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Have you ever been curious about purchasing microphones for you and your students to use in music classes? Did you know that microphones can be easy to use and relatively budget-friendly?
It’s back-to-basics month here on the blog and podcast and in this article I wanted to cover a commonly asked question: which microphone/s would work well in my music classroom?
Access to even just a few microphones can be SO useful. You can create better recordings of your students in class, your students can use them to record podcasts, raps, singing or playing and you can use them to create your own teaching resources like tutorials, task walkthroughs or to teach the parts of a song.
I won’t be talking today about the high-level microphones that you would use in a recording studio to produce an album of your school ensemble’s pieces for the year, or to record senior student’s end of year performance. Instead, we’ll talk about inexpensive options that can be used in classes of 20+ students, multiple times per day.
But wait – isn’t there an inbuilt mic on my laptop and iPad?
Why consider using an external microphone at all when there is an inbuilt mic on most devices? If you or your students have used the inbuilt device mic, you probably found that it picked up EVERYTHING in the surrounding area – the students on the next table, the drum teacher next door, the birds outside the classroom window and the announcements over the PA. The end result is messy, loud and disheartening!
When recording in a classroom situation you will never get a studio-quality result, but when you add in “proper” external mics into the mix, you will instantly lift the quality of the recording and you’ll find the benefits are enormous.
One of the main reasons is that if you use a directional mic, it will pick up only the sound only that is just in front of the mic, and not the whole room (plus the sounds down the corridor!).
So – what would you use microphones for in your classroom? There are many times when a microphone would come in handy. Here are a few ideas:
For the teacher:
- Record yourself singing to demonstrate a part to students or to create a rehearsal track
- Record the piano accompaniment to make a backing track
- Record an example project to show your students what you want them to do
- Record a tutorial video – like a screencast (a recording of your computer screen) or you in front of camera. By lifting the audio quality, students are more likely to listen to your instructions!
- Record your own podcast
- Use the mic while running live webinars
- Record your student performances (informal or formal) to show family and friends what is happening in music class
- Record small group performances in class
- Record their own cover songs
- Record pieces for assessment and tracking
- Record their own podcasts for an assignment
- Record a rap or vocals for a song
What type of microphone should I buy for classroom use?
When purchasing mics for your classroom, look for options that are:
- Simple for you and students to use
- Not too expensive
Best option: USB microphones
USB mics are SO easy to use and as you can probably guess, they plug into your device via the USB port. They are literally “plug n’ play” and you don’t need any other gear to make them work. There are lots of USB mics on the market and they range in price from less than $100 up to a few hundred dollars.
USB mics would be my top recommendation if you’re looking for something you can use with your students in class. Students will find them easy to use for their recording projects and it can be handy to own one yourself.
I own two USB mics and use them all the time with my Mac laptop and with my iPad (you’ll need to get the Apple USB adaptor for your iPad). They are my go-to options for recording my podcast episodes, for recording video tutorial voice-overs, for running training webinars and Facebook lives and for capturing quick performances.
Which USB mics should you buy?
The range of microphones available changes frequently, so it’s a good idea to talk to your local music tech retailer for advice.
Things to consider:
- Price point
- Mic type: unidirectional, omnidirectional, dynamic, condenser
- Style: handheld, desktop
A few USB mic options (I have the first two in this list):
- Blue Snowball: has a switch which allows you to select unidirectional or omnidirectional settings so it’s good for recording individuals as well as small groups. The Snowball mic is on a small tripod so it’s not so good for vocalist that might want to hold the mic while they sing. The ball-shaped head of the mic can be unscrewed from the tripod and you can then screw it onto a regular mic stand
- ATR2100: this mic allows you to use a USB cable OR an XLR mic cable. It’s a handheld-style mic, so suitable for vocalists to hold. I use this mic to record my podcast episodes.
- Blue Yeti: the big brother of the Blue Snowball mic
- Samson Meteor: this one is a super-cute pocket-sized mic
- Samson C01U: a larger-sized condenser USB mic
Also consider: XLR microphones
In addition to USB mics you can also consider using XLR mics. Generally speaking, XLR microphones will give you more flexibility and better quality. They are useful for the classroom but can also be used for studio recording and for onstage performance.
My biggest tip for XLR mics is to look around your school and see if you already have some lying around! Many schools have Shure SM58 vocal mics that are used for school assembly announcements and so on. Perhaps there are some in a cupboard that you can “borrow”?
In order to connect an XLR mic to your laptop or iPad, you’ll need an extra piece of equipment: an audio interface of some description. If you’re using a condenser mic you’ll need an audio interface that has phantom power in order to make it work.
A few XLR mic options:
- Shure SM-58 Dynamic Microphone
- Samson C01 Condenser Microphone
- Audio Technica AE3300 Condenser Microphone
- AKG D5 Dynamic Microphone
Audio interfaces come in a variety of sizes (number of instruments that can be plugged in at one time), styles and prices. A detailed explanation is beyond the scope of this article, but here are a few options you can consider:
- Tascam iXZ Interface: a great compact, inexpensive option for schools
- Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Audio Interface: this one is part of my home recording setup
- Steinberg UR12 Audio Interface
- Steinberg UR44 Audio Interface
- Behringer U-PHORIA UM2 Audio Interface
Further reading and useful links
- How To Record Students in a Noisy Classroom
- What I Learnt Recording a Middle School Orchestra
- The Quick Guide to Recording Vocals in any Software Application checklist
- How to Plug a Microphone Into Your Computer
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Looking for More Resources for Music Teachers?
Hello! I’m Katie Wardrobe – an Australian music technology trainer and consultant with a passion for helping music teachers through my business Midnight Music.
I’m a qualified teacher but no, I don’t currently teach in a school. I help teachers through my online professional development space – the Midnight Music Community – where there are tutorial videos, courses, links and downloadable resources.
I like to focus on easy ways to incorporate technology into what you are already doing in your music curriculum through a range of creative projects. I also run live workshops and have presented at countless conferences and other music education events.
If you want simple, effective ideas for using technology in music education, I would LOVE to help you inside the Midnight Music Community.