Joe Smyth was born in Westbrook, Maine, graduating from Westbrook High School in 1975. In 1979 he received a B.M. in Music Composition from the Berklee College of Music, Boston, Massachusetts, where his principal teachers were Alan Dawson and Dean Anderson. In 1981 he received a M.M. in Applied Percussion from the University of Miami, where he studied under Fred Wickstrom and taught as a graduate assistant.