How to record in a noisy classroom

So, you want your students to create music projects that require them to record narration, sound effects, singing or playing of instruments, but you don’t have a professional recording studio and hours of studio time?  It’s more likely that your students are all in one classroom together and you need to use your time wisely.

There are a few ways you can improve the recording process which will ensure a higher level of success for your students and maintain your own sanity at the same time!

Ways to improve recordings

There are quite a few things you can do and most are very straightforward.  Take whatever what works for you, your room size or type and your budget.

1. Find separate, quiet spaces for each student group

If you can split students up into groups and send them into separate areas (spare classrooms, an area down the hall, large closets and so on), they can record their projects without disturbing each other. I know this is definitely NOT an option for many of you due to restrictions on space and the risk of disturbing other classes that are running, but nevertheless, it’s something to consider.

2.Take turns – record on rotation

You might like think ahead about workflow and see if you can vary the workflow for each group.  Decide the different types of steps required to complete the project, including the non-recording tasks such as research, writing, creating artwork and so on – and then ask each group to complete the tasks in a different order so that they are not all recording at once.

3. Use the “better” locations in your classroom

Recording at the sides of the room, or in the corners can help to “encase” the sound.  You want to avoid hard floors, shiny surfaces and brick walls though: look for a part of the room with carpet and walls that have something on them, like an artwork display or pin board.

 4. Use a separate microphone instead of the device’s inbuilt mic

Using the inbuilt microphone on a laptop, iPad or other tablet is an option which is “just OK”.  The benefits are that there’s no extra cost involved and they’re easy to use. If you have nothing else, I wouldn’t let it stop you doing some basic recording projects with students.  The major drawback of the inbuilt mic is that it is not directional – that is, it won’t only record what’s in front of it and will pick up a lot of surrounding or background noise.

If you have some microphones available for students to plug in to the laptop or iPad, it will improve things considerably.

Mic options:

  • Gaming headphones
  • USB mic
  • Dynamic mic (ie. a “stage mic” like a Shure SM58)
  • Condenser mic

At the most basic level, you can use gaming headphones or the type of headphones that come with a Smartphone and have a small mic that dangles near your mouth.  These are okay for recording narration for a story or a podcast, but don’t really cut it for singing projects since the sound will distort easily.

Better still, try a USB mic.  They plug directly into your device via the USB port on a laptop, or via a USB adaptor if you’re using iPads.  They’re an economical choice for schools and they come in a variety of price points (from around $80 each upwards).

If you have iPads, there are a few iPad-specific microphones on the market which plug into the headphone port on the iPad.  I do prefer the USB mics over these because you have the choice of using them with any device, not just the iPad.

Dynamic and condenser mics are on the more expensive end of the scale, but offer great quality (you may even have some at your school already!).  You will need to purchase an additional audio interface or pre-amp of some sort in order to plug them into your laptop or tablet device.  I use a Shure SM58 with my iPad all the time (I plug it in using the IK Multimedia iRig Pre) and it makes the world of difference.

5. Make a mini sound booth

One last option – and this would be a good cross-curricular student project – is to make your own sound booths.  With a few basic items you can create a simple padded box, in which a microphone can be placed.  The sides of the box will shield external noise and will greatly improve recording quality.

This Youtube video shows you how to can make one out of a plastic tub and some bedding foam:

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