengths, I also really enjoy almost every style of sound design. Learning to listen properly has helped me be able to do almost any style, even if I haven’t touched them before. The reason being, that I have heard those styles thousands of times and therefore know subconsciously how they should sound and feel.

Let’s get into some exercises.

Consume Media

Believe it or not, this is the most important exercise of them all! You have to consume tons of media to get that subconscious understanding of different styles. The hard part being that you almost certainly need to consume some media that you don’t like.

Think of it like learning a new language. The more you listen to it, the more you are bound to pick up certain words, phrases, intonation and so forth. The same thing happens when we listen to a lot of media. We learn how car crashes, gunshots, punches, kissing and a ton of other things usually sound.

Here’s some exercises for you to try out;

  1. Consume media as you normally do, but schedule out a little time block each week to guarantee that you do it.
  2. Try out media that you have never heard before, maybe you have never listened to a podcast before, give it a try!
  3. Give yourself a theme for the month. Ex, Superheros; Find a bunch of movies, games, documentaries and podcasts about superheroes and watch them all during that month. Don’t worry about analysing, just watch and listen as you normally would.

Analysing Styles

If you want to be able to do all sorts of styles, you need to be able to understand what actually makes up the bread and butter of that style. This is closely tied to consuming media, but there’s some very easy exercises that you can do to take that even further.

The word “Cliché” sometimes get a bad reputation, but clichés is exactly what we’re looking for. The audience almost expects to hear them and use them to gauge what sort of game/movie they are consuming and/or about to watch/play. We, as sound designers, can use clichés to better understand what makes up a certain style.

Here’s some exercises for you to try out;

  1. Writing down what you hear: Find a youtube clip of your game of choice, without commentary, and write down every single sound you hear. What’s in focus? What’s not? Any specific sound you find especially cool? Etc.
  2. Try defining style identifiers/clichés: After you’ve done exercise 1 for a bunch of different media in the same style, try to see if you can identify any of the clichés that are often being used. What techniques, sounds, mixing and music do you hear a lot? When are they used? What are they used for? What is the effect of these clichés?

Doing Re-Designs

Now, we can watch and analyse all day long, but we also have to be able to actually construct these sounds. If you’ve done the proper “homework” this is 90% easier than you actually think it is. Let’s say you get a gig doing sound for a racing game but you’ve never actually done it before. If you’ve played a lot of racing games, you’ll have a core understanding of how they sound, what’s important in them and what players expect and also what makes them feel good. If you haven’t played any racing games… well, it’s going to be a lot harder for you to construct those sounds.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to practice constructing these sounds, even if you play A LOT of racing games.

Here’s some exercises for you to try out;

  1. Do a 30-second re-design of a style you are unfamiliar with: Find/record 30 seconds of gameplay from a genre you a unfamiliar with and try to make it sound as good and believable as possible.
  2. Do a 30-second re-design of a style you are familiar with: You can always strengthen your skills, so try doing a re-design of a genre you are very familiar with. There’s always room for refinement.

Spectral Ear Training

Spectral ear training is basically the art of being able to recognize frequencies. How is this useful? Well, first of all you’ll clearly be able to identify what a certain sound is lacking. If it’s low-end, you’ll quickly be able to hear that you need something in the 300-500 Hz area instead of the 100-300 and so forth.

With a bit of practice, you’ll eliminate a lot of guesswork when designing sounds and it will also make you a better listener (WARNING: Doesn’t make you a better listener in relationships!).

Here’s some exercises for you to try out;

  1. Head over to and do some of their free (or paid) EQ training, this will teach to recognize certain frequency areas very quickly.
  2. Create a little quiz for yourself: Create a bundle of sounds where you take 10 seconds of white noise and use an EQ to boost or cut certain frequencies. See if you can guess which frequency area is being changed and by how much. Make sure you have create a good randomization system (maybe use middleware?) and be sure to mark the audio files clearly for reference.

Music Ear Training

While ear training in relation to music is not necessary by any means when strictly doing sound effects, it will make your ears much better. When you learn to identify chords, intervals, rhythms and so forth, it’s like your ears open up to a whole new world and you’ll be able to use this to identify certain audio structures much more quickly.

It can take a long time to learn and it might not be useful right out of the gate but if you just have 15 minutes a week to practice this, it will open your ears to a whole new world and in turn they’ll help you make smarter decisions in your sounds.

Here’s some exercises for you to try out;

  1. Download Earmaster or find equivalent ear training software/website online and just start practicing.
  2. Start playing an instrument. Piano and guitar are good choices for strictly ear training. Again, 15 minutes a week is more than enough for this. Anything is better than nothing.
  3. If you have the time, you could alternatively also start taking instrument lessons. This is by no means necessary, but being able to play an instrument is a skill that has served me very well over the years.

Learn To Listen With Cujo Sound

Bjørn Jacobsen over at Cujo Sound on youtube also have some great exercises that really help you focus your ears on whatever is happening around you. The basic gist is that you take a piece of paper, draw some sort of timeline that you can follow, then sit down somewhere for 2 minutes and the mark down everything you hear and some details about the sounds (panning, wet/dry etc.)

The benefits of this is twofold. First of you’ll train your is to listen for very subtle things, like distant traffic, footsteps, wind and so forth. Second, you can use the written information to create these audio environments later!

Here’s some exercises for you to try out;

  1. First of all, watch these videos by Bjørn:

    Also some spectral stuff here:
  2. Now, try going out and do the timeline exercise at least 10 times at 10 different areas.
  3. After you’ve done those 10 areas, go back into your DAW and try to re-create them using your sound library.


I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly going around making noises with my voice, playing air-drums and just imagining sounds all the time. While this might sound like I’m completely crazy, it’s actually extremely helpful because I’m always dreaming up sounds and getting ideas with no real purpose. In other words, I’m sort of practicing without any end goal and without even by conscious of it.

Now, I have always done this since my early childhood. While playing with my toys I always made the sounds effects for the guns, cars and whatever with my mouth, and here I am… A sound designer, who would have guessed?

While this might seem like something you need to be “born with”, I’m convinced you can develop this skill for yourself.

Here’s some exercises for you to try out;

  1. Find/capture some gameplay, remove the sound completely. Now, while watching the gameplay clip, try only using your inner ear and imagination to “re-design” the clip. Note: You’re not actually creating sound here, you’re “dreaming” it.
  2. Do the above exercise, but now say everything out loud with your mouth/voice.
  3. Do the exercises above but in a meditative state, where you sit with your eyes closed. Compose/dream up your own “gameplay clip” using your imagination and try using both your inner ear and your mouth to create sound for it.

That’s everything for today! Hope you learning something! See you next week! 🙂