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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, 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 and take master classes with professionals.
  • 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 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.


  • 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 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.

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 (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 following courses are not always offered each year):

  • Topics in Sound Studies: Meet David Lynch
  • Topics in Sound Studies: Ear Window
  • Film Sound 1: Narrative
  • Film Sound 2: Experimental
  • Film Sound 3: Surround
  • Sound Ethnography
  • Sound for Augmented and Virtual Reality
  • Digital Musical Instrument Design
  • Sound Synthesis
  • Documentary Radio
  • Art of the Podcast
  • Creative Uses of Field, Found and Archival Recordings
  • VR Sound with Ambisonics
  • Sound Design for Videogames
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Advanced Sound Production
  • John Cage’s A Dip in the Lake
  • History of the Recording Industry
  • Sound Branding & Product Sound Design
  • Recording Techniques
  • Producing in the Virtual Studio

Other 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 student schedule might appear as follows:

Fall Quarter:

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

Winter Quarter:

Advanced Sound 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]