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Computer audio: sound and music in the digital world

During this six-week course, you’ll explore the history of computer audio and computer music, from the very earliest examples of computers making sound, through to the sophisticated devices that you may be familiar with today. Pioneering computer audio work conducted in the 1950s influenced subsequent developments in computer audio and computer music. The hardware and software that emerged from these early experiments underpins the audio capabilities found in modern digital technologies, such as smartphones and musical instruments. This has changed how sound and music is made, distributed and consumed and who can make, distribute and listen to it.

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

This six-week course is structured around the following key themes:

Week 1: Beep: the beginnings of computer audio and computer music
You’ll be introduced to some of the first computers to make sound and examine how these were then used to make music. Though originally used to perform complex scientific calculations, experiments with computer-generated sounds in the mid-twentieth century demonstrated that they could also be used in creative, artistic settings.

Week 2: Beep again: computers outside the laboratory
Outside of research laboratories, computers have revolutionised the way sound is present in our daily lives. Thinking about the world around us, you’ll learn just how many computing devices make sound, such as pocket calculators, video games consoles and mobile phones. Some of these have even initiated new musical genres and musicians have explored new ways of performing music with computers.

Week 3: Coding sound: audio programming languages
Since the early days of computer audio, computer programming languages have been developed and used for making sound and music. You’ll be introduced to a range of audio programming languages, as well as learning to code audio yourself using the Processing programming environment. 

Week 4: Creative machines: algorithms and generative processes
You’ll look at the ways in which computers have been used to aid the compositional process of music, introducing examples that demonstrate a range of approaches and outcomes. You’ll build on your existing experience of coding audio in Processing by programming your own musical composition.

Week 5: Synthesisers, samplers and sequencers: new sounds and structuring musical ideas
This week will focus on synthesisers, samplers and sequencers: devices developed for musicians to create sound as well as structure and control musical ideas. You’ll see the impact that these digital devices have had on the way that music is made, and see how the development of the digital audio workstation now allows musicians to synthesise, sample and sequence sound all on a single computer.

Week 6: Computer audio everywhere and for everyone
The course concludes with a look at how developments in computer audio have reached new audiences and practitioners, how they have been given access to new music opportunities, and how this has transformed musical practice and the use of sound in our day-to-day lives. You’ll explore two key ideas – access and impact – thinking about how easy it is or is not for people to access computer audio and music, and about the consequences that this has had. 

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 computer audio and music practices up to the present day
  • recognise the impact that computers have had on audio and music practice.

Cognitive skills  

You should gain an ability to:

  • understand and use key concepts and terminology relating to the study of computer audio and computer music
  • refine your critical listening skills, enabling you to analyse different elements of musical examples
  • reflect on the content discussed in the short course and be able to place it in a wider context.

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 and self-reflection to develop and direct your learning.  

Practical and professional skills  

You should develop an:

  • ability to plan, study and manage a schedule of work that meets a deadline  
  • 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 Advisor, 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.

Outside the UK

There are no restrictions to studying this course.

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:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • 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 through 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.

You will be required to download and install the free, open-source programming software Processing to run the code examples in weeks 3 and 4. This software can run on Windows or macOS.