Sound Design (M.F.A. and Certificate)

David Budries, Chair

Due to the current and inevitable future disruptions of COVID-19, neither Yale School of Drama nor Yale Repertory Theatre will produce a season of plays in 2020–2021. In service of our mission, the School of Drama is temporarily extending the M.F.A. and Certificate programs by one fully funded year of study. All sections pertaining to production work in this chapter of the bulletin refer to a typical production schedule and are not necessarily applicable for the 2020–2021 academic year.

The Sound Design program is focused on developing the artistic, compositional, and technical engineering skills of sound designers and composers through substantial academic offerings and a set of practical design opportunities that together provide a solid professional training experience. This rigorous preparation readies students for a variety of design and engineering jobs related to music and sound in live performance. It is also directly applicable to teaching the art and craft of sound design.

The Sound Design experience at Yale School of Drama is unique in that the five areas of design—set, costume, lighting, projection, and sound—are integrated. All designers are encouraged to take introductory course work in each of the design areas. This course work provides students with a core of basic knowledge and the ability to exercise good communication skills throughout the design process, while helping to build camaraderie and respect among designers. This ensemble approach provides a foundation for networking as design professionals after graduation. Collaboration is an essential part of the experience at the School of Drama.

The program is rigorous. Students must be dedicated and willing to work hard. The course work covers design aesthetics, script interpretation, dramaturgy, music composition, critical listening, professional collaboration, sound and music technology, acoustics, aural imaging in large spaces, investigations into psychoacoustics, digital audio production, advanced sound delivery systems, advanced problem solving, advanced digital applications, production organization, and professional development, that work in concert with a wide variety of practical assignments.

The Sound Designers and Directors Workshop is a unique class in which directors and sound designers focus on communication and exploration of each other’s production process. During the course, playwrights and projection designers are invited into the process, allowing all these artists to devise and to explore new works together.

All students attend Design Production Review classes and Sound Seminars. In these meetings, current production work, concepts for design, production problems, and current technological developments are discussed. Visiting artists, designers, engineers, and technicians are also invited to present and discuss their work.

The Sound Design program sponsors critiques of current productions as part of Design Production Review. Attendees discuss all aspects of the work including the storytelling, dramaturgy, acting, directing, all design, and music.

To complement the academic work, the core training revolves around practical production assignments that include working on medium- to large-scale student productions as well as professional design work at Yale Repertory Theatre. These hands-on assignments provide invaluable practical learning experiences. Additionally, Yale Cabaret provides students with up to eighteen extracurricular design opportunities annually. These hands-on assignments provide practical learning experiences on a smaller scale.

To support this work, students have access to four production studio spaces: a multidiscipline design laboratory, a teaching studio, and two musical instrument libraries. In this program, students are required to develop their own digital audio workstations while they are in school so that upon graduation, students have their personal studios in place, ready to continue their professional work.

Another unique class, Auditory Culture, was developed to encourage in-depth conversations about the impact of sound and music on our culture—past, present, and future. The participants drive the course content. No related topic is off-limits, and the class is open to professional students from any discipline. This is our most popular cross-disciplinary offering.

The Sound Design program nurtures individual creativity and exploration. Its goal is to train professionals who will become leaders in the field of professional theatrical sound design.

Academic Expectation and Professional Practice

Yale School of Drama programs of study strive to balance academics with practical production work. For this reason, it is necessary for students to learn how to manage their time in both activities. This is an essential skill set for design students to acquire. Students are always expected to show up on time and be prepared for classes, meetings, and production assignments. Students are expected to be active participants in the production process, attending all required meetings, actor rehearsals, technical rehearsals, and previews. All sound design students are required to attend focus and system balance sessions. Any variation from these expectations requires direct communication with and approval from the instructor, supervisor, stage manager, or other person in charge.

Designing for Yale Cabaret

First-year students are not allowed to design at the Yale Cabaret in their first term, and thereafter all students must obtain approval from the department chair to be involved with any part of Cabaret production work. Any student with a course incomplete may not design for the Yale Cabaret regardless of an advance commitment. All sound designers must request permission to design at the Yale Cabaret at least four weeks prior to the performance.

Plan of Study: Sound Design

Class of 2024

Required Sequence

Year one (2020–2021)
Course Subject
DRAM 3a/b Toward Anti-Racist Theater Practice
DRAM 6a/b Survey of Theater and Drama
DRAM 124a Introduction to Lighting Design*
DRAM 128a/b Sound Seminar
DRAM 158a Introduction to Sound Design
DRAM 188a/b Individual Music Lessons
DRAM 198a Sound Design Production Organization
DRAM 418a/b Design Production Review
DRAM 438a Drafting for Sound Design +
One music or general elective, recommended in the second term

*DRAM 124a is a required course for Sound Design, while DRAM 124b is optional as a general elective.

Year two (2021–2022)
Course Subject
DRAM 50a The Collaborative Process
DRAM 112a Scenic Design: Background and Practice*
DRAM 128a/b Sound Seminar (variable dates/times in the first term)
DRAM 138a Production Sound Design Boot Camp
DRAM 138b Production Sound Design and Technology
DRAM 158b Recording Arts
DRAM 168a Investigating Anti-Racism
DRAM 224a/b Introduction to Projection Design
DRAM 238a Advanced Engineering for Sound Design
DRAM 278b Advanced Problems in Sound Design
DRAM 288a/b Individual Music/Composition Lessons
DRAM 418a/b Design Production Review
One term of music elective
One term of general elective
Up to three production assignments (if prepared)

*DRAM 112a is a required course for Sound Design, while DRAM 112b is optional as a general elective.

Year three (2022–2023)
Course Subject
DRAM 128a/b Sound Seminar
DRAM 248a Sound Designers and Directors Workshop I
DRAM 248b Sound Designers and Directors Workshop II
DRAM 258a Composition for Sound Design I
DRAM 258b Composition for Sound Design II
DRAM 358a/b Professional Development*
DRAM 388a/b Individual Music/Composition Lessons
DRAM 418a/b Design Production Review
Thesis (full production, research paper, or an original creation)
One term of music elective (optional)
One term of general elective
Up to three production assignments (if prepared)
Year three (2023–2024)
Course Subject
DRAM 128a/b Sound Seminar
DRAM 358a/b Professional Development*
DRAM 418a/b Design Production Review
DRAM 488a/b Individual Music/Composition Lessons
Up to three production assignments (if prepared)
One term of music elective (optional)
One term of general elective (optional)

*DRAM 358a/b may be taken in either the third or fourth year or both.

Elective Sequence

The elective sequence is determined in consultation with a departmental adviser. Students must complete two terms of music electives and two terms of general electives. Music electives are usually found in the Department of Music and the School of Music. Permission of the instructor may be required. Instrumental music lessons may also be considered, but there is a cost for these lessons, as the instructors do not come from the School of Drama. Two terms of Auditory Culture (DRAM 428) can constitute a general or music elective. The Sound Design chair must approve the elective sequence.

Courses of Instruction

DRAM 3a/b, Toward Anti-Racist Theater Practice This course meets both within individual departments and across disciplines, with students and faculty members as fellow learners, using readings, viewings, and discussions in pursuit of these goals: to identify the roots and branches of racism and white supremacy in the structures and practices of theater-making in the United States, including at Yale School of Drama and Yale Repertory Theatre; to interrogate where the practices do harm and hinder; and to invest in the future by inviting students and faculty to imagine and uplift systems and cultures that do not depend upon or promote supremacy, to build a more just and equitable field.

DRAM 6a/b, Survey of Theater and Drama See description under Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism.

DRAM 8a/b, The Artist as Citizen This course offers theater artists and managers a forum for reading, writing, and discussion, which may be guided or self-directed. Each student has an opportunity to consider personal responsibility to collaborators, the audience, and the broader society, with specific reference to each artist’s personal history and identity. What ethical and practical frameworks should shape our art form and its professional sphere? How might they align with personal practice and with value systems of the wider world? With an individual’s culture of origin? Or with the culture(s) in which we choose to work? What are the obligations and privileges of national and/or global citizenship? How can love and joy be centered when the artist embraces the role of citizen? This course is offered in person in both fall and spring terms and may be taken no more than eight times during a student’s enrollment. James Bundy

[DRAM 50a, The Collaborative Process See description under Directing. Not offered in 2020–2021]

DRAM 66a/THST 414a, Lyric Writing for Musical Theater See description under Playwriting.

DRAM 108b, Fundamentals of Music Literacy An eight-week module in the basic musical concepts of pitch, interval, and rhythm with the aim of building fluency in musical terminology, sight singing, score reading, and analysis. With an emphasis on practical exercises in class, students learn to sing notated melodies, execute rhythms, and hear harmonies by following musical scores from a variety of traditions. We cover musical terms and concepts commonly used in music notation and develop an understanding of musical form and structure through examples from the literature useful to theater professionals. Matthew Suttor

DRAM 112a/b, Scenic Design: Background and Practice See description under Design.

DRAM 124a/b, Introduction to Lighting Design See description under Design.

DRAM 128a/b, Sound Seminar These regular meetings are required of all sound designers. The seminar sessions feature guest artists (designers, composers, directors, engineers, consultants, and other theater professionals), visits to various productions or places of business, critical listening, and practical modules on a variety of topics. Class typically meets two hours a week. David Budries, Matthew Suttor

[DRAM 138a, Production Sound Design Boot Camp This intensive, engineering course covers the fundamentals of sound and music technology used in professional sound delivery systems and studio production, focusing on the fundamentals of professional practice with the goal of preparing engineers for their production assignments. The course consists of lectures, demonstrations, and hands-on laboratories. Software requirements are updated annually by the instructor and include Vectorworks, Microsoft Office, and other control software for digital signal processors and mixing consoles. Open to nondepartmental and non-School of Drama students with prior permission of both the instructor and Sound Design chair David Budries. Enrollment limited to six. Four hours a week. Not offered in 2020–2021]

DRAM 138b, Production Sound Design and Technology This course is the continuation of DRAM 138a and consists of lectures, demonstrations, and practical assignments designed to expand fundamental engineering skills. Students learn about audio control systems, digital signal processing, loudspeaker theory and application, digital audio workstations, equalization techniques, time-delay theory and practice, the basics of stereophony, surround sound techniques, and aural imaging. Required of all sound designers. Open to nondepartmental and non-School of Drama students with prior permission of both the instructor and Sound Design chair David Budries. Enrollment limited to six. Four hours a week, plus practicals and additional modules of study. Charles Coes

[DRAM 141b, Law and the Arts See description under Theater Management. Not offered in 2020–2021]

DRAM 158a, Introduction to Sound Design In this class students develop an understanding about how sound and music can be used effectively as a tool to enhance meaning in a play. Students analyze scripts, develop critical listening skills, and learn the fundamentals of sound delivery systems as well as terms used to describe the perception and presentation of sound and music in a theatrical setting. This course is required of first-year lighting, projection, and sound designers and second-year stage managers; it is elective for second-year costume and set designers. Open to nondepartmental and non-School of Drama students with prior permission of the instructor. Limited enrollment. Two hours a week. David Budries

[DRAM 158b, Recording Arts In this course students learn basic recording practice for remote and studio sessions. Topics include digital recording systems, auralization and imaging, elements of psychoacoustics, microphone theory and application, music recording, sound effects recording, cueing systems, studio monitoring, mixing practice, final mastering, a review of audio control systems, and setting expectations for professional practice in a studio environment. There are five recording projects. Required of all sound designers. Open to nondepartmental and non-School of Drama graduate and professional school students with prior permission of both the instructor and Sound Design chair David Budries. Not open to undergraduates. Enrollment limited to six. Two hours a week. Not offered in 2020–2021]

DRAM 168a/b, Investigating Anti-Racism This course meets both within individual departments and across disciplines with the goals of developing an analysis of how the culture of white supremacy has driven current practices in American theater making and exploring solutions to undo these practices in pursuit of a more just and ethical art form. Students and faculty address how supremacy has engendered specific practices that have become normalized in their discipline at the School, the Rep, and in the wider field. Interdisciplinary meetings create a space for open discussion and collaborative reimagining of the ways we do what we love to do. Participants in this course, teachers and students, are fellow learners in this process. Along the way, we are likely to encounter some uncomfortable truths about ourselves, our School, and our field. Facing these with humility and honesty, our goal is to build a theater founded on principles and practices of mutual respect, equity, and inclusion. This year, the course will host DRAM 3a/b, Toward Anti-Racist Theater Practice.

[DRAM 169a, Shop Technology See description under Technical Design and Production. Not offered in 2020–2021]

DRAM 169b, Stage Rigging Techniques: Part I See description under Technical Design and Production.

DRAM 188a/b, Individual Music Lessons This is an introductory project-oriented lesson in music that allows first-year students to develop a path toward their musical development. The student-driven projects are aimed at addressing the musical concerns and needs of the individual, including notation, performance skills, and the expansion of musical vocabulary. This course is only available to students of Design, with preference to sound and projection designers. Limited enrollment. One hour a week, meeting time arranged with faculty. Matthew Suttor

DRAM 198a, Sound Design Production Organization This course prepares students to execute all the necessary production paperwork including cue sheets, schematic block diagrams (line drawings or flow charts), system overlays on plan and section drawings, magic sheets budgets, hook-up schedules, rack drawings, shop orders, budgets, RF assignments, RF schedules, and production archives. Other topics include production responsibilities and preparation for technical rehearsals. Required software includes FileMaker Pro, Excel, and Vectorworks. Required of all first-year sound designers. Open to nondepartmental students with prior permission of the instructor. Limited enrollment. Two hours a week. David Budries

[DRAM 224a/b, Introduction to Projection Design See description under Projection Design. Not offered in 2020–2021]

DRAM 229a, Theater Planning and Construction See description under Technical Design and Production.

DRAM 238a, Advanced Engineering for Sound Design This course is designed to provide a practical examination of large-scale sound delivery systems using examples from professional production practice as well as current production assignments. The objective is to explore all aspects of sound reinforcement and conceptual design theory, practice, and contemporary tools including networks, large-format consoles and loudspeaker arrays, and the use of assessment tools such as SMAART. Students have the opportunity to shape the course content through the critique of their current design projects. This course is limited to second-year sound designers. Two hours a week. Charles Coes, Beth Lake

[DRAM 248a, Sound Designers and Directors Workshop I The aim of this class is to develop a strong and dynamic relationship among the director, sound designer, and/or composer. Playwrights join the class for a four-week module as they develop plays for the Langston Hughes Festival. Projection designers join the class for a six-to-seven-week module on dance. Additional topics include the elements of sound design and composition, building an expressive aural vocabulary, developing critical listening skills, understanding each other’s respective production processes, and producing in traditional and nontraditional venues. Required of all sound designers and directors. Two hours a week. Not offered in 2020–2021]

[DRAM 248b, Sound Designers and Directors Workshop II This course continues the exploration of the creative and practical collaboration among directors, sound designers, and composers through an investigation of the function of sound and original music in devised works. Through critical listening, students attempt to extrapolate ideas from musical sources. The class then turns to a discussion of aesthetics, content, style, and vocabulary with the larger aim of exploring the developmental process from preliminary sketches to fully realized designs. At times students may work individually as well as in assigned teams. One of the final class projects adds projection designers to complete three creative teams (director, sound designer, and projection designer). Each team devises a project in the Yale Art Gallery culminating in a public work titled Gallery + Drama. Ninety minutes a week. Not offered in 2020–2021]

DRAM 258a, Composition for Sound Design I This course explores composition as a fundamental component of sound design, focusing on developing an aural imagination through advanced digital tools. Students are assigned projects based on a variety of specialized techniques within a theatrical framework. Students present their projects on assigned dates followed by discussion and critique. During the fall term, students realize six compositional études that explore topics of investigation. The nature of the études is negotiated with each individual to accommodate production schedules. Due dates are agreed upon by week two (allowing for some flexibility in terms of content). Students must complete at least four études by the end of the fall term in order to progress to DRAM 258b. Required of all sound designers. Open to nondepartmental and non-School of Drama students with prior permission of the instructor. Limited enrollment. Two hours a week. Matthew Suttor

DRAM 258b, Composition for Sound Design II With reference to specific plays, this course builds on the techniques acquired in the fall term as students continue to augment their compositional palette through original and progressive studies in selected areas such as idiomatic acoustic instrumental writing, computer-generated realization, and song. Required of all sound designers. Open to nondepartmental and non-School of Drama students who have completed DRAM 258a. Two hours a week. Matthew Suttor

DRAM 278b, Advanced Problems in Sound Design This course focuses on practical problems that face many sound designers. Participants execute eight to ten challenges with a variety of potential outcomes, each critiqued in class. Critical listening, musicality, system design, digital signal processing, radio-play-style scripting, and real-time digital signal processing are part of these challenges. All class work is intended to promote creativity, innovation, and adaptation. Required of all second-year sound designers. Open to nondepartmental and non-School of Drama students who have completed DRAM 158a and 158b. Limited enrollment. Two hours a week with substantial homework. David Budries

DRAM 288a/b, Individual Music/Composition Lessons Individual project-oriented studies in music composition, either acoustic or technological, aimed at addressing the musical concerns and needs of the particular student, including notation and performance skills. Limited enrollment. Open only to sound design students. One hour a week; meeting time arranged with faculty. Matthew Suttor

[DRAM 319a, Automation Control See description under Technical Design and Production. Not offered in 2020–2021]

DRAM 358a/b, Professional Development This class is limited to design students and is focused on the development and execution of the third-year thesis project and a professional design portfolio that can include Internet-based materials for professional promotion. One hour per student each week, individually assigned. Limited enrollment. David Budries

DRAM 388a/b, Individual Music/Composition Lessons See description for DRAM 288a/b.

DRAM 418a/b, Design Production Review This class provides opportunities for in-depth presentation and discussion of current production work during the design, budgeting, and technical rehearsal phases. All participants must read each play and discuss its dramaturgy. Designers must formally present their design work as if to a director and design team. Presenting a scale model of the scenic design, as well as costume renderings, is essential. Any questions regarding practical production problems may be presented in this forum. A calendar of presentation dates is distributed. Other design or production partners are welcome to attend these classes. Two hours a week. David Budries, Matthew Suttor

DRAM 428b, Auditory Culture: Reading, Critical Listening, and Discussion This course provides a vehicle for participants to examine the impact sound has made on our culture, now and in the past. Each class member is expected to contribute to the discussion by providing prompts as assigned via digital media, books, articles, or recordings. No relevant sound or music topic is off the table. The instructors must approve and distribute each prompt. There is a lot of room for individual exploration and expression. A new prompt is defined and distributed each week, and the discussion occurs at the next class meeting. Open to nondepartmental and non-School of Drama students with prior permission of the instructor; preference given to theater, music, and art majors. Enrollment limited to twelve. One hour a week. David Budries, Matthew Suttor

DRAM 438a, Drafting for Sound Design + This course introduces students to the fundamentals of drafting in Vectorworks and AutoCAD, focused on the needs of the sound designer, engineer, and load-in crew. It covers schematic block diagrams (SBD) as well as plan, section, and front elevation conventions, including rigging.

DRAM 468a/b, Independent Study in Sound Design The student who desires to pursue a specialized course of study in the area of Sound Design may elect an independent study. A proposal might focus on a guided research project, artistic exploration, or advanced audio technology. Proposals must be submitted in writing, and department approval must be obtained prior to enrollment for credit. Subsequent to enrollment, the student must meet with the project adviser to plan an appropriate course of action and discuss assessment. Credit is awarded based on the project adviser’s recommendation in consultation with any other assigned advisers/tutors. Regular meetings are scheduled to track progress. David Budries, Konrad Kaczmarek, Matthew Suttor

DRAM 488a/b, Individual Music/Composition Lessons See description for DRAM 288a/b.