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Emotional Sound Design & Tableau Group Exercise

This group exercise has layers. It combines planning, teamwork, performance skills, and introductory sound design. Students will create three tableau scenes to tell stories that evoke various emotions onstage, and use music clips to enhance the emotional stories.

If your students have never done tableau before, you may want to have them try Numbered Tableaux or Flowing Frozen Pictures to practice. As a reminder, when doing tableau scenes, students must hold their frozen pictures for a minimum of five seconds (but often longer, as you’ll see in this exercise). And because your students will ask, yes, blinking and breathing are allowed.


1. Have students form small groups of three to five.

2. Determine which emotion you want your students to portray. If you wish, you can use our Tons of Emotion Prompts list for ideas beyond happy, sad, and angry. Decide whether the full class will work on the same emotion, or if each group will portray a different emotion.

3. Groups will create simple stories that can be portrayed through a series of three tableau scenes. The three scenes will represent the beginning, middle, and end of a story that evokes their assigned emotion. For example, if a group was assigned “despair,” they might create a story in which a child is playing with a toy, breaks it, and cries over it. Another group might be assigned “calm” and create a story with characters feeling upset at the beginning but then becoming calm by doing yoga, meditation, or tai chi.

It’s up to the students to determine exactly how they will portray the emotion throughout the three scenes, but each scene must make sense with the other two and continue the story. The beginning scene will establish what’s happening, the middle scene will move the story forward, and the third scene will conclude the story.

Every group member must be involved in each scene in some way, whether that is as a character, a prop, a piece of scenery or furniture, or another inventive use. They must hold each tableau scene for ten seconds.

4\ Each group will select three music clips (10 seconds per song) that evoke the emotional energy of each of the tableau scenes. The songs can be by any artist and from any genre but the clips must be appropriate for a school setting (i.e., no swearing, awareness of lyrical content). If the music has words, they don’t have to be a literal interpretation of the emotion, but students can incorporate the lyrics into their tableau scenes if they want to.

Students will need to create a list of each clip with title and artist, what scene it’s for, and the exact cut of the music. For example, a group whose emotion is “playful” might create a list of clips like this:

  • Scene 1: “Take On Me” by a-ha (0:54–1:04)
  • Scene 2: “Physical” by Dua Lipa (2:13–2:23)
  • Scene 3: “I Feel Like Dancing” by Jason Mraz (3:20–3:30)

Each group will need to submit their song clips list to the teacher ahead of performance time, so the teacher can make a playlist of the songs. (You can also assign this task to a student who does not wish to perform, has an interest in technical work, or wants to earn extra credit. It may also be helpful to designate a sound operator during performance time, so you can watch the scenes without having to multitask.)

5. Each group will perform their three scenes for the rest of the class. The teacher (or assigned sound operator) will play the first selected clip for the indicated ten seconds, pause for three seconds for the group to move to the next scene, play the second clip, pause for an additional three seconds, and then play the third clip.

6. Have students respond to the following questions, either as a group discussion or as a group written response (one page):

  • How did you come up with your story?
  • Why did you select the three clips you did?
  • What were some other options for songs that you considered? (Give at least three examples.)

7. Each student will complete and submit an exit slip (found in the giveaway below).

Related Exercises:

Creating Atmosphere Using Music
Tableau Scenes from a Book
Tableau Scenes from a Book Come to Life

Click here for a free exit slip and evaluation rubric.
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