Introduction to Digital Music

Columbia University
Fall, 2017 -- UN2205
Brad Garton, Emily Praetorius

course syllabus

Hello, and welcome to the "Introduction to Digital Music" class. This course was originally titled "MIDI Music Production Techniques", and you may still hear old people (like me) refer to it as "the MIDI class". It was intended to explore the musical possibilities of MIDI -- the Musical Instrument Digital Interface. MIDI used to be a big part of the class, as it was the underlying communications protocol used for most of our studio equipment, but that's no longer true. Digital audio has changed radically in the past several decades. However, the main purpose of the class is still (as always) to create some interesting and snazzy pieces of music. "MIDI" is now sort of a fun name, kind of like the "School of Mines".


We won't be assuming any in-depth knowledge of either computers or music in the course. Naturally, music will always be the product of what we are doing, but we don't plan to sit back and pass Ultimate Musical Judgment on the sounds you create in the class. All styles and approaches (save those that damage equipment) are encouraged and welcome. Astonish us!

Texts and Information

The class is based around Apple's Logic Pro as our primary platform for mixing and sequencing. Logic has a very thorough on-line manual, and in fact all of the documentation we will be using this term is now available on-line. We may post links to specific application docs on the course syllabus web page, but then again we may not. We're sneaky that way. Although Logic will be the application we use to show concepts and techniques in the class, you should feel free to use other programs you may know. Plus we'll be getting into some other fun music apps later in the semester (see below).

We will use the syllabus page for any general class announcements, if any are necessary (and of course we'll send e-mail if any Big Things happen).


Grades will be based on two class assignments, a midterm project, a final project, and class "participation" (attendance, mainly). We will be discussing the midterm and final projects in the class, but the parameters are fairly flexible. They might be a single musical piece, a set of pieces, a bunch of weird sounds you want to call a "piece", or whatever your creative brains can conjure. Again, astonish us!

The two class assignments are a relatively new feature. We'll say more about them when the time is right.

The final grade will be determined using the following percentages:

class assignments20% (two, 10% each)
midterm project30%
final project30%
class participation20%

Grading will be on a straight 10% scale: 90-100% = A; 80-89% = B; 70-79% = C; no curve. Grading of midterm and final projects will be based on your creative and technical use of the studio equipment, not on musical content or style. We will be looking mainly for effort on your part. We really do encourage a lot of different musics in this class!

Ultimately our grading will be subjective; after all this is a music class, ya know. In the past this hasn't been much of a problem for anyone, but if you are worried about your potential grade please come to see us.

We will be taking attendance, the major part of the "class participation" component. If circumstances arise such that you need to miss class, please drop us a note (e-mail is preferred) letting us know. In fact, if you miss a significant portion of the classes then your grade will probably drop far below the level suggested by "20%".

Contact Information

The best way to reach us is through e-mail: If the machines are in flames and our e-mail server is down, you can also call some main numbers on the phone. The relevant phone numbers are:

Office Hours

Brad's Official Office Hours are Wednesdays from 10:30 AM -- 12 noon in room 807 Dodge Hall. Because my schedule gets messed-up sometimes, it's a good idea to check that I'll be available during these Official Hours. We will also be around the CMC before and after class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or you can make an appointment to see either of us at any time (virtually). Emily does a lot of work at the CMC and can easily arrange to meet with you if you would like.

Access to Facilities

All class studio work can be done in our Prentis studios. If you have your own computer-music gear, you are welcome to use it for this course instead of our studio facilities. You may also bring your own equipment to the Prentis studios, but the policy is that others may use any instruments left in the studio (and of course we won't be responsible blah blah blah...). Prentis is open for undergraduates from 6 AM to midnight 7 days a week. Columbia's Department of Public Safety runs a shuttle bus service at night for outlying buildings such as Prentis. There is also a walking-escort service available if you so desire, contact the Department of Public Safety for information (or call 212-854-SAFE (7233)).

You can reserve the studio where we teach the class using a reservation system tied to your Columbia e-mail ID. We will be showing how to do this in class.

One final note: if you wish to work with people from outside the class on your project(s), you should clear this with us before bringing them into the Prentis building. You may also need a note from one of us to move equipment out of Prentis -- even your own. The security guards get understandably paranoid about equipment and people moving in and out of the building.

Other Stuff

We have a fair amount of disk space available for this class, but you all will be sharing the space with other class members. This also gives you the ability to move, rename or destroy other user's files on the disk. Please do not abuse this ability! If disk space is getting tight, we can take appropriate measures to help remedy the situation. If you are worried about your own files -- perhaps you have a long, involved project you are doing -- there are very simple and easy ways to backup your work on removable media. We will be covering this at some point in class.

As the class progresses, we will be covering more, um, 'esoteric' areas of computer music, programs like Max/MSP, RTcmix, SPEAR and Ableton Live. Our intention is to introduce you to some nifty state-of-the-art-like research and hopefully get you intrigued by the vast possibilities in using computers to make music. Hey! This is Columbia! Go Lions! Don't feel that you are obliged to master (or even use) a lot of what we teach; again the content of your work for this class is ultimately up to you.

Hope you enjoy the class!