COMP_SCI 497: Digital Musical Instrument Design

Quarter Offered

Spring : 3-6:50 F ; Pardo & Moore


Registration is by instructor permission only. Students who wish to enroll should fill out the course's pre-enrollment survey. Any questions should be directed to the instructor, Stephan Moore, at Link for pre-enrollment survey:


Digital Musical Instrument Design approaches Human Computer Interaction through the lens of artistic creation in sound. Its perspective sits at the intersection of design, engineering, musicianship, and the sonic arts. This course will introduce students to fundamentals of creating their own musical instruments using modern technology. We will explore the influence and feedback between the tool (e.g. an instrument), the tool user (a musician/producer), the creative output (the music), as well as the audience. Along the way, we will learn about user interaction design, embedded computing (using arduino), sensor technology, signal creation and interpretation (using Max/MSP or PureData), and musical expression. Students will create a new musical instrument by the end of the course and the final examination will be a performance using their instrument.

  •  This course is cross-listed with RTVF 376-0-22 (39544)

Learning Objectives

At the end of this course, the student will be able to:

  • Analyze and critique the design of music instruments
  • Design and construct basic sensor circuits for musical interaction
  • Write code for the Arduino platform that can interpret and transmit data from sensor circuits
  • Create interactive audio programs (in the Max platform) that map sensor data onto sound outputs
  • Refine instrument designs to create specific sonic outcomes

Evaluation Method

Attendance and class participation are crucial to this class, and are therefore a significant part of the grade.  In additional to a final project, there will be a smaller presentation and incremental assignments.

Class Materials (Required)

This class will require students to make a number of small equipment purchases.  The first $100 of these purchases will be covered by Northwestern, but there may be costs that exceed this amount.  These additional costs will not exceed $50.  All texts and other documentary resources will be provided via Canvas.

COURSE INSTRUCTOR: Prof. Bryan Pardo & Prof. Stephan Moore