I am making a composition that contains the sounds of traffic. How do I do this?

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    It depends, and you should try to be more specific. Is it for orchestra? Do you have limitations on the instruments? Can recorded sounds be used? What level of "realism" are you trying to achieve? Do you want to imitate those sounds? Or do you want to "recall" them? Should those sounds be just "random noises" or should they be more integrated with the rest? There are probably even more questions other than the above, so please try to be more clear about what you want to do and what kind of help do you need here. May 2 at 22:39
  • All instruments can be used, and no pre-recorded sounds. I want to imitate that sound with the instruments. @musicamante
    – user749268
    May 2 at 23:46
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    @g4453 All instruments? Technically, anything is an instrument when it's being used like one ("Another Day of Sun" from La La Land has some car horns at the very end, for a quick example). What kind of instruments are we talking? Is it for orchestra? Rock band? Marching band? Jazz trio? Using a Digital Audio Workstation? Et cetera...
    – user45266
    May 3 at 6:38
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    Why not use a car horn? People have already used all kinds of other random stuff in musical compositions, for example, a mechanical typewriter. Only trouble with using a car horn is what department does it belong to? Is it percussion - because you press a button to activate it? Or does that make it a (tiny) keyboard? Is it the brass section, because it is, you know, a horn (even though probably not made of brass)? Could lead to trouble with the unions deciding who gets to play it ...
    – davidbak
    May 3 at 9:00
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    @g4453 what do you count as an instrument? Could a car engine be an instrument?
    – user253751
    May 3 at 9:47

One way to get a car horn sound is to have two trumpets play an interval narrower than a major third, but wider than a minor third. For example, C and E half-flat.

This video may give you some inspiration for engine noises- they simulate the sounds with violin, cello, and trombone. Using a continuous pitch instrument is particularly helpful for emulating engine sounds.


Think about those sounds. They are normally considered noises, but that doesn't mean that normal instruments cannot reproduce them.

For horns, brass instruments are the obvious choice, maybe using some mutes. Also consider that some pieces that try to "picture" traffic sounds have already been written (see this section on the Wikipedia about "vehicle horn").

Engine sounds are a bit more tricky. If you need a "static" sound (an engine running at fixed speed) you will probably need to use a mixture of percussions that combine high pitched sounds to imitate the engine rotation and low pitched sounds for the "rumble".

Then, to imitate the passage of an engine car/truck you can try with glissando, possibly from a lower voice instrument; cello and trombone players often do it by joke.



My first suggestion would be that you look to (recent) history to see if anybody else has done the same thing or, failing an exact match, something similar. Then you can copy/modify what they did to suit your needs.

The nearest equivalent I can think of is Steve Reich's Different Trains. This has train sounds, sirens and bells along with human voices. According to the Wikipedia article he just pre-recorded these and then edited them in. That is, he recorded real trains, sirens, bells, etc.

If, as is likely, you don't find suitable examples already in the genre then pre-recording the real thing would be the sensible fallback position for which there is good precedent.

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    Different Trains was my first thought, as well. I was absolutely blown away when I first heard it! I know it's pre-recorded, but the instrumental accompaniment is still convincing, especially, especially the pulsing "wheels" in the lower strings.
    – Richard
    May 3 at 12:12

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