Using the Instruction Design Process to Teach Basic Audio Principles

Audio Mixing Console
Photo from Flickr (, used under Creative Commons.

As the instructor of several different recording courses over the past several years, I have found that the fundamental principles of sound and sound waveforms are some of the most difficult concepts for students to grasp. This topic includes the sinusoid waveform and its basic parameters: amplitude, frequency, polarity, and phase. While students are commonly able to define the terms themselves, they have difficulty applying them to other principles, such as phase cancellation or comb filtering. A solid understanding of these foundational topics is crucial to their comprehension of later, more advanced audio topics.

Each spring semester, I teach the initial course in the audio recording sequence, MUSC 365: Introduction to Audio Recording. The first part of the semester focuses on acoustics, psychoacoustics, and basic audio principles. Using the Instructional Design process, I will develop a lecture and materials to present several of these basic audio principles. I also hope to design a self-guided study aid that will allow students to see and hear the effects of polarity, phase and phase cancellation.

An example diagram might illustrate the combination of a 1kHz sine wave (red) and the same 1kHz sine wave delayed by 1msec (blue). Their sum is also a 1kHz sine wave, but with twice the amplitude (black).

Summation of two 1kHz sine waves - one delayed by 1msec.

Following the instructional design process, I will first need to analyze the incoming students’ abilities - their mathematics background in particular. I will also specify the concepts and skills that will be taught within this segment of the course. Once I have the goals in place, I can create a strategy for how the material will be presented. This will likely be a lecture supplemented by both visual and aural examples.

Several types of instructional materials will be developed. The audio examples will be created as WAV files and the visuals as simple diagrams in JPEG or PDF format. These will be incorporated into a Keynote (or PowerPoint) slideshow for use in a lecture presentation. The slideshow, with accompanying narration, can also be captured as a movie for easy distribution and access. In addition, I want to gather links to math resources for those students who require review.

Implementation will occur next semester in MUSC 365, but I will hopefully be able to gather a few students to test the instruction on during this semester. Through the feedback of both the test group and the spring MUSC 365 students, the instruction and materials can be evaluated and improved.

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