Computer Music in High School


+1 for Reaper, which I didn’t mention because it’s not technically free. It is incredibly good value for money, however. It is a wonderful piece of software.



Sort of carrying on from what tehn said…
Id advise you start off with what you already have. A group of interested people- I bet you all have laptops already and your own software etc. All you need from the school on day one is a room booking and some av stuff- a screen, some speakers . For example People talking through a current project, demoing their software set up and a discussion at the end would be one obvious way of structuring a few meets. (of course there are other formats you might prefer to adopt).
Once you get something like this going growing it up in smaller steps…getting that small budget might feel more achievable.
I am not sure why getting everyone using the same DAW is a first order priority. this is the bit I would question. If I was a kid in your school, I think it would be great to see a few different set ups being demo-ed.
Also think a bit more about how your school as an organisation thinks and presents itself. Emphasising making music might clash with the music curriculum (in some imagined way) but other initiatives around creative programs or widening IT skills or future careers even might go down better…though Im not telling you to get cynical (:wink:) Finding a supportive person ‘a champion’ helps smooth things along even if they cant help you with a budget straight off. I bet a few teachers are into computer music too.

By your post you sound quite smart and probably have thought through a lot of this already - so good luck with it. Stay positive. There probably are some grants and initiatives that could help out there. Id just advise you to start with what you have.



Not sure if this is useful, but I once organized a workshop for making electronic music with a smartphone at my uni, it was part of a big DIY workshop event day. I simply told everybody that they need to install Nanoloop on their smartphones before showing up. All kinds of people showed up. We decided on a tempo (or perhaps I did :wink:), synced the nanoloop instances manually (everybody started with a four-on-four, and we adjusted the timing until it sounded good), and off we went! We didn’t even have a PA system, just the phone speakers, but it was super fun.

I just wanted to share this as an example that you can start out without any school-bought equipment, if you want.



The thing is, I have absolutely no idea who’s going to want to participate. There’s nobody I know of who already experiments with electronic music, but my circle’s small so they could just be hiding in the woodwork. The reason I want to start with the DAW as a baseline is because I want the club to be open to absolute beginners, as well as people already invested. I guess I can hope that there are people like that with prior experience, but really I’m expecting this to be mainly educational. That’s why I wanted an accessible DAW, as an educational tool/baseline.

I won’t know for sure what’ll happen until I start, though.

I definitely have to talk to some teachers I know. Ironically, I know for a fact that none of the music teachers have the time or the inclination to help out with this kind of thing. The teachers I would contact could hopefully just provide official oversight and support, which would be really nice.

I actually do know a professor at Skidmore College, through there radio station, and we’ve talked about converting a room at the station to a workable music studio. I have to do some more organizing on that front, but that would be really helpful.



Unfortunately, I’m not at all surprised that your music teachers don’t know about electronic music.

You’re coming up against a huge problem in music education and computer science education. I was trained as a music teacher, and now I teach high school programming. Both fields struggle with breaking away from codified structures (e.g., band, orchestra, choir) and there are a lot of people trying to make music teachers understand that they need to be proficient in electronic music in order to fulfill their social purpose in public schools.

I would encourage you to reach out to Ableton. When Push 2 came out, they opened up applications for schools to get free copies of Ableton and free Push devices (Push 1). A few of my colleagues and I were able to make use of this offer in local schools to great success. I am sure you will be able to find someone to support this idea at your school, even if it isn’t a music teacher. Reaching out to a principal or technology teacher might be a good idea. I am more than happy to connect you with research that discusses the need for music education opportunities outside of traditional formats.

As far as your concerns about who will show up–in my experience, I’ve never had trouble encouraging people to learn to make beats, electronic music, or anything along those lines. The great thing about DAWs are their flexibility; you will likely end up with many different kinds of musicians/aspiring producers. And that’s certainly the kind of creative environment I would love to be in!

P.S. @OP If you are at all interested in teaching music, I think you would be great at it. Your openness would be welcomed by many in my field :slight_smile:



I was fortunate enough to attend a performing arts high school in LA from 1994 to 1996. The technology wasn’t like today but the campus did have a MIDI “film scoring” lab. It looks like it’s grown quite a lot since the 90s and there are two classes in the music department called “Music Technology”. There’s also a whole film and animation program.

Their website seems pretty informative, it could be a good benchmark for a formalized electronic music program for high school students.



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Puredata! (thread)

it’s kinda a golden age​:slightly_smiling_face::cactus:

+1 for audacity



I sent an email to one of the Music Technology teachers asking about teaching music production to kids, tips/tricks, other recommendations. I’ll see where that goes. Otherwise, I couldn’t find any useful curriculum stuff on the website, but thanks anyways for the tip.



I actually tried emailing them right around this time last year, to no avail. Got a standard, “nothing available, try again later” response, which sucked. I’ll give it another whirl, see what happens. Getting a few Push units would be a godsend.

If I ever have to give a presentation about this I’ll take up that offer for sure.

I’m planning on sending an email to my guidance counselor about this. She’s quite nice and I’m sure will offer support, however much she can spare. At my school they recently started giving every kid a Chromebook, but those puppies are security-locked down tight. If we could somehow unlock the Chromebooks of the participants that would be great, make things accessible for literally everyone in the school.

I’m optimistic. This is something that’s been in the back of my mind for years. I’m really invested in making this happen. I’ve just got to work through the initial discomfort that comes with building an environment like that, and hopefully things will work themselves out.

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Hi - I teach music technology (and traditional ensembles) at a high school. To address a few things I’ve seen come up in this thread:

Devil’s advocate: why do you need to provide/decide on a DAW? It’s possible that interested people may have their own software already. It sounds like you think you may have to show people how to use the DAW, but if people are interested in computer music, they may be familiar with a certain DAW already. (This is the case in my music technology class; some kids are total newbies and I teach them Ableton; some already have extensive experience in Ableton/Logic/Garageband).

Whether or not people have or need software is something you can figure out at the first meeting. If anybody needs software, just provide them the list you got here.

Speaking of Garageband - is the club only for “electroacoustic”/modular music, or is EDM welcome? You’ll get more people if you cast the net wider (and there is certainly some overlap between dance music and electroacoustic/modular music!!!); if the club is strictly for electroacoustic/modular, you might have a smaller group (and it may be harder to find participants).

In terms of what you do in the club, a weekly or every-other-week challenge (like the Disquiet Junto! or songwriting prompts or “flip this sample” challenges) would be a great way to let everyone participate and share techniques. Everyone makes the track, then they share in class and talk about their techniques.

In terms of teacher supervision, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the music teacher - you just need a teacher who is chill (and has access to speakers). One year, students asked me to be the advisor for the anime club. I said, “I know absolutely nothing about anime.” They said “that’s ok, we just need a teacher in the room and we think you’re chill.” They did everything, I was just the adult in the room as required by the school rules. It sounds like you don’t need a teacher, just a chill adult in the room.

(Also, if your school rules allow it, you may want to reach out to Skidmore to find a grad student or undergrad to be the chill grownup/advisor/leader/whatever. My kid goes to Skidmore, and my sense of the school is that many people there would be ALL ABOUT supervising a computer music club in the schools).

A lot of this depends on your school rules, but I would definitely recommend you “shoot first and aim later.” Just get the club going first and worry about things like DAWs as they come up. That’s just a part of making something new!

This is a great idea, good luck!



Where in Upstate New York are you? Do you mean actually upstate? I’m in Utica, NY. We have an event called White Noise Workshop we do every month, which is basically an open night where anyone can come to a set (solo or otherwise) and then there is an improvised jam section where everyone can play. You’re more than welcome to come if it’s close by enough, I believe the next one is September 28. Here is the facebook group:

I wouldn’t get too worried with getting anything nice and expensive. You’re never going to get funding like a sports team, you’re never going to get funding even like your established music programs. Any simple midi controller will do wonders, and nowadays a lot of software can use HID devices, like video game controllers. You can spend $20 on an xbox controller with a usb cable and have enough buttons to do some cool things. So much of school is not about what is good for students, it’s about parents getting what they expect and can understand. They can understand the value of marching band or football because they experienced it too. And that’s where the money goes, places the parents understand. We all do it though in different ways, if someone approaches me and asks for money for an organization I don’t understand, they don’t get any funding from me.

So much of what makes electronic music cool is the fact that not many people understand it. But that’s the trade off, not many people understand it, don’t understand the seriousness of it, the value of it, the difficulties of it.

If I was you, I’d try something like this: do whatever you can to get a space, either at school or not. Put up some posters “If you’re interested in Electronic Music come to this meeting” or something like that, and see what happens! If you get a couple people, you may be satisfied with that new group of friends and who knows what could flourish from there. If you get a critical mass, then maybe the school will take you more seriously and offer you a space or some funding. Otherwise don’t worry about getting the backing of the school too much, your principal probably doesn’t know the first thing about any kind of music, let alone electronic/computer music.

As far as a DAW, I’ve lately been encouraging people to try out Renoise. It is a tracker but really is pretty simple. If you can wrap your head around Ableton Live you can certainly use Renoise. And it’s very affordable, I believe I paid $75 for it. It doesn’t come with any instruments, but you can sample single cycle waveforms and turn literally any sound into an instrument, like your teacher’s boring lecture or a car going by.



My high school got a computer running Pro Tools when I was a senior and it was amazing, got me started on my career in music. And my “shop” class had a computer with Reason on it, which is actually a reasonably good software. I haven’t done much with Reaper and MIDI so maybe others can advise, but for recording and mixing it’s been wonderful. And Ardour looks impressive.

My favorite clubs have all been show-and-tell type, where people bring in what they’re working on. Presentations are usually limited to 15 minutes, including intro/explanations, to make room for everyone. Most people sign up when they arrive and use their own machines or recordings to present. People can also present their own production techniques or give a short talk on their favorite producers.

If you’re thinking of getting it started, as others have said find a chill teacher with access to a room with speakers, and then post flyers around the school. You’'ll likely be surprised who shows up (try to get people of different genders and backgrounds!!!). And if you can’t get academic support, you might also be able to start a meetup outside of school, like at a local cafe with a PA (and maybe a projector), and invite people to come there.

Also, I’m in NYC but I have an extra (cheapo Arturia) USB midi keyboard I’d give to you if we can connect somehow. Depending on whether there’s train access, I’d also be happy to come give a talk or a workshop about the basics of synthesis and sampling, or recording techniques, or even the different kinds of electronic music softwares available.

Best of luck! I commend your efforts and I hope something comes out of it. Wish I could do more.



I can’t help much in terms of setting up. But if you have fostered good relationships with your teachers it may be worth asking some of the non music staff. In the school where I work we have several teachers who play outside of school, but unless you knew/asked you’d never know. These may be the people who could help you set up your club/acquire funds.

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Older versions of Tracktion can be had for free. I think currently the free version is T7.

If you are hoping to include beginners, this is quite a nice DAW to start with as it is straight forward to get to grips with.

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Yes- I bet they are in Geography!



I guess that in the end a lot of what happens is out of my control. I can’t gauge how much experience kids are going to have, what I’m going to have to teach and provide; those are all things I just have to find out on my own. Diving in and seeing what happens, and working to build a community first and foremost, seems to be the best path. My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to facilitate the education of kids new to all of this, but now thanks to this thread I’ve got enough information to last me (and them) for a while.

I’ll try to keep it loose, open, and nonjudgmental. Having a community like that will be worth it even if we can’t get any money.

Thanks everyone for your advice! School starts for me tomorrow. I’m just going to hit the ground running and push through the inevitable beginning difficulties. If I have any more questions I know where to ask them.

Thanks again.



Awesome! Yeah, I guess you could say you can’t identify the problems until the problems present themselves :slight_smile: It’s great that you’re doing this, good luck! (and give us all updates sometimes, I think we’d all be curious to hear about it!)

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Another potential club activity that wouldn’t require funding could be to set up remote (or local, but that usually brings $ issues with it for travel etc) workshops with guests. Maybe a new topic every month, someone video-conferencing in to a laptop with the club gathered 'round to give an overview of the topic?

When we were asking folks to come and perform or do workshops, it felt like we were offering big bucks at the time, but in retrospect I’m really amazed and grateful for the people who agreed to give up their time to work with students for basically a token fee. I think many in the field of computer music who made their way to where they are / what they are doing (musicians, DSP engineers, etc) had to find their own roundabout path, and are happy to try help others find their own path.

(Makes me think of Tom Erb’s tagline on his website: “happy working for the good of the community.” He’s had that in the title of his site forever, it was an inspiring thing to read as a student!)