Teaching Music Production Online


Music, School of Arts




University of Bristol's audio playback room with specially-placed high-quality monitor speakers

The audio playback room

The Music Recording and Production split level unit (2nd and 3rd years) teaches a small cohort (fewer than 20 students) sound recording and the nuances of mixing. Lectures take place in a room specially designed for audio playback.

Students submit audio coursework and written commentary at the end of the course. This is the only formative assessment.

University facilities closed during the 2020/21 COVID19 pandemic, so lectures had to be moved online, but few students had a suitable environment or equipment at home to discern subtle differences in audio recordings.


  • Create an engaging online version of the course during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Enable students to learn from each other and experience a wider range of mixes and techniques, by giving them a safe place to give and receive feedback and ask questions.
  • Encourage students to start using what they’ve learnt straight away and develop a piece of work throughout the course, rather than cramming all the work into the last few weeks.
  • Understand what students are learning from the lectures.

What was done

  • With recording facilities closed, the unit was rewritten to mostly focus on “the art and science of mixing”.
  • Students without their own audio equipment were given high quality sound interfaces and headphones to use at home. These were to be returned after the course.
  • Live sessions were delivered via Zoom, using the high quality stereo audio mode to ensure nuances of audio demonstrations weren’t lost through data compression.
  • Screen sharing was used to perform live demonstrations on various professional music/audio software platforms.
  • Students were asked to upload their work-in-progress (both audio and text) to a Blackboard Discussion Board. This was not compulsory but was intended as a way for students to get feedback on their work, both from Jonathan and from other students, and also to see the feedback other students received.
  • Audio examples from lectures were shared so students who had missed a lecture could take part in structured shared discussions.
  • There were forums for specific tasks, questions, and general discussions. There was also a space for students who wanted to share their own work-in-progress to prepare for their final assessment, since there were no other credit-bearing formative assessments leading up to it.
  • Students were encouraged to ask questions at any time, and they were frequently asked questions as well, to ensure understanding. During lectures, Zoom’s chat panel enabled Jonathan to answer questions in batches rather than individually, which helped him to keep the thread of his narrative. When students asked questions by email, Jonathan asked if the conversation could be shared on the discussion board so that everyone could benefit from the answer.


What went well

  • The Zoom classes were very successful. All feedback received (response rate of about 30%) was glowing.
  • Students participated in the forums, some of them frequently.
  • Some peer-reviewing took place. Students were given the opportunity to take time to listen to their peers’ mixes, read feedback from Jonathan and others and share their own thoughts. Through the mixes and the reading of feedback, Jonathan could see how some of the students were putting their learning into practice.
  • The discussion boards were valuable to those who participated in them regularly; about a third of the students posted routinely and around half made at least one contribution. It helped make the course a more vibrant experience for students and allowed them to listen to and comment on the work of their peers.
  • High quality sound files (WAV format) were small enough for everyone to upload and download; no one had problems with bandwidth, access or file compatibility.
  • Wearing high quality monitoring headphones, students all heard examples in a similar way. Previously, in the lecture studio sessions, there were only a few seats where the sound reproduction was optimal; a lot of time had been spent giving everyone an opportunity to listen from the “sweet spot”.

What could be improved

  • Rather than posting each new version of a recording in a single thread (and keeping all comments together), some students created new threads for each new version.
  • Though some students commented positively on their peers’ mixes, their feedback wasn’t constructive.
  • Some students didn’t engage with the forums.

The above can be improved by making participation in the discussion forum compulsory - possibly an assessed part of the unit to ensure everyone takes part. This would be supplemented with guidance and examples on how to use the forum, how to post coursework and a rubric for posting constructive peer feedback.

  • In the real world, mixes aren’t just listened to on headphones, but on a range of speakers in different spaces, so students’ experiences may have been a bit limited. In future they will be encouraged to try a wider variety of playback devices and environments.
  • In order to convey the subtle changes in audio and to show the small graphical details of pro-audio software, screencasts of mixing demos had to be created with high-data-rate audio and good-quality video. The resulting files were large and risked exceeding Blackboard’s file bandwidth quota.

Future plans

After the studio facilities re-open, Jonathan would like to keep the best parts of online learning eg using the controlled experience of individual headphone listening for aspects of the unit that require critical listening, rather than moving back to face-to-face.