What are Tracks courses?
Tracks courses are project-based elective courses open to undergraduate and master’s students at Chalmers as well as alumni. They are not course specific and are open to students from all different kinds of backgrounds. Each project is rooted in a real-world problem that the course seeks to address from a unique standpoint. Not only do you have an opportunity to engage with topics that you would not typically come across in your own programme, but you also have a chance to collaborate with other students and build skills such as communication, project-management, ethics, and conflict resolution. For more information on Tracks courses, you can look here.
Overview of Music Engineering
The music engineering programme, like most of the Tracks courses, is focused on gaining hands-on experience. The course is divided into two main parts: in the first part, students attend four different workshops that examine the essence of music and how we engage with and relate to it. In the second, students are challenged to use this knowledge in their own project to create something new.
The first four workshops in the course were not graded, but attendance of at least three of the workshops was mandatory. However, it’s worth mentioning that each workshop was a blast to attend and felt more like a fun experiment than serious academic work. In the first workshop, students were challenged to build their own instruments – one each from strings, percussion, and wind instruments. Usually, students would have access to tools on campus to do this but, due to the pandemic, most of the work was conducted from home. This led to some super creative results made entirely from recycled materials.
The string instrument made of popsicle sticks and rubber bands produces a very unfortunate sound, although certain positions of the fret can be quite surprising and introduce clear pitched notes before the whole construction collapses. The wind instrument designed as a kazoo is also made from popsicle sticks and some paper. It produces a very loud sound resembling the duck call. Lastly, the percussion instrument is built out of cylindrical carboard shapes and its length can be changed while using it to produce the sweep sound or just change the pitch. The ribbed carboard attached to one side provides an opportunity for a different sound.
The second workshop challenged the way we listen to things – students were asked to create a song entirely from recordings based on a certain theme, such as “water”, “Lego” or “glass”. Marija’s theme was “air”. She focused on recording sounds of the wind, people blowing onto a mic, and even the sound of the air ventilation in the Gibraltar Guesthouse building! For this task, students were given a studio quality microphone to capture as accurate a sound as possible for their music. Building from the second workshop, the third workshop required students to create a song, but this time they could synthesize their own sounds. For this purpose, they learnt to use a software called Reaper. Lastly, the fourth workshop took a more reflective tone, in which students had to research and define the concept of groove. However, they had to provide their findings from a scientific, quantitative point of view, and take into account such factors as the harmonic content and beats-per-minute of the piece.
The second part of the course was based purely on project work – different groups had the chance to propose project topics that were related to the work that was covered in the course. The course grade is based on a final presentation in which each group had a chance to showcase the work that they have done. This is where students really got to show off the skills that they acquired as well as their creativity! Marija’s group developed what they call the “Octo-piano” – a device that acts as an electronic music teacher. The device, which can sit on top of the keys of any conventional piano, has a string of LED lights that light up to show the user which key to press at the appropriate time. The team also programmed a raspberry pie with a touch screen user interface from which a user can choose to learn songs, scales or basic chord progressions. To make their project a success they needed a host of expertise, including musical knowledge, programming skill, and electronic circuit know-how. It was a fantastic opportunity to learn about the collaboration and scope that these projects require in industry, as well as an opportunity to try out some really fun and crazy ideas that could not have been realized without this course. Some of the other projects included such interesting concepts as software that synthesizes music from movement, as well as the proposed design of a brand new instrument – a lot of ideas to get excited about!
The value of a Tracks course
If you’re like Marija, (and a lot of students at Chalmers are), you have a deep love of learning and an interest in how the world works that is much broader than your chosen major. Perhaps you are interested in how knowledge and skills from one research area can be applied in new and different ways in your own field. Or maybe you’re just excited to get some hands-on experience solving real-world problems. Either way, Tracks courses are a great way for you to step out of your comfort zone, learn new skills, and grow.