Psychoacoustics in Music Production


Authored by Susan Rogers


Course Code: OMPRD-637

Next Term Starts January 14

3-Credit, Graduate Level Course

Psychoacoustics in Music Production examines human auditory processing from the eardrum to the auditory cortex. You will learn how speech and music signals are transformed from physical activity in the environment, to sensations in the cochlea, to psychological perceptions in the brain. You will also explore the relationship between a sound and its perception in terms of the underlying mechanisms and limitations of our hearing system. In addition to analyzing the auditory system, you will learn about spatial localization, critical bands and masking, temporal resolution, pitch, timbre, and loudness perception, speech and music perception, and noise-induced hearing loss. Throughout the course, you will learn practical applications for how this information serves the audio arts, especially engineering and mixing.

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By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Explain the hearing and auditory nervous system, in addition to the physics of sound
  • Illustrate how the brain processes pitch, loudness, timbre, and timing
  • Explain the process by which the human auditory system organizes sound into meaningful elements
  • Understand the impact of noise-induced hearing loss
  • Synthesize learnings about the human auditory system to understand why people hear what they hear
  • Evaluate research in psychoacoustics
  • Apply learning about the human auditory system to enhance production and engineering projects
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors Request Info


Lesson 1: Hearing and the Auditory Nervous System

  • Psychoacoustics and the Scientific Method
  • Overview of the Brain and Central Nervous System
  • The Human Ear 
  • Neural Activity and Coding
  • Assignment 1: Understanding and Summarizing Scientific Figures

Lesson 2: Physics of Sound and Signal Detection Theory

  • Measuring Auditory Activity in the Brain
  • Sound Detection and Discrimination 
  • The Physics of Sound
  • The Harmonic Series and Wave Types
  • Scientific Research (Part I): Finding Information
  • Assignment 2: Skimming a Research Paper

Lesson 3: Critical Bands, Tuning Curves, and Dissonance

  • Tonotopicity and Traveling Waves 
  • Auditory Filters and Critical Bandwidth
  • Sensory Dissonance: Beating and Roughness
  • Second-Order Beats and Combination Tones
  • Assignment 3: Critical Thinking: Separating Sense from Nonsense

Lesson 4: Binaural Listening and Spatial Localization

  • Measuring Spatial Localization
  • Interaural Level Differences (ILDs)
  • Interaural Time (ITDs) and Phase Differences (IPDs)
  • Localizing Complex Tones
  • Head-Related Transfer Function and the Role of the Pinnae
  • Assignment 4: Diving Deeper: Follow-Up Research

Lesson 5: Pitch Perception

  • F0 and Virtual Pitch Perception
  • Spectral (Place) Theory of Pitch Perception
  • Temporal (Rate) Theory of Pitch Perception
  • Analytic vs. Synthetic Listening
  • Absolute Pitch Perception and Tone Deafness
  • Assignment 5: Interpreting Figures and Tables

Lesson 6: Loudness Perception

  • Relating Logarithmic Intensity to Linear Numbers
  • Equal Loudness Contours
  • Factors Influencing Loudness Perception
  • Intensity Coding
  • Scientific Research (Part II): Reporting Research in APA Format
  • Assignment 6: The Loudness Wars: What's Your Argument?

Lesson 7: Timbre Perception

  • Temporal Envelope, Fine Structure, and Timbre Perception
  • Timbre Templates and Spectrograms
  • Timbre Space: Representing Timbre Psychologically
  • Timbral Dimensions and Cues
  • Assignment 7: Experimental Design Proposal

Lesson 8: Temporal Processing 

  • Forward and Backward Masking Experiments
  • Auditory Memory 
  • Beat Perception and Synchronicity
  • The Beta Band and Music Perception
  • Assignment 8: Experimental Design Abstract

Lesson 9: Auditory Scene Analysis

  • Auditory Scene Analysis: The Job of the Auditory System
  • Gestalt Principles of Auditory Organization
  • Auditory Camouflage
  • Interaction of Auditory Dimensions
  • Assignment 9: Review of Auditory Scene Analysis Article

Lesson 10: Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

  • The Loudness Wars and Normal Hearing
  • Noise Exposure and Hearing Damage
  • Natural Aging and Hearing Loss
  • Tinnitus and Hyperacusis
  • Assignment 10: Synthesizing and Summarizing Information

Lesson 11: Speech and Music Perception

  • The Human Voice Mechanism
  • How Voices Move Us (Literally)
  • Dogs and Human Speech Perception
  • The Musician’s Brain
  • Assignment 11: Interpreting Observations from a Scientific Perspective

Lesson 12: Psychoacoustics in the Studio

  • Ecological Psychoacoustics: Perceptual Cues from the Environment
  • Distance Perception: Doppler Effect and the Frequency Spectrum
  • Temporal Dynamics: The Psychoacoustics of Compressors
  • Psychoacoustics and Sound Design


Required Textbooks

Psychology of Music: From Sound to Significance (Second Edition) by S.L. Tan, P. Pfordresher, & R. Harré; Psychology Press: New York. (2017)

Additional required readings include book chapters and research reviews provided free from publishers and available on the course website.

Software Requirements

  • Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to view PDF files provided in the course.

Mac Users

  • OS X 10.9 Mavericks or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Windows Users

  • Windows 7 or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Hardware Requirements

  • 500 MB hard drive space
  • Speakers or headphones
  • Webcam
  • Internet connection with at least 4 Mbps download speed ( to verify or download the Speedtest by Ookla app from your mobile app store)



Author & Instructor

Susan Rogers holds a Doctorate in Psychology from McGill University (2010), where she studied music cognition and psychoacoustics under researchers Daniel Levitin and Stephen McAdams. Her research focuses on auditory memory, the perception of musical signals, and the influence of musical training on auditory development. For two decades prior to her science career, Susan was one of the world's few women known for her work as a record producer, engineer, mixer, and audio electronics technician. Career highlights include five years (1983-1987) as staff engineer for Prince, producing hit singles for diverse artists such as Barenaked Ladies, David Byrne, Robben Ford, Jeff Black, and Rusted Root, mixing hit singles for an equally eclectic list including Tricky, Michael Penn, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and Tevin Campbell, and engineering for a host more.

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Susan is a professor at Berklee College of Music in the departments of Music Production & Engineering and Liberal Arts, and is the director of the Berklee Music Perception and Cognition Laboratory. In 2012, she was awarded the Distinguished Faculty Award, Professional Writing and Music Technology Division.

In tandem with business partner and former student Matthew McArthur (Berklee '10), Susan launched Boston's first not-for-profit recording studio, The Record Company, to offer low-cost recording facilities to area musicians and free music technology instruction to area teens ( Read Less


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