The context of education of sound and music computing is quite complex, mainly due to its multidisciplinary nature and the consequent difficulty of fitting it into the traditional, discipline-oriented focus of most university level studies. There are almost no specific undergraduate degrees in sound and music computing and the possibilities for a specialisation in this field are centred at the graduate level, where multidisciplinarity is more common.

In Europe, the major developments in education are due to the so-called Bologna Declaration, which aims at creating a common space for higher education in Europe. Below, we identify the trends that are most relevant to sound and music computing. This will be done at each of the three university education levels, namely, Bachelor, Master's and PhD.

Educational Trend 1: The new European higher education area

The EU drive towards the creation of an open European higher education area (EHEA) is both a reaction to and a reinforcement of the profound changes which have occurred in recent years: universities are educating larger numbers of students, from a wider range of backgrounds and with a wider range of skills, on entry; students are more mobile, spending parts of their education in other countries. This drive, initiated with the Bologna Process (European Commission – The Bologna Process, 2007), is creating a framework that enables closer cooperation between higher education institutions in Europe, facilitates student and staff mobility and increases the attractiveness of European higher education in the world. In the following paragraphs, we discuss these trends and their significance for the design of new curricula in the field of sound and music computing.

Improving quality in the curricula is seen as one of the keys to greater recognition of qualifications across Europe, and this viewpoint is being taken by many universities as an opportunity to update and add more flexibility into their programmes (Reichert and Tauch, 2005). These changes will definitely be beneficial for multidisciplinary fields like sound and music computing; in fact many institutions explicitly praise the new freedom to design multidisciplinary Master's programmes, as well as programmes in emerging areas of science and knowledge. The wave of reform in European higher education seems to be going even further and deeper than the Bologna reforms themselves.

A second key ingredient in curricular reform is the link between higher education and employment. The Bologna Declaration particularly calls for undergraduate degrees to be relevant to the labour market. There is in general a growing push towards shorter study cycles, and many EU countries have already adopted the two-cycle qualification structure based on the Bachelor's and Master's distinction (Tauch, 2004). Employability is also seen as an important criterion in the design of new degrees in sound and music computing. The music/multimedia industry at large is in the middle of important changes and is trying to adapt to the new markets and exploring the potential of sound and music computing technologies (see the Industrial Context section). New curricula in sound and music computing have the opportunity to address these emerging labour markets.

A major recent change in higher education has been the increase in student mobility. A considerable part of overall mobility is supported through the EC's Erasmus/Socrates programme (European Commission – Socrates/Erasmus, 2007)), established in 1987, which seeks to reinforce the European dimension of higher education by encouraging transnational cooperation between universities and boosting European mobility. The figures for mobility reflect a steady improvement, but remain below what the Commission considers necessary (European Commission - Education and Training 2010, 2007). Moreover, the EU still attracts less talent than its competitors (European Commission – Lisbon, 2007). Sound and music computing research in Europe has a successful track record involving excellence spread over several centres which have gained world leadership through complementarity and coordination supported by EC funding. This excellence has to be exported to the higher education domain, in order to attract students, scholars and researchers from other world regions.

Statement 1: The creation of a common space of higher education in Europe give more possibilities for designing curricula in sound and music computing.

Educational Trend 2: Discipline oriented bachelor education

The tradition of bachelor (undergraduate) education is very much discipline oriented. A student has to choose a curriculum aimed at developing a number of specific competences in a particular discipline plus a few general academic and professional competences. However there are curricula in Europe that are more multidisciplinary or that allow a student a wider choice of itineraries, thus permitting the design of 'custom made' curricula. With respect to research, the involvement of bachelor students in such activities as a normal part of their curriculum is still very exceptional. Given that there are many academic disciplines integral to sound and music computing research, the education given in all the bachelor degrees supporting these disciplines is of interest to any future sound and music computing researcher. Thus a student wanting to become a sound and music computing researcher might choose a bachelor degree related to musicology, physics, computer science, electrical engineering, psychology, music composition, etc... Within most of the undergraduate programmes that support these disciplines, there are specific courses that might be of very great relevance. But in most cases it really depends on the professor responsible for the course and the special focus given to it. Figure 1 and 2 provide some indicative data about content areas in courses and curricula. These data were gathered in a survey by the S2S2-consortium and will be updated and expanded in the future. The content areas for education in sound and music computing include systematic musicology, auditory and music perception-action, auditory and music cognition, music acoustics, audio signal processing, hardware and software, sound modelling, sound analysis and coding, music information processing, music performance, multimodal interfaces, sound design and auditory display, and application areas.

Statement 2: Numerous paths, embedded in different well-established undergraduate degrees, can be designed to approach a multidisciplinary field such as sound and music computing.

In the context of sound and music computing, the music conservatories are a special case of higher education institutions. Traditionally, they have a strong professional orientation and thus might not provide the necessary background for a musician wanting to follow a research career. This situation has been slowly changing, due both to the transformations taking place in the music profession and also, in Europe, to the inclusion of the conservatories into EHEA (European Association of Conservatoires, 2005). Slowly, the conservatories are converging with the university system. It is now becoming quite common for a conservatory to offer a degree with a strong technological component. There are, for example, conservatory degrees in sound recording, tonmeister, sonology, music technology, electro-acoustic music, etc... Most of these degrees remain professionally oriented but very much related to sound and music computing. Conservatories are also slowly incorporating the idea of research as one of their institutional aims and are designing curricula which are closer to the university model.

Statement 3: New conservatory degrees are a model for professionally oriented undergraduate curricula in sound and music computing.

Apart from the traditional university degrees and the case of the music conservatories, there are quite a number of multidisciplinary undergraduate programmes related to sound and music computing, especially in the US and Great Britain. In the Anglo-Saxon system, it is much easier for universities to establish multidisciplinary programmes or even to allow student-centred curricula with individual academic pathways. However, there is an ongoing discussion among academics and researchers about the type of undergraduate education that is best suited to the preparation for a research career in a multidisciplinary field like sound and music computing. Should it be a strongly discipline oriented undergraduate degree or a multidisciplinary programme?

The adoption of a common system of credits, such as the ECTS system, plus the existence of funding programs like Erasmus to support mobility have had a big impact on undergraduate education too. They have led students to become familiar with other approaches to a given field and have given them the opportunity to take courses not offered in their home university. The Erasmus programme has also facilitated the creation of networks of universities with complementary undergraduate degrees in a given discipline, so that experiences among faculty members can be shared and the curricula opportunities for students are widened. Due to the variety of disciplines and methodological approaches involved in the sound and music computing field, it is not easy to find educational institutions with an extensive coverage of all of them. It is thus very useful for a bachelor student wanting to get a wider view of the field to take courses in different centres.

Statement 4: Bachelor (undergraduate) degrees with multidisciplinary contents encourage student mobility.

Educational Trend 3: Multidisciplinary studies at Master level

The objective of a Master programme is academic or professional. The academic Master serves as the bridge between undergraduate programmes, which are mainly based on courses, and PhD studies, which are mainly based on research. These Master degrees are generally developed by universities that take advantage of existing research strengths. Therefore, the Master programmes tend to reflect the research focus of university departments and faculty. Universities have a large degree of autonomy in setting up and modifying their Master programmes, much more so than at undergraduate level. These programmes can therefore be more easily adapted to universities' educational and research strategies. Research Masters used to be common in Great Britain but rare in continental Europe. But as part of the Bologna process, most European universities are now integrating PhD courses into Master's programmes and creating new Master degrees (Reichert and Tauch, 2005). Many programmes continue the traditional discipline oriented focus, thus offering a clear continuity from undergraduate studies, but they tend to have a greater degree of flexibility. The students have a greater choice of optional courses and, since the research thesis is a major part of the programme, they are able to work independently under the supervision of a tutor.

Statement 5: It is becoming easier for university faculties and research groups to introduce a student enrolled in a Master programme into any given research field.

In the last few years there has been a proliferation of multidisciplinary Master programmes. Many of the key current research issues require multidisciplinary approaches and researchers need to be trained appropriately. Multidisciplinary education requires collaboration between institutions and thus there is a clear trend toward promoting it. Collaborations between departments of the same university, between universities of the same country and between universities of different countries are becoming commonplace.

At the European level, the Erasmus Mundus (European Commission - Erasmus Mundus, 2007) is a co-operation and mobility programme which supports European top-quality Master courses and enhances the visibility and attractiveness of European higher education in third countries. It also provides EU-funded scholarships for third country nationals participating in these Master Courses, as well as scholarships for EU-nationals studying at partner universities throughout the world.

It is a challenge for music institutions to offer musicians, in addition to instrumental training and practice, a reflective environment that nourishes innovation and creativity paired with the extension of knowledge and artistic understanding (European Association of Conservatoires, 2005). It becomes equally interesting when attempts are made to bridge the gap between theoretical research and musical practice. A great effort is being made by the European conservatories to develop Master programmes and PhD studies and thus to incorporate research into their educational and institutional aims. It might take some time before this happens.

Statement 6: The multidisciplinary nature of sound and music computing research can find the right educational framework at the Master level.

Educational Trend 4: The professionalisation of PhD studies

Doctoral studies have traditionally been based on independent research undertaken by the doctoral candidate who draws upon the advice and guidance of a supervisor, supposedly on the model of a Master/apprentice relationship. This type of arrangement has long been the norm. For non-traditional fields like sound and music computing, it has had the advantage that a student is able to do a PhD just by finding an appropriate faculty member with sufficient knowledge of the chosen topic and a willingness to guide and support the student through the programme.

However, as a result of the changing context, PhD studies have recently come under scrutiny. Among the new challenges faced by universities in relation to doctoral education, it is worth mentioning the following desiderata (Sadlak, 2004):

  • to review the structure of training for researchers and integrate doctoral programmes into the Bologna Process;

  • to deal with increased competition, from outside and within Europe;

  • to increase and strengthen co-operation with businesses and to contribute more effectively to technological innovation;

  • to find a new balance between basic and applied research;

  • to enhance the employability of researchers by including in their training both core skills and wider employment-related skills.

PhD students doing multidisciplinary research are more diverse than their disciplinary counterparts. They may have any one of a wide range of subject backgrounds and may sometimes have followed more than one educational pathway. The background of students doing research in sound and music computing ranges from music to mathematics, from psychology to electrical engineering. What they have in common is the aim of bridging disciplines to develop new and multidisciplinary knowledge. There is general agreement (Metzger and Zare, 1999) that this type of multidisciplinary research should conform to the following:

  • Consistency with established knowledge in multiple separate disciplinary antecedents: how the work stands vis-à-vis what researchers know and find tenable in the disciplines involved.

  • Balance in weaving together perspectives: the extent to which the work hangs together as a generative and coherent whole.

  • Effectiveness in advancing understanding: the extent to which the integration of disciplinary perspectives advances the goals that have been set and the methods used.

Statement 7: The traditional model of a Master/apprentice relationship in PhD studies is evolving in a much more complex education environment, especially for multidisciplinary fields like sound and music computing.

The need for more structured PhD studies in Europe and the relevance of such studies to the Bologna Process have been highlighted repeatedly in recent years. In particular, joint PhD programmes can be amongst the most attractive features of the EHEA. But for the time being, interested students are still confronted with a variety of national and institutional structures that are not easily comparable.

Statement 8: Joint sound and music computing PhD programmes at the EU level can be built by exploiting excellence spread over several centres with complementary competencies.

There is a clearly growing trend towards the professionalisation of PhD studies, involving the inclusion of coursework and training in transferable skills aimed at facilitating the flow of doctoral students into the wider job market. Students are becoming employed researchers within well-structured research groups and funded within well-focused research projects. This increases the pressure to have money for PhD programs. Within this context, PhD students represent major academic and financial investments and contribute to much of the original research in universities. The role of supervisors seems key to the success or failure of multidisciplinary PhD projects (Fry et al., 2004). There is clear evidence that the disciplinary background, interest and motivation of the supervisor have much influence on research outcomes, both in terms of its quality and also whether PhD studies are completed on time (or at all).

However the added-value of a PhD for employment outside the areas of research in universities, research institutes and R&D functions in industry remains somewhat limited. Central and East European countries especially, as well as South European countries, experience a continuing lack of interest on the part of employers outside the academy in hiring PhDs. The situation is almost reversed in the US, where a significant and ever growing number of PhDs are attracted to private sector employment in which remuneration is higher than in the academy (Sadlak, 2004).

Statement 9: multidisciplinary PhD programmes avoid a focus which is too narrow and provide a broad spectrum of knowledge that also qualifies their graduates for careers outside the academy.

To sum up, the above trend analysis shows that the European educational system is in full development at all levels from Bachelor to Master and PhD. Furthermore, there is a willingness to further integrate educational systems from art and science. These developments will have a huge impact on the sound and music research field.


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European Commission - Education and training 2010 (2007). Diverse systems, shared goals.

European Commission - Erasmus Mundus (2007).

European Commission – Lisbon (2007). Progress towards the Lisbon objectives in education and training, 2005.

European Commission - Socrates/Erasmus (2007). The European Community programme in the field of higher education.

European Commission - The Bologna Process (2007). Towards the European higher education Area.

Fry, G.,Tress, B. and G. Tress (2004). PhD students and integrative research. In Proc. Frontis workshop from landscape research to landscape planning: Aspects of integration, education and application, Wageningen, The Netherlands, June 2004.

Metzger, N. and R. Zare (1999). Science policy: Interdisciplinary research: From belief to reality. Science, 283: 642-643.

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Tauch, C. (2004). Almost half-time in the Bologna Process. Where do we stand? European Journal of Education, 39(3): 275-288.