Rudy: The ambience of a crowd cheering
Few sounds are more powerful than a massive crowd cheering after their favorite team wins an event. These kinds of sfx are commonly used in scenes with stadiums full of people, like that moment below from the 1993 football film Rudy.
During a climactic moment of a football game, members of the crowd can be heard booing after an interception. Rudy is subbed in and the audience can be heard roaring with applause, growing louder as the camera cuts from the players on the field to fans in the stadium bleachers.
Wolf of Wallstreet, Citizen Kane: Audience applause
It’s generally a good sign to see your audience applauding, but subtleties about the sound of the crowd clapping could tell another story. There’s a big difference the between polite hand claps and the sound of an audience cheering or whistling in support.
This scene from The Wolf of Wall Street (2014) depicts a genuine roar of excitement from the audience as DiCaprio’s character finishes his inspiring monologue. Notice how the sound design includes a layer of continuous crowd applause, while individual and recognizable characters shout over that background foley with excitement.
Compare the obvious mood of celebration in the The Wolf of Wall Street scene to a more complex and nuanced moment from the classic film Citizen Kane.
The main character, Kane, can be seen applauding aggressively and alone in a large opera house. After a lackluster performance by his wife, an aspiring opera singer, Kane claps with a standing ovation. Each slap of his hand fights against the mild, light applause of the audience.
Rick & Morty, Friends: The dramatic slow clap
The sound of a single person clapping slowly is often used with a sense of irony, sarcasm or even submission. For example, when a hero character finally solves the hardest puzzle in a story it’s common for the lead antagonist to step forward with a slow clap. This is often followed by a monologue where they tell the hero how foolish they are (before eventually being defeated).
Above is a scene from Rick and Morty that captures this “slow clap” cliche perfectly. In keeping with the show’s “meta” sense of humor, Rick encounters a double of himself in an alternate universe. He makes fun of his evil twin’s slow clap by slow clapping back at him.
Of course, there are also plenty of ordinary, less-than-heroic scenarios where someone might clap slowly. This next dialogue is a great example:
During the scene above from the TV show Friends, Joey goes to Ross and Chandler for advise on how to repel women. Ross takes offensive and defensively explains that he’s been married three times, to which Chandler sarcastically slow claps to tease Ross for his “big accomplishment”.
A third type of slow clap is one that’s meant to start a small crowd cheering. But this scene from Not Another Teen Movie is a reminder that you need to time the clip right. Otherwise, prepare to be humiliated by the deafening silence as people stare at you.
Puss In Boots, Smack the Pony: Claps with music
This next category may not be as obvious, but once you start thinking about it you’ll begin to see it in other movies and shows. Foley can be used to depict a character clapping to non-diegetic background music tracks. This is particularly true for scenes with flamenco music and dance, since clapping is a central part of the genre and culture.
In one scene from Puss In Boots (2011) we can see the cats gathering around a campfire and clapping along to the strum of a Flamenco guitar. This technique makes it feel like the characters are really a part of making the music.
Characters might also be clapping along with prerecorded songs, like in this opening scene from the movie All Together Now (2020). A small group gathers around the stereo to dance and sing along with vocals from The Clapping Song by Shirley Ellis.
As a rule of thumb, the clapping sound effects should be louder in the mix than the background. This helps differentiate the character actions from the music.
The Conjuring: People clapping in scary movies
We’ve covered common scenarios like audience applause, slow claps, and music. Scary movies are another place where clapping has been used. But where prior examples conveyed support, irony, sarcasm, and joy, these next examples focus on fear and horror.
This scene from The Conjuring involves a game of “hide and clap” where the main character wanders through dark hallways in fear of her life. Notice how the snappy impact sound begins to feel closer to a gunshot or metal trap.
The long, drawn out silences between each clap contribute to its terrifying quality. Visual elements like the dimly lit space creates an eerie air of mystery, and a startling effect each time the silence is broken by a hand clap.
An award winning 2023 short film, Clap Clap, tells the story of a haunted lamp that turns on and off when someone claps twice. But in a strange twist, when the lights go off, one of the people in the room disappears. In this way, the sound of the clap takes on an almost metaphysical power.
Seinfeld: Applause sounds in canned laugh tracks
It was common to hear audience applause and laughter in sitcoms from the 1990s. Laugh tracks were added to signal the funniest moments in a show and help the audience get in the mood. Productions needed large sound effects library to make these audience clapping layers sound natural. Have a listen to the example below from Seinfeld:
How to mix your clapping sound effects
A single clap typically includes a wide range of frequencies from 200 Hz -7000 Hz, while the bulk of the bright accented character of the sound falls within the frequency range of about 1000 Hz to 3000 Hz. The sound’s duration usually depends on the intensity of the clap, with louder claps typically having longer decay times due to the reverberation that they create.
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The clapping sound effects we’ve covered in this article only graze the surface of foley and sound design. When it comes to the sound of a hand clap, we hope it’s clear now that there are almost as many ways to use it as there are feelings to convey.
We shared 20 royalty-free sound effects at the top of this article, in case you just need a quick and simple sound. You can also sign up to Audio Design Desk for free to access a broader range of high fidelity sfx. Our full collection includes over 70,000 royalty-free music, foley, and sound design with unlimited downloads.
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