Dren McDonald teaching a class at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music
  1. Areas of Study
  2. Technology and Applied Composition

Curriculum: TAC Undergraduate Students

"One could call TAC the perfect marriage of technology, classical musicianship, and experimentation."  — KQED, Northern California Public Broadcasting

Radically creative. Radically pragmatic.

Our interconnected courses are built to transform you intellectually, artistically, professionally, and individually. In addition to an outstanding Conservatory education in areas such as musicianship, music theory, composition, and orchestration, undergraduate (BM) TAC students will take a selection of the courses listed below.





Curriculum: Bachelor of Music in Orchestral Instruments
Credit total: 129

Requirement Cr.
Private Instruction 8
Performance Classes 4
Humanities and Sciences 30
Technology and Applied Composition 34
Musicianship and Music Theory 26
Music History and Literature 14
Professional Development 4
Applied Practical Training 10
Ensembles 1
Winter Term 3 Years
Digital Portfolio 4 Years
Juries and Recital N/A

Composer at the Keyboard
Composition Workshop
Computer Sciences for Musicians
Financial Literacy
History of Electronic Music
Introduction to Sound Recording
Music Theory
Production Techniques in Logic Pro
Production Techniques: Ableton Live
Professional Fundamentals
Private Composition Lessons
Game Audio
Tools, Techniques and Analysis
Introduction to Sound Design
Portfolio Review
Film Music
Building Applications for Music in Max/Msp
Theory of Musical Synthesis
Business for the Media Composer
Experimental Instruments and their Repertoire
Modern and Contemporary Composition Techniques
Mixing Workshop

Technology and Applied Composition Course Descriptions

Composer at the Keyboard
Class Piano-style course designed to develop and internalize fundamental harmonic listening, as well as common rhythmic patterns and textures, through intensive piano exercises. More advanced students can test out of the first year but are required to do at least one year of advanced study. Additional lab sections may be added for students in need of continued instruction.

Tools, Techniques, and Analysis
This course introduces studio technology as a vehicle for realizing musical ideas through listening and practice. The keyboard is the primary instrument for the student to realize goals. Other tools will be explored. Students will engage in the analysis of traditional and multimedia works with corresponding scoring assignments, and be introduced to basic production techniques through exercises corresponding to sonic quality, compositional methodology, aesthetics, and context. The principal aim of this course is to develop students’ ability to write and produce convincingly in a variety of styles.

Introduction to Sound Recording
Introduction to recording studios, equipment and technology. Students will learn the concepts of psycho-acoustics, listening for EQ, compression, stereo field, and reverb. Students will learn terminology of studio roles/division of labor, theory of analog and digital recording, and how microphones and mixers are designed to function. Student will also learn basic audio editing in Pro Tools, how to set up a session file, automation, and basic exporting of an audio session.

Introduction to Sound Design
Students learn practices of Foley, voice, and sound design through field recording, working with narrative and actors, developing sound effects, layering samples, and incorporating synthesizers. By the end of this course students will understand signal chains of effects and musicality in sound implementation as well as the emotional and narrative aspects of sound.

Production Techniques: Apple Logic Pro X
Students transfer their knowledge of Digital Audio Workstation functionality between platforms and expand beyond audio to MIDI, realizing techniques for traditional writing using the computer as a tool. Understanding workflow techniques, editing audio and MIDI, using software instruments, working with audio effects, mixing and automation, and the manipulation of pitch and time are covered in the course. Students will learn to edit to picture using Quicktime, as well as use Logic’s software instruments for synthesis, sampling, and sequencing.

Production Techniques: Ableton Live
Students transfer their knowledge of Digital Audio Workstation functionality between platforms and expand beyond audio to MIDI, realizing techniques for electronic music production as well as using the computer as a tool for live performance. Understanding workflow techniques, editing audio and MIDI, using software instruments, working with audio effects, mixing and automation, as well as using performance workflows are covered in the course.

Portfolio Review
Students will receive weekly mentoring that involves critical feedback and recommendations regarding the student’s developing portfolio of work samples. The objective of this mentoring is to move the student towards a jury (portfolio review) at the end of the sophomore year.

Private Lessons
Students will receive weekly mentoring that involves critical feedback and recommendations regarding the student’s developing portfolio of work samples. The objective of this mentoring is to prepare the student’s portfolio for professional life upon graduation.

TAC Composition Workshop
Through a series of collectively coordinated lectures over the course of an academic year, students complete composition assignments, attend lectures, and receive feedback from a roster of accomplished visiting industry faculty directly related to the fields of scoring for film, games, and other emerging media.

Music for Film
This course explores the history, aesthetics, and technique of composing music for films. Students will study how music in film creates a sense of dramatic structure, of time and place, of character, and what is unseen and unspoken, all in the service of telling a story. Emphasis is placed on film music's incorporation of folk music, popular music, 19th-century symphonic style, 20th-century modernism, jazz, minimalism, and pre-existing classical music.

Modern and Contemporary Composition Techniques
Students learn to analyze, write, and produce music in the styles of composers both within and beyond the classical canon of the last 100 years. Popular, folk, electronic, and experimental traditions of music will be investigated.

History of Electronic Music
Students will study the history of electronic music as an artistic and technological phenomenon with roots as far back as the invention of Morse Code in 1837, from Edgar Varese's insistence in 1922 that "the composer and the electrician will have to labor together"  through the invention of the synthesizer, to the advent of computer music. This course examines the evolution of electronic music, and its tools and applications, in classical music and beyond.

Max/MSP I: Building Musical Applications
Students learn techniques for using the computer for random, procedural, and generative operations to produce a custom music app in Max/MSP. Students are introduced to basic programming concepts in a visual object-oriented environment and gain an understanding of what it means to work in a nonlinear paradigm. In this instance, the computer is used as a vehicle to design processes that exceed the limitations of traditional composition and give "under the hood" insight into many third-party software solutions commonly used for implementation in video games.

Max/MSP II: Theory of Musical Synthesis
Students learn the theory behind standard synthesis techniques such as signal generation, additive synthesis, frequency modulation, and advanced topics in computer music. Students will demonstrate their understanding by performing the techniques in the analog realm on modular synthesizers and through object-oriented programming, building on their knowledge of Max/MSP.

Mixing Workshop
Students practice the art of MIDI Mockups for speed and excellence in sound. Students learn to organize and manage content, files, and documentation using high end sound libraries such as Vienna Strings and hybrid acoustic/electronic scenarios.

Game Audio
Basic techniques for implementation and industry workflows using middleware software such as Fmod and Wwise and Unity. Students learn how a game is scored and implemented into an interactive medium with professionally simulated workflows.

Business for the Media Composer
This course prepares students for employment and advancement in the constantly evolving music and media industry. Students will gain experience creating professional business plans and strategies for generating revenue from music production, licensing, promotion, and performance. Students will become familiar with the intricacies of publishing, royalties, and other financial issues related to developing one’s own career. This course will emphasize career development through the art of budgeting, branding, and recognizing opportunities in the media arts business world and beyond.

Improvisation Workshop
Critical studies in social uses of music, structure, indeterminacy, and creative application of tools. Student will create spontaneous compositions with acoustic sound and live electronic sources as exercises for analyzing, performing, and creating music in real time. Related reading and writing assignments will inform the work done in this course.

Experimental Instruments and Their Repertoire (Music History Elective)
This course exposes students to the considerable flowering of experimental instrument building in the 20th and 21st centuries, particularly in California. Addressing construction principles but staying focused on repertoire, we will investigate the instruments and music of Luigi Russolo, Harry Partch, Lou Harrison, Paul Dresher, Ellen Fullman, Mark Appelbaum, Bart Hopkins, and many others. Coursework consists of lectures, listening, readings, individual, and group projects. (Pending instructor availability)

This course provides detailed study of every instrument in the modern orchestra, with demonstrations by players. It includes orchestrations of adaptable piano pieces that will receive a reading by an orchestra. Students also study scores extensively, write piano reductions of orchestral excerpts, and orchestrate piano reductions of orchestral music for advanced comparison with the original. Offered Fall semester only. Requires instructor approval.

Music Theory
First-year music theory strengthens perceptions of common-practice harmonic language through voice-leading exercises and harmonic analysis, and also introduces the rudiments of musical form and structural analysis. The first semester covers elementary harmonic principles, figured bass, harmonization of melodies, voice leading, cadences, and chord progressions. Simple phrases, motives, and cadences serve as an introduction to formal analysis. In the second semester, the harmonic language broadens to include tonicization and modulation, figuration, non-chord tones, and elementary chromaticism. Formal analysis includes phrase expansions and basic phrase structures. Second-year music theory increasingly focuses on formal analysis while continuing training in harmony. In the first semester, studies in harmony include modulation to near-related and foreign keys, secondary harmony, and basic chromaticism. Formal analysis includes the various song forms. The second semester focuses entirely on formal structure and analysis, emphasizing the larger homophonic forms such as aria, sonata-allegro, rondo, ritornello, and fugue.

During the first semester, students will examine the procedures of 16th-century counterpoint using the works of Palestrina and other composers as models. Background work covers the study of church music, liturgical forms and traditions, plainchant, and the beginnings of polyphony. Writing motets and madrigals is included. Model and student works will be sung in class. During the second semester, students will examine tonal contrapuntal procedures of the 17th through 20th centuries, with an emphasis on baroque practice. Students compose and analyze examples including dance forms, inventions, chorale preludes, and fugues.

First-year musicianship builds a firm foundation through drills, dictation, and performance. The syllabus includes sight singing and melodic dictation of major and minor melodies in F, G, and C clefs, rhythmic drills involving simple and compound meter, diatonic harmonic dictation, and sing-and-play drills involving similar harmonic materials. Second-year musicianship expands skills through dictation and performance of more complex musical materials. The syllabus contains sight-singing and melodic dictation in F, G, and C clefs that incorporate modulation and chromaticism, rhythmic drills involving polyrhythms and complex divisions of the beat, diatonic and chromatic harmonic dictation, and sing-and-play exercises involving modulation and chromaticism.

Introduction to Conducting
This course examines the physical technique of conducting, score preparation, and rehearsal techniques.

Computer Science for Musicians
This course will introduce students to the field of computer science and the fundamentals of computer programming. This course is intended for students with no prior programming experience. This course will touch upon a variety of fundamental topics within the field of Computer Science and will use Javascript, one of the three core technologies of World Wide Web content engineering alongside HTML and CSS.

Financial Literacy
This course will provide students a base knowledge of using the language of money and business, an essential language for any professional field. Students will develop a base ability using this language through a variety of activities to explore basic financial tools including creating a budget for a business. Creating a budget is something that is relevant to adult life whether or not there is intent to use one for a purpose of freelancing, creating a business, or becoming a member of a music based business. Toward the end of the class students will get to create a plan for an imagined business in the music field that includes a budget.

Professional Fundamentals
Professional Fundamentals is a module-length course introducing students to the core topics necessary for success as a 21st-century professional. In addition, students will explore the wide array of career options available to them and discover how their skills as a musician can be used for success in any field. Topics include building a professional portfolio, performance psychology, project management, graphic design, and audio technology.