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Sound systems in popular music: from Jamaican dub to stadium rock

During this six-week course, you’ll explore the history of amplified sound from the earliest acoustic techniques such as the megaphone, through to amplifiers and loudspeakers. You’ll learn how sound systems drove Jamaican popular music culture in the 1960s and 1970s, and consider their influence on DJing, hip-hop and electronic dance music (EDM). The evolution of sound systems in rock is traced through early PA systems for vocals, through to festival and stadium sound. Relationships between loudness, musical styles and social groupings provide useful context for exploring the more political aspects of amplified sound, including identity, community and the environment.

Standalone study only

This module is available for standalone study only. Any credits from this module cannot be counted towards an OU qualification.


Module code




Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

The course is structured along key themes:

Week 1: What is a sound system?
You’ll be introduced to the subject of how sound can be amplified, and have the chance to explore the history of sound amplification. Understanding the basic building blocks of sound systems will help you navigate your way through the different narratives that unfold in the rest of the course.

Week 2: Jamaican roots
Nowhere in the world is more synonymous with the concept of the sound system than Jamaica. For many, Jamaica is the birthplace of the sound system as we know it today, and the impact of this small island on both amplified sound and the many different musical styles, genres and movements cannot be overestimated. You’ll learn how sound systems evolved in Jamaica, who some of the key players were, and how some of the many innovations sowed the seeds for cultural influence on a global scale.

Week 3: Rock concert sound
A story that runs in parallel with the development of the sound system in Jamaica is the amplification of popular music, and especially rock. This week you’ll learn about different approaches to amplifying live music from the mid-twentieth century to the present day.

Week 4: Sound systems in the UK
This week will focus on a series of UK-based case studies that explore some of the many fascinating ways in which sound systems have become woven into society. These studies will reveal a variety of approaches towards how a sound system is designed, who it is for, and where it is used, and enable you to consider ideas of place, events, tradition and cultural phenomena.

Week 5: Sound systems on display
Given that a sound system is usually physically large, it has a significant visual presence. You’ll look at specific examples of Jamaican, rock and EDM sound systems to see how they can communicate ideas of identity and musical style.

Week 6: Sound systems and politics
In the final week of the course, you’ll explore how sound systems have been used by political movements, learn how politics is defined in the context of sound systems, and follow this path into thinking about sound systems and the environment.

You will learn

By the end of this course, you should gain the following learning outcomes.

Knowledge and understanding

You should be able to:

  • demonstrate an awareness of the development of sound amplification up to the present day
  • recognise the cultural context and diversity of a variety of different sound systems
  • demonstrate some understanding of the complex relationship between sound systems and different aspects of society.

Cognitive skills

You should gain an ability to:

  • understand and use key concepts and theories when discussing sound systems
  • use examples, illustrations and case studies when assessing an argument
  • reflect on your standpoint and the standpoint of others with respect to the content discussed in the course.

Key skills

You should gain an ability to:

  • effectively communicate information accurately and appropriately to the subject, purpose and context
  • communicate with and learn from others in an online environment
  • use feedback from peers and self-reflection to improve your own learning.

Practical and professional skills

You should develop:

  • an ability to plan, study and manage a sequence of work that meets a deadline
  • an understanding of future study opportunities.

Vocational relevance

This course helps you to develop transferrable skills including communicating clearly through writing, self-reflection, time management and engaging in discussion forums.

Learner support

Expert, confidential learner support is available when you need it from a Study Adviser, who will respond to you directly. Other support is available via the course forum, StudentHome website and computing helpdesk.

If you have a disability

The course is delivered online/onscreen and the material is visually rich, using video and audio. Descriptions of visual elements (including transcripts) will be provided where appropriate. There are no alternatives that fully replace aural experience. However, relevant details about musical materials will generally be described wherever possible as part of the activity discussions. Students with hearing or visual impairment may find an external study helper useful in order to achieve some learning outcomes.

Teaching and assessment


There's no formal assessment, although there will be three ‘review and reflect’ points built into the course which you'll use to reflect on your understanding.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations, which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

Entry requirements

There are no entry requirements for this course.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the course, please contact us.

Course length

You’ll study for around 8 hours per week for 6 weeks. In total this course will require around 50 hours to complete.


Start End Fee
- - -

No current presentation - see Future availability

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2026.

Ways to pay

Credit/Debit Card – We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron.

Sponsorship – If this course is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could ask your employer to sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. Your sponsor just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.

The fee information provided here is valid for short courses starting in the 2024/25 academic year. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of less than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

All learning materials are delivered entirely online. You’ll have access to a course website, which includes:

  • course-specific materials and activities
  • audio and video content
  • discussion forums

You will need

While it is possible to rely only on laptop speakers, some means of listening to audio in reasonably good quality is preferable, such as an amplifier and loudspeakers or a pair of headphones.

Computing requirements

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 Ventura or higher.

Our module websites comply with web standards and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

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.