Smart Classroom

Montana Students Tackle Digital Music Composition

Darby High School in Darby, MT, has begun the new school year with a new digital music lab designed to teach students, beginning in the eighth grade, to be music producers.

Thanks to a $4,500 Aaron Bolton Memorial grant, music teacher Alex Petrusaitis now has a music production lab with three new computers, music composition hardware programs, audio interfaces and studio monitor headphones.

"That might not sound like a lot," Petrusaitis told the local paper, "but for Darby, it's pretty good."

It has allowed the school to launch its first musical technology course, now with two classes of 14 students each.

"We've been building on the lab for four years now," Petrusaitis said. "This allows more kids in the classroom and more students working with the latest and greatest technology."

It has also allowed him to start teaching them the most fundamental elements of music composition. For instance, in a recent class, Petrusaitis led his students as they created four measures of a drum beat, followed by one measure of drum fill — an exercise they all worked on individually as he moved from station to station providing instruction.

In an arena that is comfortable to his students — one filled with technology — Petrusaitis said he expects to be able to introduce students to the basics of music theory — rhythm, pitch, timbre — in a way that they'll be able to understand it.

He said there are no prerequisites for the music classes at Darby.

"These kids want to do digital music," Petrusaitis said. "If I required students to be in band two years before allowing them in the drum line, I wouldn't have anybody in the drum line."

While they are still just beginning, the hope is that Darby students will present their works at concerts later on in the school year.

About the Author

Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.

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