Pop music composition starters – buy my new book!


“Pop Music Composition Starters” is eleven lesson plans that use the history of American popular music as a backbone to teach composition skills to your secondary music students.

These lessons are tried and true tools to get every student in your music class creating in a way they never thought they could do before. The best part is it’s not a complete curriculum – it can be picked apart and done in any order to enhance what you already have in place.

Students will learn how to write melodies and lyrics, use harmonic progressions, perform accompaniments on multiple instruments, record, and edit sound using popular styles from the past and the present.

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Some lessons require computers and software while others simply require paper and pencil. Some lessons use instruments such as keyboard and guitar while others can be done without instruments at all. Use what you can, adapt what you can, and save the rest for when you can fit it in.

These lessons are the heart of the presentation I’ve written for the National Association for Music Education convention in Grapevine, Texas this November. Being from New York State, the trip to Dallas is going to be expensive. This book is a great opportunity to offer my curriculum for sale to raise some money to defray the cost of the trip and share these lessons with your students.

These lesson plans feature reproducible handouts and step-by-step instructions for each of the pop music compositions I will discuss at the conference. Here’s a full list:

  • Folk Music Lyrics Composition
  • Blues Melody and Lyrics Composition
  • Blues Keyboard Melody Improvisation
  • Rockabilly Guitar Accompaniment Composition
  • Rhythm and Blues Keyboard Accompaniment Improvisation
  • 50s Rock Guitar Accompaniment Composition
  • 70s Bass Line Keyboard Improvisation
  • Rap Introduction Composition
  • 80s Drum Beat Improvisation
  • Sampling Composition
  • Remix Composition

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If you’re not interested in purchasing the lesson plans, you can make a donation of any amount to my trip if you’d like. Thank you so much for your help and support.

Donate with PayPal

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Pop music composition starters – buy my new book!

iPad music camp: Day 4 curriculum

Traditionally, I have run my iPad Music camp during the first full week after school gets out which here in New York State means it’s the week preceding Independence Day. In my first year, July 4th was the Friday so camp ran Monday through Thursday. This year, to avoid the observed holiday, we ran Monday through Thursday (July 2nd). I like the four-day week, so Day 4 is the final day where students should leave with some completed products. (Review Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 here.)


Day 4

Welcome and Review Procedures (2 minutes):

“Roar” (15 minutes):
– Students have been recording the verse to Katy Perry’s “Roar” during camp. This is their chance to finalize editing it to make it perfect.
– Show students how to duplicate a section.
– Students duplicate section so you have four 8-measure sections.
– Export it to Voice Recorder
– Change it to mp3. (This is so teacher can play it in your web browser without downloading it.)
– Turn it in on Edmodo.

Loop-Based Composition (40 minutes):
– Finish your composition from Day 3.
– Take a screenshot in the “All Sections” view so I can see everything.
– Export it to Voice Recorder.
– Convert it to mp3.
– Upload mp3 and the screenshot from your camera album together on the same assignment.

“Smoke on the Water” (30 minutes):
– Show students the Jam session feature and how to connect via Bluetooth.
– Students form groups (up to 5) and choose their instrument.
– One bass
– One/Two drums
– One/Two Hard Rock guitars
– Practice “Smoke on the Water” as a group.
– Bandleader record and export, using same process as before. Type all group member names as you enter the assignment.

Reflection (10 minutes):
– Have students reflect on the questions using Sound Recorder and upload their podcast to Edmodo.

  • What was the best part of the week and why?
  • What was your least favorite part of the week and why?
  • How would you improve the camp?
  • Are you interested in coming back next year for another round?
  • What else would you like me to know?

Clean-up (15 minutes):
– Let the students know they can go on and download their mp3s from Edmodo if they want to save or share their work from the week.
– Have students delete all songs off GarageBand on the school iPad.
– Have students delete all sound recordings from Voice Recorder on the school iPad.
– Have students log off Edmodo on the school iPad.
– Have students delete all pictures or video off the camera roll.
– Plug in to charging stations.


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iPad music camp: Day 4 curriculum

iPad Music Camp: Day 2 curriculum

On Day 1, we spent a lot of time laying the ground work for the rest of camp. We learned the basics of recording, editing, quantization, and more. Now that we have the basics down, we can progress to actually making some music.


Day 2

Welcome and Review Procedures (5 minutes):
– Bathroom, food and drink, general outline, getting iPads

“Roar” (20 minutes):
– Play 45 seconds of Katy Perry’s “Roar,” focusing on the bass line.
– Show students how to get to “Vintage Lead” under the keyboard instruments in GarageBand.
– Demonstrate bass line for students. C2. Pitch middle button (not glissando or scroll)
1—– 2- 6—– 4- 1—– 2- 6—– 4-
– Demonstrate recording over their “Roar” keyboard part and how to delete one track and re-record without starting a new song.
– By end of segment, they should have a clean 8 measures of bass line along with the piano part.

Smart Guitars (25 minutes):
– Demonstrate playing the Smart Guitar (Acoustic) on the screen.
– Notes
– Chords
– Accompaniment patterns
– How to change the pre-set chords
– Five minutes to play around with that and ask questions

“Home” (15 minutes):
– 120 BPM, Autoplay 3, Here are the chords for Phillip Phillips’ “Home.”
– Practice time
– Group performance

Smart Guitars (10 minutes):
– Demonstrate playing the Smart Guitar (Hard Rock) on the screen.
– Accompaniment patterns (different than acoustic)
– Experiment with Vintage Drive and Robo Flanger
– Five minutes to play around with that and ask questions

“Smoke on the Water” (10 minutes):
– Demonstrate the main riff for “Smoke on the Water” using the Hard Rock Guitar.
– Students practice.
– Group perform.

Introduce loops (if time)
– They are in the Track View.

Reflection (10 minutes):
– Review Sound Recorder, converting to mp3s, & sharing to Edmodo.
– Have students reflect on the questions using Sound Recorder and upload their podcast to Edmodo.

  • What did you like better about today than yesterday?
  • How did you improve from Day 1 to Day 2?
  • What specific thing can you improve on as we move to Day 3?
  • Are you having fun? Why or why not?

Clean-up time (5 minutes):
– Students return iPads to their port and charge them. Pick up any trash and discard.


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iPad Music Camp: Day 2 curriculum

iPad Music Camp: getting started


You’re interested in adding some digital music to your curriculum but you don’t know where it would fit. Or maybe you don’t have access to iPads during your school year and in the summer they are free. Whatever your reason, here are the basics for starting your own iPad music camp at school or in your community.


Get the people in power on your side. You’re going to offer a great service to students at virtually no cost to the district and provide an experience they can’t get elsewhere. It helped me to tie it into the new core arts standards and show it wasn’t just “mess around on the iPad” camp. My music supervisor loved the content and my principal loved that it was free to the district. Both of them were interested in the fun and that’s the best selling point for a community education approach, too.


If you can use your school classroom, it takes a lot of the guesswork out of it. You know the equipment, computer, internet connections, and sound system and can hit the ground running. If you are running a camp away from your school or doing a community education class, it’s easier if you have a SMART board but not 100% necessary. Make sure you have wireless internet in your facility and get the password where applicable.


This type of camp only works when your campers are 1-to-1 with technology. Your school district probably has a set of iPads you can use if you ask your administration. As a community education class, you can make an iPad a pre-requisite for the camp or find a local place that will rent them (like this one in Rochester, NY) and you might be able to get a group discount. If students are bringing their own device, supply them with a list of apps to download BEFORE the first day of class so you can get started. All the apps I use are FREE but can be upgraded to do cooler stuff and use more instruments.


Keep in mind that every city and venue is different. In my situation at school, I have limited overhead and am only being compensated for my time. I don’t need supplies, facility rental, mailings, or equipment. (The same can be said for most school districts or community education classes.) I charge $5 an hour per camper for the 2-hour session but you should look around at other day camps in your area for their pricing. Remember that if they have overhead, it’s factored into their cost so at the local art camp where they’re painting, they need to pay for those consumable supplies. In order to be on the up-and-up, my camp runs through our local district’s music education cooperative, which allows me to use the facilities for free as long as I report the income to the IRS. (They provide me with a 1099.)


I play videos on the school’s morning announcements leading up to the sign-up period. These teasers expose kids to what GarageBand can do. It can be an individual building a cool song or a group of students their age playing but I make it look fun. When registration forms come out I have a new video and then another after a couple more weeks. Each video is seen by the students a maximum of three times. Any more than that and they tune out. I also visit as many music classes as I can to discuss the camp with students I don’t see during the school year. I’ve also found that handing a form to a student and telling them to consider attending works wonders. For community education, go where the people are. Post advertisements at the local music shops and libraries. Contact local music teachers and folks who give private lessons.


Decide if you want this camp to reinforce your curriculum or supplement it. My choice is to supplement. The stuff we do in music camp aren’t replicated anywhere in our program. We spend a lot of time on GarageBand basics so they can create music. In our curricular classes, we don’t use iPads at all. I’ll get into specifics on planning in a later post.


You could do paper sign-up forms and hope that students take them home and you get them back. I’ve used that approach but also have an entire online registration set up on my school website. You can create an embeddable form using Google Docs, embed a PayPal button, and now folks can register and pay online!

My next blog post will include the curriculum I use as a guide for your set-up but this is all the background stuff you need. Send me a Tweet or Facebook message if you have questions.


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iPad Music Camp: getting started