Tufts formalizes music engineering minor

Tufts Department of Music last semester began offering a music engineering minor — an interdisciplinary program for students interested in both music and engineering — prompted by increased student demand.

The minor in music engineering, co-directed by Paul Lehrman, a lecturer in the music department, and Professor of Mechanical Engineering Chris Rogers, was initiated in February of this year and graduated five students this past May, according to Lehrman. Eight students are pursuing the minor this year.

Although all of the courses that make up the minor had already been established, Lehrman and Rogers compiled these music and engineering classes into one program in response to student and personal interest.

The program grew out of an existing minor in musical instrument engineering, which focused on acoustic instrument design. To this, two new areas of focus were added to create the new program.

Students minoring in music engineering can now choose to pursue one of three tracks: acoustic instrument design, which is overseen by Rogers, electronic instrument design or sound recording and production, both overseen by Lehrman.

The minor consists of five courses, three of them spanning the overlap between music and engineering, and the other two concentrating on the student’s track of choice.

To complete the minor, students must also do a final project or honors thesis.

Open to all students in the School of Engineering and the School of Arts and Sciences, the minor hopes to attract a variety of majors from throughout the university. Although many mechanical and electrical engineering students participate in the program, Rogers made clear that the minor is not just limited to those musically or mathematically inclined.

“We’ve had all types [of students],” Rogers said. “We’ve had people who’ve never played an instrument before; we’ve had people that are not engineers.”

Steinway & Sons piano company, whose current CEO, Dana Messina (E ’83), is a Tufts alumnus, created a grant to support highly specific research projects, providing funding for materials, tools and consulting resources, Lehrman said.

The grant benefits both music engineering minors and non-minors alike; recipients must only be engaged in projects related to the furthering of music engineering education research, he added.

Two teams of undergraduate students are being funded through the grant for their work to improve pianos, while others are designing new interfaces for instruments, Lehrman said. Students have also built instruments themselves, ranging from trumpets to Irish bagpipes.

Next semester, the program is hoping to put together an electronic music ensemble course, Lehrman noted, in which students will play music with some electronic instruments of their own creation.

Lehrman believes the creation of this program is a prime example of Tufts’ willingness to respond to the desires of its undergraduates.

“As far as I know, we are the only undergraduate program in the country that does this,” Lehrman said.

“There are programs that teach recording engineering and how to make music, but I don’t know of any other program that brings all of them together, with all of the elements in one place.”

Mical Nobel, a junior minoring in the program and majoring in electrical engineering, said the program is a perfect fit for her.

“I’ve played piano for a really long time and have been interested in music as a listener and player, so it’s a great way to mix both interests,” Nobel said.