Digital Music Composition 2015-16

Home Facilitator Edition

Getting Started

Hello parents and guardians. Welcome to a new year and a brief written introduction to CPFA's Digital Music Composition course. There are two sections of this course, and each section is full and has a mixture of students varying from taking the course for the first time with little musical knowledge all the way to advanced performing musicians taking the class for the third or fourth time. As such, there are three levels of instruction within the course. Level 1 is primarily students who are new to the course. Level 2 is primarily students in their second year of the course. Level 3 is for advanced students taking the course for honors credit. Honors students must have taken the course previously for at least a year and carried an A average in every marking period. They also demonstrated competency in both music theory/composition and music studio/production skills. We also have two students at the Level 1 tier who are taking the class remotely.


DMC is the only class at CPFA that functions 100% like a cyber course - all of the projects and materials are on the class moodle page - the difference is that 95% of the work happens on-site at CPFA rather than at home. There are a few web-based assignments that can be completed from home, but the majority of the work uses a piece of software called Mixcraft 7 that resides on the computer workstations in the Instrumental Music Room. Students wishing to purchase their own copy of Mixcraft 7 for home use can see Mr. West about discounted rates.

Students work solo at their computer most of the time, but there are opportunities to collaborate and share with classmates. It is very self-paced, and students can get off task easily. I intend to have a bit more accountability for them this year by having them share their progress with the class regularly on our new 60" flatscreen TV equipped with Apple TV. They will be able to share their workstation's screen to the television and everyone can check out their work. Hopefully that is additional incentive to work productively.


One of the things that has radically shifted this year is the way that parents, students, and staff communicate. With the new PALCS Gmail system for students, there are many advantages, but also a few disadvantages. I highly recommend that all PALCS students learn how to use Gmail's Labels and Filters. You can watch a tutorial on this HERE.

Since Home Facilitator PALCSmail no longer exists, teacher comments on student assignments do not get automatically sent to you. I recommend that you log in to Google using your student's school account [] and then freely switch between their Google account and yours by clicking on the icon in the upper right corner of the Google homepage. Below is a screenshot of how to add their Google account to your browser. Notice that I actually have FOUR Google accounts for various areas of my life.

Teachers now communicate with parents via their personal email addresses. However, you can still Moodle Message your teachers via your Home Facilitator account. This is great for quick questions, etc.

I also manage CPFA's moodle homepage, public Facebook page, and am a regular on our closed CPFA group. I invite you to join the closed group - it is another avenue for staying in touch with faculty, staff, and other parents.

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Students in DMC have a lot of flexibility to be creative, especially in the second half of year one and beyond. Every project that they complete has a framework, however, that enables me and other students to evaluate the work to make sure that the educational goals are being achieved.

The first and second marking periods of Level 1 contain about a dozen short projects designed to introduce the students to the software, the basics of using a digital audio workstation, basic music theory and composition concepts, basic music studio hardware, and basic music production techniques.

Starting in the second half of Level 1 and beyond, each project has a list of REQUIRED ELEMENTS that must be present in the final product. These elements demonstrate the student's understanding of the educational concepts in that project. BEFORE SUBMITTING A FINISHED PROJECT, students should review the required elements and ensure that they have included each one. Every project in DMC contains written directions and a video screencast walking students through the main points of the project. I sometimes cover material in the screencast that is not written out in the directions, so I encourage the students to watch them.

I am always available to listen to their current work if they get stuck, or if they just want my opinion on how it is going. I would much rather teach them what they are doing wrong and give them an A once it is submitted than have them flounder. It always amazes me that my desk is literally only feet away from where they are working and only a few students ask me to listen to what they are working on.


This is my 18th year as a public school music educator and my 8th year at PALCS. I previously was a one-man music department for grades 7-12 in Muncy, PA, a middle school band director in North Penn School District, and a high school band director in Lindenwold, NJ. I am an adjudicator for Cavalcade of Bands marching band and jazz band competitions, a newly-minted music judge for Drum Corps International, and I sing professionally part-time with KeyStone A Cappella. I also teach online private music lessons outside of school and local lessons in person within 10 miles of Downingtown. I am married and have two sons in the middle schools in Downingtown. Both boys are members of the Grammy-winning Philadelphia Boys Choir and just got back from a 3 week tour of China. Visit my personal website for more of my musical escapades.

Below is a recent music project I created in August. It is a clarinet ensemble arrangement of the overture from the hit movie Back to the Future. The musical arrangement, clarinet playing, music recording and editing, and video construction were all done in my home studio (the video footage is Creative Commons licensed for free reuse). All of the skills that go into this video are topics that will be addressed in DMC this year.

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My boys in Philly Boys Choir Uniform

Michael (13) and Daniel (11) - this picture is from 2014.

Back to the Future (clarinet cover)