Whether it’s a school concert, instrumental piece or a song in the classroom often teachers find it beneficial to record the musical activities going on in the school. There are many benefits in doing so including: for the purposes of assessment, to share the recording with the wider school community such as parents, or simply as a way to document the music making for the pupils themselves.
Whatever the reason that is useful for you as a teacher, the tricky part can be to know how to get started and what tools to use.
In this blog we give a basic guide to some recording software, devices and techniques to be aware of which can help you successfully capture the music making in the classroom.
1. Recording Software
Here is a list of free software which we recommend for recording in the classroom.
Audacity is a free recording software available to download for Windows or Mac computers. The interface is relatively straightforward to use and you can easily record directly from the inbuilt mic on your computer.
The software is easy to layer tracks on top of each other if you want to record, for example, two different harmony lines from within the classroom. You can also then mute certain lines when you’re playing them back.
Users can also access lots of in-built settings to manipulate the sound such as adding echo or distortion.
Check out the complete guide to using the software: https://audacitydownload.com/
Click here to download Audacity:
GarageBand is a native application on all Mac computers. This unfortunately means it can’t be used on Windows computers.
Arguably the interface is even easier to use than Audacity. Tracks are nicely colour coded and almost everything can be done through a simple drag and drop process.
What also makes Garageband stand out is it’s great inbuilt library of instrument sounds. Everything from drums to guitars and saxophones to synths: there is a huge range of possibilities to get started with.
If you’re a teacher who has some musical skills (or has access to someone who does), these in-built sounds can be great for plugging in a MIDI keyboard and laying down some chords. This can open up the possibility for the class to sing or play a piece along with a backing track that either you or they have created.
While getting the music recorded might be the tricky part, the fun part comes when you can use GarageBand to play around with different sounds and change the effects on the parts you've recorded.
You can also use GarageBand on your iPhone or your iPad.
Find out more about GarageBand here https://apps.apple.com/us/app/garageband/id408709785
If neither Audacity or GarageBand are available or if your computer set-up is not in a position to download a piece of software, Hya-Wave is an online free alternative.
Hya-Wave allows you to upload audio files from your computer onto their website and you can use their sound editing tools directly within the browser. The tools are very basic and so wouldn’t have the same capabilities as the previous two softwares. It is however very easy to use and could be perfect if you’re doing a recording and want to do some basic cutting on the overall track.
Important to note, this application will only work in Google Chrome.
You can access their site here: https://wav.hya.io/#/fx
3.) Recording Hardware
a) Zoom Recording Devices
Zoom recorders are the gold standard of handheld recording devices. The inbuilt mics are high quality and the fact that it is battery powered allows you to set it up wherever you want without relying on a power source.
The Zoom recorders use an SD card which you can then connect into your computer to download the audio files onto your desktop.
Zooms start at around €90 for the basic H1n handheld recorder and can go up to several hundred euros based on the increased specification of the model or the amount of accessories required. Here’s the full list of options available on Thomann https://www.thomann.de/gb/zoom_portable_recorders.html
If you have a few different school music events such as school concerts or even want to try making a podcast with the students, getting the school to invest in a Zoom recording device would be an ideal resource to have.
b) Your Phone
Increasingly the technology on phones is getting to a point where you can produce decent music recordings. It won’t be the greatest quality as compared to a Zoom or a good external mic (which we’ll get to) but if you’re simply looking to have a recording for reference purposes most inbuilt mics on a phone will be good quality.
Typically there is an inbuilt app for phone recordings but there are also countless apps in the app store which can be downloaded for use. Here is a list of apps you can refer to.
c) External Mic
A final option would be to plug a mic directly into your computer so that you can use it with a program like GarageBand or Audacity. For a good quality sound you’d be best to look at getting a condenser mic with a usb lead so that you can plug it directly into the computer.
The benefit of a condenser mic is they tend to capture a larger frequency range than other types of mic. They also tend to have a larger output sound.
There are a lot of options for condenser mics and they typically start around the €40 range. Here’s a link to the different types on Thomann: https://www.thomann.de/ie/condenser_microphones.html?oa=pra
3.)Technique for recording
Here are a few simple tips to be aware of when recording in the classroom:
a) Placement in the room
It's important to be mindful of where you place your recording device in the room. If you were, for example, recording a school concert and had the device in the middle of the audience, be mindful that the audience’s applause might be the loudest element recorded. If this is the case, you may need to find an alternative location to record from.
b) Not too close to speakers
If a class is singing along to a backing track, like before, be careful with placing the recording device too close to the speakers as it may be too loud and not give sufficient balance to the singing.
c) Stereo vs. Mono
With most recording devices you typically have an option to record as either stereo or mono. If you’re recording in the classroom, we would recommend recording as stereo which means it captures the audio in the full room rather than mono which is targeting just the sound the microphone is pointed at.
d) Gauging the volume on the device
Many devices will have a screen where you can see the needle jump to show you how loud the recording is. We would recommend you stay within two thirds of the full dial so that the sound doesn’t ever distort for being too loud.
The advice in this blog was given by sound engineer, producer and good friend of DabbledooMusic, Alex Borwick. You can check out some of Alex’s work here: https://www.alexborwick.com/.
For more articles like this, check out our complete guide to teaching the Irish primary music curriculum: