Principles Of Sound: Recording And Room Acoustics For Musicians

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Course Information
Music Production
Terms offered: 
Fall, Spring
Language of instruction: 
Contact Hours: 

None. Priority in this course is given to students in the Music Program; European Society & Culture Program students may enroll in it when space permits.  

Additional student cost: 

European Society and Culture  students enrolled in this course will be charged an additional $100 USD. There is no additional cost for Music program students.


When performing or recording music in a space, the aural environment becomes as important as understanding one’s particular instrument or voice: How do we hear and perceive sound and music? What roles can physical spaces play when practicing, performing, and recording music? What happens to one’s performance once it is captured through a microphone and becomes electricity? As the times require musicians to become increasingly more self-sufficient and acquainted with various disciplines related to their professional field – fundamentals of career management, IP law and music business practices, sound and recording, etc. – Principles of Sound Recording and Acoustics for Musicians examines the fundamentals of human hearing, sound perception and localization; characteristics of sound, room acoustics, as well as basic audio signal flow, sound in electrical form, and digital audio processing. Such basic knowledge and skills are complementary in nature, helping musicians better hear themselves, understand “their voices,” capture their performances and consequently help improve their own careers and musicianship. 

Attendance policy: 

Attendance at all classes and excursions is mandatory and will be monitored (please check attendance regulations of the IES Abroad Vienna). 

Learning outcomes: 

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • Articulate the human hearing process and basics of sound perception;
  • Assess, compare and better select performance or recording spaces;
  • Identify optimum performance or recording locations (spots) within a space;
  • Evaluate recording equipment options;
  • Articulate how the sonic environment, available technologies, and recording techniques can affect their sound or voice;
  • Execute a stereophonic acoustic recording session;
  • Digitally format sound files for submissions, auditions, or competitions;
  • Describe the processes of recording (production) and post-production;
  • Analyze their own sound more objectively;
  • Apply gained knowledge to support their performances, music-making, and artistic promotion
Method of presentation: 
  • Lectures
  • Seminars
  • Case Studies
  • Hands-on Lab Work
  • Field Study
  • Moodle Platform
Required work and form of assessment: 
  • Professionalism and Class Participation - 10%
  • Oral Midterm Exam: - 25%

    10 questions, each student individually; there will also be an (ungraded) oral quiz (Week 2)

  • Writing Assignment - 20%

     on the recording process, see Week 5 for details 

  • Field Trip Report -  20%

     on acoustical spaces, see Week 7 for details 

  • Final Exam (Lab Final Project) - 25%

     final recording assignment during Week 9 (individual recording demo); must be handed in for evaluation as well as group critique during Week 10

Week Content Reading Assignments

Week 1:
Lecture and Presentation 

  • Introduction, Course Overview, and Rationale
  • One’s Individual Sound or Voice, Recording for Auditions and Submissions
  • Acoustical Environment, Available Technologies, Recording Techniques
  • The Human Auditory System, Hearing Loss and Protection, Thresholds of Hearing and Pain
  • Sound Waveforms, Sound Pressure Levels and Loudness, the Decibel (dB SPL)  
  • Alten, Chapt. 1, pp. 6 – 11; 1 – 6; 14 – 19                         
  • Everest/Pohlmann, Chapt. 4, pp. 39 – 49; 65

Week 2:
Lecture, Presentation, Demonstration

  • Sound Velocity, Interference, Acoustic Phase, Wavelength, Frequency, Pitch, Timbre, Amplitude, Envelope, Harmonics, Random Noise, Pitched and Non Pitched Sounds
  • Alten, Chapter 1, 11 – 18
  • Everest/Pohlmann, Chapt. 1, pp. 2 - 17

Week 3:
Lecture, Presentation, Demonstration

  • Introduction to Psychoacoustics, Sound Perception, and Localization
  • Typical Music-Oriented Acoustical Environments
    Introduction to Room Acoustics, and Psychoacoustics  
  • Alten, Chapt. 2, 19 - 32
  • Everest/Pohlmann, Chapt. 4, pp. 56 – 64
  • Everest/Pohlmann, Chapt. 6, pp. 95 – 99 and 103 -105;
  • Chapt. 7, pp. 107 – 111, 113, 115;
  • Chapt. 8 pp. 117, 122;
  • Chapt. 9 pp. 125, 129 – 133;
  • Chapt. 11 pp.151 - 153, 175;
  • Chapt. 12

Week 4:
Lecture and Presentation


  • Continuation: Introduction to Psychoacoustics, Sound Perception, and Localization;
  • Typical Music-Oriented Acoustical Environments
  • Introduction to Room Acoustics and Psychoacoustics  
  • See Week 3
  • Sound in Electrical Form, Introduction to Ohm’s Law, Applicable Audio Electronics Concepts: Voltage, Resistance, Capacitance, Power, Impedance, Current, Audio Operating Levels.
  • Transducers: Introduction to Loudspeakers and Microphones.
  • Alten, Chapt. 1, 11;
  • Chapt. 3, 39 – 48;
  • Chapt. 4, 58 - 68; 82 - 90

Week 5:
Lecture and Presentation 

  • Metering, Gain Structure, Signal-to-Noise Ratio, Dynamic Range, Distortion vs. Clipping, Sound Recording Source and Destinations, the Audio Path
  • Introduction to Digital Audio and DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations)
  • Assignment: Create a Complete Flow Chart for an Acoustic Stereophonic Recording (due next class)
  • Oral Midterm Exam
  • Alten Chapt. 5, 95 - 106;
  • Chapt. 6, 119 – 124; 132 – 134




Week 6: Lecture

  • Review and Round Table Discussion
  • Lab: Handling Basic Recording Equipment
Week 7:
Field Study 
  • Acoustical Spaces
  • Assignment: Write a succinct two-page essay summarizing your impressions and evaluation of a given acoustical space (space tbd) [Font 11, Times New Roman, 1.5 Spaces, A4 format]
  • Lab: Recording Session Preparation

Week 8: Lab

  • Recording Session Practice

Week 9: Lab

  • Recording Session Practice
  • Assignment: Final Recording Project

Week 10: Assessment and Summary

  • Evaluation and Group Critique
  • Course Conclusion
  • (Recording Session Final Project Due)


Required readings: 
  • Alten, Stanley R. Audio in Media, Eighth Edition, Thomson Wadsworth, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-495-09568-2.
  • Everest, F. Alton, Pohlmann, Ken. Master Handbook of Acoustics, Fifth Edition, McGraw-Hill/TAB Electronics, 2009. ISBN: 978-0071603324.
  • Custom Handout: “Principles of Sound and Acoustics Review.”