Want to Schedule a Lesson?

Call, text, or email me!

(916) 960-6882     carrollaugustin@gmail.com

Composition Lessons

I meet with so many people who have so much latent musical imagination and talent and don't even realize how close they are to being able to bring their musical ideas to life. Unfortunately, most people don't know what it is they don't know, and even if there is a lot of disparate information available online, it can be really difficult to piece it together in a logical sequence without the guidance of someone who has already taken that journey.

I have spent years teaching people music theory and notation, score analysis, instrumentation and orchestration, and basic electronic synthesis, production, and mixing, as well as ear training, music history and repertoire familiarity, and simply the art of composing music that flows in a compelling way. A lot of music theory education gets caught up in a meaningless spiral of labelling chords for no reason, so I try to focus all of my intellectual, academic material on actionable lessons. Yes, we can label what this composer is doing, but why? What makes it work the way it does, and most importantly, what lesson can we take from that and apply to our own music?

The most common problem that students run into isn't something theoretical or academic, though. It's simply:

"I came up with this little bit of music that I like, but now I don't know how to keep going."

If you've gotten that far, your intuitive musical abilities are probably so much more developed that you realize. Let me give you a few new tools, and you'll be able to take them and run.


Music composition is not easily undertaken by someone with no musical experience whatsoever, just as poetry is not easily written by someone lacking a basic grasp on a language. That being said, you don't need some fancy, extensive educational pedigree to learn to compose. The background for a successful student often sounds something like this: "I took piano lessons for a few years as a kid, and now I just sort of mess around and come up with little things, but I don't really know what I'm doing."

The important thing is that you have immersed yourself in music in some way, whether that be formal training or just aimless experimentation. If you have no musical experience at all, I recommend taking piano lessons for a little while first. (I teach piano as well and would be happy to teach you "pre-composition" piano.)

I recommend that new students have basic keyboard skills and basic understanding of music notation, but I am always impressed with students' ability to quickly fill in the gaps and skip the years of academic study that I went through. I am happy to start from square one with any motivated student.

I also recommend that you have already started composing! One of the first requests I make of new students is to hear something they've composed, even if they aren't satisfied with it, even if it's incomplete. You will learn more from your first uninstructed compositions than from any lesson I can prepare for you.

Electronic Music

If you are interested in composing digitally (whether that be "purely" electronic music, or digital emulation of the orchestra), you should have a MIDI-capable keyboard, a computer, and some kind of Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software, such as Logic, FL Studio, Pro Tools, Reaper, Digital Performer, Reason, etc. For beginners, I recommend GarageBand as it is an excellent user-friendly beginning DAW that is free and makes an easy transition into the more complete Logic, but it is only available for Mac computers.

It is up to you to learn to use your DAW of choice. (There are many, many free online resources available for this.) I can give you insights into the technical possibilities of your DAW, but I may or may not know the organization and layout of the one you have chosen. My lessons focus on higher-level aspects of music theory and composition and apply no matter what system you're using.

Lesson Format

I teach 50-minute weekly lessons, either remotely through Discord or from my home in Southeast Portland, OR. Shorter time slots are simply not effective for composition and theory. (Even 50 minutes can fly by!) Students often end up alternating phases in which they spend a few weeks learning a new formal concept and working on analysis, and then spend a few weeks composing something new and getting feedback from me, but the format is up to you. If you don't know where to start, I have structured and refined a "learning path" of lessons that I can take you through, but I like to check in with students regularly, give them options, and ultimately let them decide which of the many branching paths of music composition they want to go down next.

Remote Learning

For remote composition and theory lessons, I teach using Discord, a free digital communication platform that offers instant messaging, voice calling, and video calling from person to person or in shared servers. If you are a new student and have never used Discord before, please make an account and familiarize yourself with it before your scheduled lesson time. Lessons are often scheduled back-to-back and I cannot extend your lesson to compensate for time lost due to lack of technical preparedness. Reliable internet connection is very important to keep remote lessons running smoothly. Headphones must be used to elimate echo and a decent external microphone is preferred. A webcam is welcome, but not required, as visual instruction will primarily be done through screen sharing.

COVID Safety

In order to protect my students and their families, I ask that everyone entering my home be fully vaccinated or wear a mask for the duration of their time inside, and to please not come for lessons if you are not feeling well.

Want to Schedule a Lesson?

Call, text, or email me!

(916) 960-6882     carrollaugustin@gmail.com