21M.380 | Spring 2016 | Undergraduate

Music and Technology: Sound Design


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


In this course, you will learn how to build sounds and sound effects from scratch, using the open-source graphical programming environment Pure Data (Pd). You will learn how to analyze and synthesize everyday sounds and encapsulate them in dynamic sound objects that can be embedded into computer games, animations, movies, virtual environments, sound installations, and theater productions. Our work will be guided by Andy Farnell’s book Designing Sound.

Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:

  1. Reflect upon and analyze everyday sonic experiences and articulate them to others.
  2. Design and implement computer music applications using essential sound synthesis and programming techniques.
  3. Identify suitable synthesis techniques to develop a design strategy for a specific sound design problem.


There are no specific prerequisites for this course. Prior programming experience is not required.

Course Entrance Questionnaire

Because the course has a cap on maximum enrollment, students are selected for admission into the course via a questionnaire (PDF).

Required Hardware and Software

You must have reliable access to additional audio editing hardware and software to work on your assignments. Please see the Tools page for details.

  • Desktop or laptop computer
  • Studio headphones or nearfield monitor loudspeakers (not earphones or “earbuds”)
  • Pure Data (Pd) software
  • Audacity or other audio editing software
  • Sonic Visualiser software

Ensure you have access to this hardware and software by Session 4! By that date, you should also have completed and tested the installation of all software packages.

Required Textbook

Buy at MIT Press Farnell, Andy. Designing Sound. MIT Press, 2010. ISBN: 9780262014410. (Book and accompanying Pd example files.)

I strongly recommend that you invest in a printed copy of this fantastic book, which you will most likely enjoy long after the end of this course.

Additional required readings and a schedule of reading assignments are listed on the Readings and Assignments page.

Assignments, Quizzes, and Grading

The following assessment items will count towards your final grade.

2 Quizzes 10%+10%=20%
10 written responses to reading assignments (RD1-RD10) 5%
3 Sound Design exercises (EX1-EX3) 5%+5%+10%=20%
3 Pd assignments (PD1-PD3) 5%+5%+10%=20%
1 Written assignment (WR) 5%
1 Recording / Editing assignment (ED) 5%
Final Project in 4 parts (FP1-FP4) 25%

You need to complete all assignments and quizzes in order to pass this course, and you are expected to submit all assignments on time. Late submissions will incur a penalty of usually one letter grade per 24 hours.

There is no final exam for this course.


This is a 12-unit class, which means you should expect to invest about 9 hours of work per week beyond the 3 class hours.


You are expected to attend all class meetings in this course.

  • Any absences have to be communicated to and approved by the instructor ahead of time, so please email me as soon as you know about any scheduling conflicts. If you will miss an in-class quiz, you need to simultaneously arrange an in-lieu oral exam with the instructor.
  • Unexcused absences from any in-class presentations will not be tolerated and result in a fail grade for the course. Otherwise you are entitled to a single unexcused absence without penalty. Any further unexcused absences will negatively affect your final grade.
  • In-class quizzes missed due to an unexcused absence cannot be repeated and will receive a zero score.

Use of Electronic Devices in Class

If you have a laptop, please bring it along to all class meetings that are marked accordingly in the calendar. The use of laptops is only permitted for actual coursework, and I will announce when this is the case. The use of cellphones in class is not permitted.


1 Why and How to Design Sound?    
2 The Sound Design Process  

EX1 out

RD1 due

3 Everyday Sound Objects  

EX1 due

RD2 due

4 Introduction to Pure Data (Pd)

PD1 out

RD3 due

5 Physics of Sound   RD4 due
6 Pd Programming Concepts

PD2 out

PD1 due

7 Perception of Sound   RD5 due 
8 Soundwalk  

WR out

PD2 due

9 Shaping Sound with Pd

PD3 out

WR due

10 Digital Audio Theory   RD6 due 
11 Sound Recording and Editing Techniques

ED out

PD3 due

12 Quiz 1; Review, Preview  

FP1 out

Quiz 1 in class

13 Analysis and Requirements Specification

EX2 out

ED due

14 Additive Synthesis RD7 due 
15 Research and Model Making

FP2 out

EX2 due

16 Waveshaping and Wavetable Synthesis RD8 due 
17 Final Project: FP1 Student Presentations FP1 due
18 Modulation Synthesis (AM and FM) RD9 due 
19 Method Selection and Implementation

EX3 out

FP2 due

20 Steam Train Drive-by

FP3 out

EX3 due

21 Granular Synthesis RD10 due 
22 Final Project: FP3 Student Presentations

FP4 out

FP3 due

23 Quiz 2; Student Presentations Quiz 2 in Class
24 Thunder  
25 Music Synthesizers  

Final Project: FP4 Presentations

FP4 due

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2016
Learning Resource Types
Exams with Solutions
Lecture Notes
Projects with Examples
Instructor Insights
Demonstration Audio