Educators and Teachers thread


The course I’m teaching is called “Topics in MIDI” (Their title, not mine) which I suppose gives me free reign to talk about anything I want.

As an introductory course for undergrads (they’re mostly going to be engineers, data science, CS majors… I go to a polytechnic school as a grad student) I have seven weeks to have some crash courses in many different topics.

I was hoping to have mini-projects every week that explore and demonstrate a specific concept in music technology, and each week builds upon techniques from the previous weeks. So, Week 1 starts with basic MIDI, recording audio, signal processing, and I’m hoping to get to designing systems for live performance and algorithmic approaches in Max by week 7. Problem is, I don’t think I have enough time to even delve into Max, as I could easily spend all seven weeks on Max and it would still be a challenge for a lot of students. I suppose a lot of those concepts can be illustrated in just Ableton by using different MIDI effects, the clip follow functions and Max could be avoided entirely, as much as I want to whip it out and start patching on the fly. Maybe I’ll just demonstrate it as an aid for design.

Some other areas of interest I’d like to cover are audio synthesis (probably just subtractive, maybe some FM), sampling, and tools for production (concepts like compression, sidechains, signal routing, sends, all the fancy mixing tools)


the Ableton site, if you check it out, starts with not much assumption that one has used Ableton or any other DAW, which is a nice perk


Ableton offers a 30 day free trial period, and a nice academic discount…

I’ve had my music tech students buy the intro version in lieu of a textbook!


Hi all, I’m largely a lurker here on lines, but I’m very interested in this thread as well. I teach graphic design at an art school, a large university, and as of recently at a local community college. I also run an educational initiative called the Southland Institute, which is, among other things, an attempt to examine and propose alternatives to higher education in art and design in the United States. My interest in and approach to graphic design education is holistic and interdisciplinary, and I’m always looking for ways of incorporating ideas from other creative fields into projects, lessons, and conversations. Of particular relevance to this list, I’m interested in ways that open source approaches can be used with regard to sharing teaching resources, using and reconfiguring existing structures and formats in new, and more accessible ways.


Sure thing. I’ll send you a copy.


I suppose this is a good place to ask this:

I’ve been working on a PhD in Media Studies and teaching video production as part of it. I really love teaching (especially more practical arts than the theoretical stuff), but was getting pretty burnt out on my studies and have been taking time off for the past 6 months, right before my comprehensive exams (coursework is complete). In the meantime, I’ve gotten a pretty great full-time job in the private sector. It’s not entirely related to my academic work, but I get to do a nice mix of video production, writing, and even occasionally some sound design. And the pay is a lot higher than my stipend.

Now, it’s coming to the point where I need to figure out what I’m going to do. Go back? Stay in the private sector? Try and keep this job full time while also doing my comps and then dissertation (yikes)? I must say that my dreams of continuing to work in academia, at least in my discipline, have dwindled dramatically for a variety of reasons. All signs point to fully withdrawing from my program and cutting my losses, but there’s something incredibly frustrating about putting all this work in for naught. I do have my MA from another institution, so it’s not like my graduate school plans amounted to nothing, but still…it’s frustrating. Is it worth having a PhD in Media Studies if ultimately my goal now is to do creative work in the private sector? Probably not. Even if I want to keep teaching, that’s pretty possible in creative fields with just an MA and experience (which I have ~6 years of). I love the work I’ve been doing (mainly historical work around synthesis), but I don’t know if that’s enough. I can still do that work outside of an institution, and especially one where I was a sort of the odd one out in terms of studies (a very social science-oriented program). Guide me, wise ones of llllllll.


The only advice immediately coming to mind is to take the long view, as long as you can find a way to survive.

The problems most relevant today are not necessarily those that will be relevant later on.

Think primarily of what you could learn from a media studies degree, if at bottom you find the area so interesting as to want to pursue a PhD. What you learn could later be the thing that brings a new technological paradigm, or that enables you to find a new angle on someone’s problem in another field. You just never know. What you stand to learn from it is ultimately what’s important, and can keep paying dividends 20,30 years down the road.


I think part of the problem is that I rushed into it and maybe would’ve been a better fit in a musicology program or even in an MFA (my areas of interest now are much more creative than they were initially). Coursework is complete, so I’ve really done most of the learning that I will be doing outside of my immediate field. That’s not to say that dissertation isn’t repute with learning, but it’s much more focused and, honestly, given my lack of common ground w/ my committee, it’s work that I can do just as well outside of academia. I’m a bit of a black sheep in my program and really the only person writing about music or the technical side of media production at all, which provides its own share of frustrations.


Reading your post, it sounds like you are realizing that you like the MA parts of your PhD program (up to and including teaching video production) and would not like the PhD-and-after parts (research, teaching and imbibing theory, playing nice with the expectations of your field). So, I guess my question to you would be: what made you apply to the PhD in the first place? What parts of that are still there, what’s changed, and what will scratch that itch for you?


I hear you. I’ve had an engineering education and career. However, right now my primary interests concern the nexus between posthumanism and religious studies… music of course being the thread that would tie everything together, but actually doesn’t because I keep failing at the integration.

I’ve often thought about going back to school. A sort of intellectual mentor (I’ve never met him personally), the writer Erik Davis, did exactly this, a PhD in his mid-40’s and seems much better off for it. But the truth is I wouldn’t have developed my current interests had I not become so frustrated with my own field and the state of technology in general. So I actually have to give credit to my being out of place, because the “out of place” is actually one of the most productive places from which to think. Everything becomes so much more tangible, so much more real when it hurts at some level.

Also, I honestly like being outside of the university. I think 1) they tend to ignore or dismiss significant cultural developments happening at the “ground level” – occasionally a Henry Jenkins comes along but only as the exception to the rule; 2) they tend to reorganize in ways that attract the most funding, endangering the more interesting disciplines and becoming themselves highly susceptible to corporate interests. A lot of “interdisciplinary” reorganization is basically to make everything a branch of engineering, rather than stimulate productive dialogue between disciplines, in ways that actually respect those disciplines. Also within individual disciplines you find that corporate “pull” – I keep thinking how 99% of computer science research, in particular the deep learning stuff is just free labor for Google and Facebook … and students actually push to do this because they know that’s how they’ll get hired.

Three downsides to being outside the university today is: 1) it’s lonely, in an intellectual as well as a social sense; 2) most of the interesting contemporary research is behind a JSTOR paywall… technically I have ways around this but the ethics are troubling, so I don’t do it. 3) in spite of all the challenges, there are some really cool people doing cool things at universities and creating exactly the “right” kind of interdisciplinarity, even though they never get credit/money/prestige.

But whatever the limitations I’m so glad I went through the process at least once.

The best thing I got out of education in general was “learning how to learn”. That’s what continues to stick with me, not any specific content.

The best thing I got out of my PhD was learning how to be self-directed as a learner and researcher, and radically so. While I had basically an absentee advisor, he did set a very good example of how to conduct oneself in the field, so I learned a lot by osmosis and by intentionally copying certain aspects of his behavior (what journals and conferences to target, who to meet at the conferences). The worst thing (aside of some very specific stressful situations – one where I was hospitalized) is that all of the technical writing basically killed my ability to write and I’ve never recovered it. It also made me put music on hold, and I didn’t get back to it for over 20 years.

I don’t know if any of this can help your specific situation… the TL;DR is – 1) education generally is tremendously valuable and more so than you think at the time; 2) you have no idea where your interests will go in life; most people reinvent themselves every 10 years or so.


You know, it does kinda read like that, but I actually really do dig the more theory-oriented parts of my research (mostly around media archaeology), but I really don’t enjoy teaching that material as much as I enjoy teaching production-oriented courses. I really do like research, but I’m realizing I like it as a hobby and not as my work. Like anything, once you throw that “work” label on, the joy can get easily sucked out. Those are some great questions to think about it though.

Being out of place definitely has its pluses, but the negatives can loom large too. I’ve had very little support structure in the way of faculty. If anything, I rely on my MA advisor (from a different school) more than my PhD advisor. It’s the same way with my fellow students. There’s so little common ground between us.

Thanks for all of the insights here. I actually reached out to my PhD advisor to get his input as well.


More of a question relevant to this thread looking for some ‘path’ clarification // crowd-sourcing ambition to a group of people doing what I want to do and/or related things.

I’m an undergrad in honors at a large university. I’ve taken 220 credit hours including 30 graduate hours and have learned that, when selecting a grad program, my own interests favor the multidisciplinary. I’m interested in linguistic musicality and its ontological implications. My course spread is super broad but really just centered on that one fundamental idea. Lots of literary theory // German, French, and classics
// history of capitalism, race, and gender. The ideal practical execution of all this learning still eludes me but I’ve got some skills in engineering, recording, synthesis, sampling, essay writing, performance, and, chiefly, rapping. I’d like to teach literature broadly and supplement a traditional academic publishing output with musical output but, as I’m in The South, support for and connections to these more liminal creative / academic contexts are scant. Everyone I talk to has “heard of somewhere back east // out west where they do stuff like that” but after five years asking everyone I form a connection with for solid leads I’ve come up empty handed. I’ll be applying to grad schools in the next year and could really use some guidance (my actual advisors don’t take the idea seriously even though – without seeming too headstrong – I know exactly what I’m here to do and need only connect to the places that will nourish these specific impulses in order to deliver).

Grateful for any direction.


Instead of looking for a program you might want to look for a person(s) that you’d like to work with and start there. Especially if the universities where such people work support interdisciplinary (“design your own”) PhD programs. These are not that uncommon; for example, see this summary at UC Berkeley:

The other advantage of looking for potential advisors first and reaching out to them is that you can get some conversations out of the way about what you intend to do before potentially moving across the country to study with them. You want to make sure you find people who believe in, or at least are intrigued by, your vision of your future academic career.

You will get bonus points with potential advisors (and a much greater chance of a response to your emails) if you can relate your vision to their research agenda.

FWIW, no programs spring to mind… hopefully other people here will have some ideas.

edit: just read through the proposal requirements for the Berkeley PhD program and they’re pretty daunting… but there are other similar programs out there!


Sounds like a fascinating topic but it may help to be more specific. It’s hard for me to follow up on something like this unless I have a few more details. I suppose this could be true for others.

So this could be totally off, but “linguistic musicality and its ontological implications” sounds like a good description of Gary Tomlinson’s recent work. If you don’t have this already it’s a fascinating read:

Tomlinson has a very specific idea of “text” – not of course what you think it means – a lot of it’s about incorporating Andre Leroi-Gourhan’s ideas about co-evolution, the genesis of the human, the ways in which we’re always-already cyborgs, and so on. I find it fascinating, but you could be going in a completely different direction.

[ps. I think I decided to join lines because someone on here recommended this book, i got it and it was not only fascinating but so much up my alley in questioning the boundaries between human/animal/machine … and what that could mean for technologically-mediated creation. then someone else on here turned me on to Tim Ingold’s work… i never meet these kinds of people in person]

Gary Tomlinson’s academic page:

Also relevant is what you see yourself doing. What are the primary ways in which you would express these interests, in other words. Is it reading a lot and writing papers and books, making music/art, developing hardware and software, or some mixture of the three (everything involves reading and writing papers, but i’m talking about the fundamental mode(s) of expression of your ideas). Some of this also depends on the portfolio you’ve already put together.

Finally, it never hurts to think about grounding interests in a concrete problem or otherwise narrowing the scope. The “concrete problem” doesn’t have to be an application, although it could be that. It could just be seeing what happens if you mash up one text with another, or draw some other connection. The first problem doesn’t prevent you from addressing others later on; it can even set up a trajectory where one problem leads to another, and the real theme(s) then emerge of their own accord and are all the better for the way they have emerged.

Hope this helps!


It does! A lot of this thinking is already done and I’m sitting on an archive of 1400+ pieces. I omitted the more specific stuff for brevity and may compose a pm including some detail to that end.

I see artists in other mediums who holds down associate professorships and adjunct positions while practicing their art but for rap there’s not really a precedent. I have no misgivings about the amount of convincing I’m going to have to do regardless of who I seek out.

One of my mentors had the person they had planned to work with die before they started their first semester and another had their prospective advisor retire so I’m a little trepidatious about the ‘pick a person’ route but also recognize its utility. Thanks so much for the feedback and I’ll do some reading.

Also: more contemporary influences are Cathy Caruth, Eve Sedgewick, and Donna Haraway; a lot of the language you used in describing Tomlinson’s work seems commiserate with that background.

Thanks again :slight_smile:


My reading of Tomlinson totally intersects with Haraway!!! You have to be creative but the connections are totally there and at a most fundamental level. Most obviously with the cyborg manifesto. Haraway, Despret, Stengers, Latour, Ingold, Descola, Vivieros de Castro, these are the most interesting discourses that I think could intersect with music technology. But that goes more to my broader personal obsessions, with animality, transformation, and intersecting with subcultures exploring these things at the ground level, folk posthumanisms that are for the most part entirely indifferent to academia. If I could have an ideal job title it would be “Ontological Anarchist” :wink: But in real life my job is kind of boring. Very cool and I hope something works out for you!