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Music, sound and technology

Qualification dates
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This module explores the nature of musical sound and the ways that technology can be used by musicians working in the creative industries. You'll be introduced to the skills needed for making recordings, and the module resources include software packages for analysing and editing recorded sound. You'll study how the physics of sound underlie musical experiences, and investigate the acoustic properties of different instruments. The module aims to deepen your understanding of the nature of sound and to equip you better as a musician, whatever your background and musical interests.

What you will study

There are several strands to this module. Hands-on activities involve making your own recordings and manipulating what you have recorded using the software Sonic Visualiser and Reaper. These activities are introduced at the beginning of the module and you'll build your skills with them right up to the final assessment.

Interspersed with this practical element you'll learn about the scientific basis for music – how it is transmitted through air and produced by a wide variety of instruments – and the physics that lie behind its production. You'll learn about how we hear sound as well as how we perceive it, relating observations about, for example, loudness and pitch to the physical basis on which those descriptions are based.

You don't need any knowledge of musical notation in order to study this module, but a grasp of some basic musical concepts – names of notes and the octave, for example – will be helpful. If you've not studied music in any form previously you'll be directed to websites where you can gain the relevant information.

Similarly, you won't need any sophisticated mathematical or scientific knowledge. As some mathematical and scientific ideas are introduced it will be helpful to have a basic understanding of mathematical concepts; again, you'll be directed to websites that will help.

The core teaching text of the module is grouped into four blocks.

  • Blocks 1 and 2 introduce you to recording practice and history, the software that you'll use throughout the module, some of the science behind recording, the physical properties of sound and the way in which we perceive it. There is an emphasis on developing the listening skills which are essential to the production of recordings.
  • Block 3 examines the acoustical properties of instruments, and explains how they produce the sounds that they make and why they sound so different from one another.
  • The main aim of Block 4 is to develop your recording and editing skills prior to the module’s final assessment project, which involves the recording and editing necessary to produce a mobile phone ringtone.

The module is presented online and the text is interspersed with musical recordings and video clips. Before you begin you'll need to download the relevant software, which is supplied as part of the module’s materials. You will also need to buy a small hand-held recording device, if you don’t already own one (no other purchases are required). Throughout, there are activities of various sorts – quizzes, listening exercises, recording and software tasks – which help you to engage with the teaching materials. You'll be able to interact with other students as you undertake tasks on the module’s online forum. We offer two day schools, and your attendance is encouraged, but is not compulsory. An online alternative is provided.

Entry requirements

There are no entry requirements for this module, but you are advised to study one or more OU level 1 Arts modules, which will provide you with relevant study and writing skills. If you are studying this module as part of either our music degree or diploma we advise that you study Inside music (A224) prior to this module. You are not required to have detailed knowledge of either musical notation or mathematics, but some preparation in both will be useful. The module website will contain links to relevant materials in these areas.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

What's included

Online teaching text and accompanying audio and audio-visual materials, along with instructions about downloading the freely available Sonic Visualiser software. You will also need to download the commercially available Reaper software, which is provided as part of the module materials.

You will need

  • A portable digital recording device that is capable of stereo recording such as Tascam: DR05, DR100MKII, DR22WL, DR40; Zoom H1, H2n; Alesis Two Track; Olympus LS-P1 (each costing around £100). Voice recorders and Dictaphone-style devices will not suffice.
  • A mobile phone (not necessarily a smart phone).
  • A listening setup with which you can listen to audio at a reasonably high quality. Ideally you will be able to plug your computer into good quality studio monitors, a stereo hi-fi system, or at least some kind of external loudspeakers. Good quality headphones are a suitable alternative. Internal laptop speakers are unsuitable as they are too limited in terms of sound quality, frequency response, and volume.

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

A desktop or laptop computer with either:

  • Windows 7 or higher
  • Mac OS X 10.7 or higher

The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will provide guidance and help with the study material and to prepare for the module’s five assessments and the final assessed project. Your tutor will mark and give you feedback on your written work. Your tutor will also interact with you in online rooms and forums, where you will also be able to discuss your ideas with other students. 

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.

Assessment

The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above. 

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying A232 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Music, sound and technology starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2019. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2026.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
1 Interactive computer-marked assignment (iCMA)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

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