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Sound Arts and Industries Program Curriculum

The MA in Sound Arts and Industries is a one-of-a-kind program, combining sound theory and history with modern sound practice using the unique capabilities of Northwestern as a major research university in the Chicago area.

  • Students interested in podcasting can learn radio history, documentary and storytelling, editing and production techniques while enjoying the opportunity to attend local festivals and produce work of their own, interning with producers and broadcasters.
  • Students interested in pursuing film sound can develop advanced techniques, take master classes with professionals and work with Northwestern student filmmakers.
  • Students interested in pursuing career opportunities in the video game industry can learn from industry professionals and participate in game jams and networking events in the Chicago area.
  • Professionals who specialize in one field of sound practice can springboard into another medium, enriching their portfolio.
  • Students from the sciences can learn more about science communication, producing documentaries and podcasts about work in laboratories and beyond.
  • Scholars interested in pursuing PhD work in sound studies can work with top scholars, writers and archivists, becoming part of a new focus on sonic cultures across the disciplines.

Below are the specific course requirements, a sample schedule, and other graduation requirements.

Sound Arts and Industries Requirements

  • Introduction to Sound Studies (1 credit)
  • Introduction to Sound Production (1 credit)
  • Introduction to Sound Science (1 credit)
  • 6 Elective Courses (1 credit each)
  • Spring Symposium project
  • Career Development in Sound and Summer Internship (3 credits)

TOTAL: 12 credits

Students are expected to maintain a B average.


The four core courses of the MA in Sound Arts and Industries  curriculum – in sound studies, sound production, sound science and career development in sound – embody the innovative approach to sound that is only available at Northwestern. You will work with artists and designers to develop skills at recording and mixing audio. You will acquire deep knowledge of the culture and politics of sound from scholars and historians. You will study with researchers to understand the neurophysiology of hearing. You will also learn about the workings of the sound industries from Northwestern faculty as well as visiting artists and executives.

When you leave the program, you will have an understanding of sound that extends from the neurons in your brain, to the waves in the air, to performances that convene audiences, to the technologies and industries that carry those sounds around the world.

Learn more about the faculty of the MA in Sound Arts and Industries on our faculty page.

Core courses (4)

SAI 500 – Introduction to Sound Studies (1 credit)

A grounding in Sound Studies designed for sound professionals, bringing together research that analyzes sound as a creative practice, a powerful form of cultural expression, and as a sensory mode integral to our lives. Students take this course at the same time as the production course SAI 501. As a result, students are prompted to simultaneously learn how sound works and how sound means, an interplay that is unique to our program. Students will be introduced to a range of sound-based industries and learn how they work together.

SAI 501 – Introduction to Sound Production (1 credit)

Covers the central skills used by sound professionals working across a variety of audio-related professions. The class will be divided into three main sections: 1) fundamentals of sound (from the production standpoint), 2) analog audio technology, and 3) digital audio technology. In each section, learning will be reinforced by hands-on demonstrations in the studio and the classroom.

SAI 502 – Introduction to Sound Science (1 credit)

  • Sound Science Biology – Explores how speech and music are processed by the nervous system. Auditory learning and the brain’s ability to change with sonic experience will be explored through a range of case studies related to vocal learning (birdsong), auditory expertise (bilinguals and musicians), and training and remediation strategies for the treatment of communication difficulties. Students are shown the vital social implications of sound science through discussions of hearing health, music education, and clinical approaches to communication disorders.


  • Sound Science Acoustics – Explores the principles of acoustics including the behavior of sound in a medium, how sound interacts with materials, and how we hear and process sound as it relates to our environment. Through an increased awareness of our aural environment, we can optimize the spaces in which sound art is produced and received. Students will gain an understanding of how the spaces they occupy when creating or presenting their work will impact the sound that is heard.

SAI 580 – Career Development in Sound Arts and Industries (3 credits, in conjunction with Summer internship)

Occurs simultaneously while students are interning or completing their thesis to provide a structured approach to those activities and to career development during summer quarter. Through readings, reflections, projects, and other assignments, students will assess their own skills, experiences, and interests to develop a personal plan on how to further their career development and individualized goals. Topics and concepts explored include career management and planning, development of career assets, and professional engagement.

Elective courses (6) – Each course is 1 credit

Sample electives (the asterisked courses are not offered each year):

  • Film Sound 1: Narrative
  • Film Sound 2: Experimental
  • Film Sound 3: Surround Sound
  • Art of the Podcast
  • Audio Drama
  • Documentary Radio
  • Podcast Studies*
  • Advanced Studio Production
  • VR Sound with Ambisonics
  • Videogame Sound Design
  • Sound and Animation*
  • Sound Synthesis
  • Seminar in Sound Production
  • Sonic Branding and Product Sound Design*
  • Digital Musical Instrument Design
  • Composing for the Screen
  • Electronic Film Music
  • Museum Sound Design*
  • DIY Sound Installation
  • Interactive Sound for Live Events*
  • Open Your Ears – The Practice of Field Recording
  • Interactive Sound Design
  • John Cage’s A Dip in the Lake*
  • Musical Media: Music Video, Film Musical, Music Videogames*
  • History and Analysis of Electroacoustic Music
  • History of the Recording Industry*
  • Archival History for Sound Artists*
  • Art of the Soundtrack

Other Sound Arts and Industries Requirements

Students are required to give a presentation at a Spring Symposium consisting of work completed during coursework. These can take the form of an installation, soundtrack, podcast, documentary, performance piece, research essay, or a variety of other formats and genres.

Students are required to complete a Summer internship (3 credits) in conjunction with the satisfactory completion of the online course SAI 580 Career Development in Sound. Our program has a dedicated staff member to help find an internship at a corporation, radio station, production house or community organization, working with our alumni networks and industry and community partners to find the right fit. Where an internship may not be feasible for a student, a thesis option is available.

A typical MA in Sound Arts and Industries student schedule might appear as follows:

Fall Quarter:

Intro to Sound Studies [Required]
Intro to Sound Production [Required]

Winter Quarter:

Advanced Studio Production or Elective
Intro to Sound Science [Required]

Spring Quarter:

Seminar in Sound Production or Elective

Summer Quarter:

Internship and Career Development in Sound [Required]

Interested in starting an application?

Visit our application page here.