Introduction to Digital Sound Design

Introduction to Digital Sound Design

Ernie Jackson
[email protected]
Queensborough Community College

TI:ME Technology Areas Addressed:

Electronic Musical Instruments
Music Production




Music Technology


M-Audio keyboards (Radium 49, Ozonics), Pro Tools LE/ HD, Logic 8, Reason 4, Sibelius 5, NexSyn RomPLer Software, Digi 002 Mixer, Digi 003 Rack Mount, C24 Console.


180 Minutes

Prior Knowledge and Skills:

Digital Music Sequencing and Recording Studio Techniques. Pro Tools will used on a regular basis and the students will have had basic skills training on the software.

MENC Standards Addressed:

MENC 2: Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.
MENC 3: Improvising melodies, harmonies, and accompaniments.
MENC 4: Composing and Arranging Music within specified guidelines.
MENC 6: Listening to, analyzing and describing music.
MENC 7: Evaluating music and music performances.
MENC 8: Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts.
MENC 9: Understanding Music in Relation to History and Culture


Sound Synthesis and Sampling – Martin Russ (Focal Press)
Wild Soundscapes – Bernie Krause (Wilderness Press)


The primary objective of this course is introduce the origins of electronic sound design using analog and digital synthesis, in addition to analyzing sounds in nature and everyday travels. Students will learn about pioneers of electronic music and begin with an analysis of tape recordings using music concrete. Composers like Schaeffer, Stockhausen and Reich will be studied to give a solid foundation of the world of creating sounds before the digital age.

Initial activities will be to create music concrete (linearly) using portable recorders. This will give the student a glimpse of early sequencing with a theme in mind. The sound recording must not overlap, but clicks pauses will be acceptable as they can be a part of the theme.

From there, the class will learn about electronic music as it began in garages as well as institutes of higher learning (Columbia University for example). The introduction of basic waveforms will be studied and “memorized” for da! ily quizzes and listening assignments. Tests on identifying waveforms through filters and envelope behaviors will be done at the beginning of every class to keep the students ears sharp and keep the varying waveform tonalities familiar. There will also be listening assignments posted on the class “blackboard” website.

In order for class to begin understanding early synthesis, we will take a historical look at Bob Moog contribution. Continuing on that track, we will then examine the importance of Wendy Carlos’ “Switched On Bach”, which will be the first major work studied at length. The purpose of this selected work is to provide the foundation of traditional classical compositions set against the “new” sound of that time. Examinations of filter selection, use of noise, and creation of sound using modular synthesis. There will also be a comparative study of the Buchla synthesizer and the work of Suzanne Ciani.

With all of this early ear training work, the ! class will then begin to learn on basic software synth plug-ins (like Xpand! in Pro Tools) to begin working on the NexSyn software ROMPler. The purpose of using NexSyn is to provide sound design on a simple user interface with a straightforward signal path using three oscillators. NexSyn is not a production software product like Reason. You can only make one sound at a time with with allow the students focus on developing patch building skills for effective sound design.

Assessments will be determined by assignments that require patch building based on criteria for the next class and lab work.


Ear training on waveforms will always be given at the start of class and will be no longer than fifteen minutes. Playing different waveforms and/or samples on different keyboards and software synths with give the class a variety of different tonalities to listen to.

The remainder of the class will be the introduction of the topic of the day, for example, Understanding Envelopes will be the lecture with the lab being the implementation of the lecture with an assignment.

There will also be a short, but focused class on writing music for film, short trailers and video games. The purpose of this activities is get the student to re-listen to their favorite movies and other visual media and make them aware of the work involved in the decision making process.

Each class is a one-hour lecture followed by a two-hour lab.


The evaluation will be based on the patch building and one-on-one oral quizzing during lab time. It is equally important that the student be able to orally explain how they built their sounds and the decision making procedures. All students must take and hand in their notes on each sound patch they build. This is a good preparation for building sounds for keyboard and software synth manufacturers.

Follow Up:

All students will be required to log in the class “blackboard” website for additional take home tests, links to other resources, and new daily audio listening assignments to be discussed at the next class.

Items to Purchase:

Purchasing the two aforementioned books, and NexSyn software so that the students can work at home.

When budget should be submitted:

The budget relies on the students’ purchase of books and software. The school already has the audio hardware necessary for learning and using on a regular basis.

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