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Northeastern v. BU for computer science & music composition

TexasMom2017TexasMom2017 Registered User Posts: 185 Junior Member
@PengsPhils I saw that you're in CS at Northeastern and also have some familiarity with the music tech program there. Do you know anyone who is doing the combined CS/music composition degree? My son is very interested in that ... more for music composition than for music tech ... and would love to hear anyone's experiences with the program. He is also considering BU for dual degree. One thing we've wondered about at Northeastern is whether the CS/music comp degree is too light on CS to be considered a legit CS degree (looks like there is no math required!).

Replies to: Northeastern v. BU for computer science & music composition

  • PengsPhilsPengsPhils Forum Champion Northeastern, Forum Champion Math/Computer Science Posts: 3,663 Forum Champion
    I unfortunately don't know the music side well, I know the CS side. I do know BU and their CS too. I think there's a significant difference between the programs in both teaching and placement, though you will be able to find a good job in CS at either in the end, but the experience difference with co-op is the big boost difference there.

    From the little I know, BU sounds like the better place for music-related degrees, though I know others here are more familiar with our connections here with NEC, something you probably know more about than me. Based on a previous thread, @compmom is probably your best resource for the music angle.

    I can tell you that the CS in the combined degree is certainly enough - the math really isn't important, and a combination with music doesn't hurt math skills of course. Even in the specialty areas of CS that deal with high levels of math, you don't even need the classes in my opinion. I'm currently working in graphics, which uses a good deal of linear algebra. I have yet to even think about how matrices are multiplied because the libraries handle so much of the math for you. All I need is the basic concepts, which I'm pretty sure I knew in high school from Algebra 2, if I remember correctly. Long story short, lack of math in CS really isn't a worry unless you're looking to go into something like Data Science. The mathematical thinking can be beneficial, but again, will be gained from music partially. Either way, an employer wants programming experience, which he will get in the classes in the combined degree.

    Which one you weight more really depends on the post-graduation plans. What does he see himself doing after college? Will he wish he had more CS or music knowledge?
  • TexasMom2017TexasMom2017 Registered User Posts: 185 Junior Member
    Thanks @PengsPhils that is very helpful
  • kiddiekiddie Registered User Posts: 3,160 Senior Member
    When we went to admitted students day (back in 2012) the person who spoke about the co-op program (director at that time?) was from the music industry and spoke about how his connections had led to great co-op jobs for music related majors (not people who were musicians but those in things like music tech). Don't remember his name and can't find any picture on the co-op directors page that looks familiar. Worth looking into the types of co-ops available in his major.

    The hard math in CS is usually only taken by those doing Engineering type CS degrees.
  • compmomcompmom Registered User Posts: 9,757 Senior Member
    edited February 2017
    I just want to clarify that the "technology" in the music composition and technology program IS composition. Technology is learned in the interest of composing music: https://camd.northeastern.edu/music/academic-programs/bs-in-music-composition-and-technology/ The terms "Music technology" and "electronics" are used in so many different ways. The majority of people reading this, even music people, won't know exactly what kind of music this is referring to, believe me. Or what "electroacoustic" composition, or "acousmatic" composition, refer to either. I would suggest your son attend some concerts or get a hold of some CD's or online samples of the work. Certainly studio skills will be gained but this is an essentially creative major, not a technical one.

    CS will certainly help with the composition and technology, since computers are also used in composition. It is possible that studying music/comp./music tech. will help with CS but not as clear as the other way around, to me anyway.

    The composition and technology major is a narrower focus than you would get at BU, so the coursework is not as comprehensive overall, but is instead focused. BU is a conservatory/music school. Such a combination with CS would be difficult to achieve there, unless in a 5 year double degree.

    When you also consider that two very intensive areas of study, music composition and technology and CS, are combined in one BS degree program, of course the curriculum of both subjects is going to be "lighter." I think I mentioned that on the other thread, that both the music and the CS end look adequate but not as rigorous or comprehensive as they would be in a single subject degree. In almost all schools, this would be a 5 year double degree.

    Northeastern has become very popular for its emphasis on career. The coops are a big part of that, but this BS is another example. They have made it possible to study both areas of work, music comp/tech and CS, and benefit from all the many intersections of this field. In fact, I think this may even widen choices for both career and grad work. Honestly, for grad admissions, you need three or four good pieces in a portfolio and the kinds of extensive work on theory, music analysis, ethnomusicology and so on in the usual music major aren't necessarily essential to move on.

    As for career, the coop does indeed help with that, and this seems to me to be a very vocationally-oriented BS in many ways. One of my kids works in CS and some colleagues didn't even major in CS so this curriculum, supplemented with work experience through the coop, may be more than adequate, unless he wants to go to grad school in CS.

    If your son is interested in abstract math or being a CS professor, not a good fit. If your son wants a rigorous, traditional, conventional, foundational conservatory-type training in music, not a good fit. BU will most likely offer more of that. Though the chance to take classes at NEC from Northeastern is wonderful.

    I am basically talking out of my hat here. I mean, the faculty at Northeastern is great. I don't want anyone to rely on what is, essentially, a reading of the website and course listings! I do have personal (hough indirect) experience with the field of music technology in composition and mainly just want to make sure everyone understands what it is : )

    As for the CS end, your son could look at grad school requirements for undergrad courses in CS if he is interested in eventually doing that.

    One more thing: my son's boss has a master's in music theory, after an undergrad in CS. He did it in sequence rather than all at once. The two areas definitely seem to draw an interesting mix of people who are talented at both.
  • compmomcompmom Registered User Posts: 9,757 Senior Member
    ps I am not able to edit for some reason. I wanted to clarify that music technology in the area of composition is of course a program that teaches technical and lab/studio skills but in the interest of composing, not a future working in a studio, which is often "recording technology" or "music production". The "music industry" referenced above, another major at Northeastern, is another, different area of study versus composition and technology- and is more business-related.

    " The program includes music industry survey courses, business classes in the College of Business Administration, music theory, music history and music industry electives focusing on such topics as artist management, the music products industry, recording, and copyright law. All music industry majors are required to participate in one of the Music Department’s music ensembles for two semesters while enrolled in classes. Co-op is also an important component of the Music Industry concentration. Our students have accepted co-op positions at record labels, music publishing companies, radio stations, music product companies, tour promoters, and other music industry related fields in many different parts of the world."

    For others reading this, here is the text for the music comp/tech. program

    "The Music Composition and Technology program at Northeastern University is a concentration in Music Composition. Rooted in the Western art music tradition, students study composition for both acoustic and electronic instruments and explore ways in which electronic and computer-based technologies continue to challenge and enhance our notion of music composition and performance. Creative works that focus on sound synthesis, processed recordings and/or the interaction between live instruments and electronic sounds are just some of the exciting interests that students pursue. Students in the program learn to compose using the newest technologies and techniques, including sound design, real-time processing, synthesis, MIDI sequencing, digital audio mixing and mastering. Students also take courses in music theory, notation, history and analysis. In addition, students receive private composition lessons, in which they work one-on-one with an instructor to complete short-form compositions (private lessons require an additional fee). Students regularly have the opportunity to participate in public concerts, where they can hear their music performed by musicians and/or presented using the program’s multi-speaker sound diffusion system. "

    There are many grad programs in computer music, electroacoustic music, music technology and so on. Such as Brown's MEME, UCSD's programs, U. of North Texas, McGill, Michigan, and others. See also Oberlin's undergrad TIMARA for comparison.
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