Music, sound and technology
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 underlies 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 the air and produced by a wide variety of instruments – and the physics that lies 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. This is supplied as part of the module’s materials with temporary licences that last for the duration of the module. 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.
There are no entry requirements for this module, but you are advised to have studied one or more OU level 1 Arts modules, which will provide you with relevant study and writing skills.
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 are studying this module as part of either our music degree or diploma you should be guided by your prior experience and existing skills in deciding whether to study this module or Understanding music (A234) first, as there is no recommended order in which you should study them.
If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.
The module is fully online and you'll have access to a module website, which includes:
- a week-by-week study planner
- module materials
- audio and video content
- assessment guide
- online tutorial access
- instructions to download the software Sonic Visualiser and Reaper. A Reaper licence lasting the duration of the module and Sonic Visualiser are 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 smartphone).
- 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.
You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS (11 'Big Sur' or higher).
Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.
To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).
Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.
Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.
It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.