Recording in the Classroom

My Twitter friend Gary Abud (past Michigan Teacher of the Year) recently asked me on Twitter to recommend a tool to use in recording choirs during class. He told me, “I have a choir teacher who wants to record and play back his students’ singing so they can ‘review film’ so to speak.”

In Rockford, we’ve been using the Zoom H4N for several years. It’s been a really effective tool in a number of situations, but it isn’t what I recommended to Gary. Zoom now makes a stereo mic with a lightning connector – it connects to your Apple iDevice of choice and records to their free software. Easy to then share the recordings without the hassle of connecting a USB Cable, downloading the files, etc. 
I also shared with Gary a few of the ways that I and my wife have used the portable recorder over the years. To me it’s indispensable.
1. Instant Playback
You can tell students what you heard during rehearsal, or you can let them hear it themselves. A three-minute pause to listen (caveat: you must teach them how to listen, first) is worth five times that much rehearsal time in the right situation. A week before the concert, record the piece, then listen back. There are several tacks to take from that point. You could:
  • open up for limited questions (this can get out of hand but allows the insights of the group to get shared across all the members)
  • instruct the choir to each fix one or two things they heard, and jump right back into singing
  • use a blog/Twitter/Facebook discussion to immediately share ideas silently (I haven’t had the technology available to do this, but maybe you have a one-to-one tech school?)
2. Delayed Playback
I rehearse with the Rockford Aces once per week. The Zoom has enabled us to keep moving forward between rehearsals. If we spend significant time on three pieces in a give Monday rehearsal, I will record our final run-through of the evening (or do a mini-performance of all three in the last ten minutes of rehearsal). I share these privately to the free music sharing service SoundCloud (they each set up an account) and we all listen and discuss in our free time during the week. It’s amazing to see what the students hear, and the fact that they can each add their voice to the musical development of the piece – without creating chaos during rehearsal – is invaluable.
This also creates a year-long record of their development. They can go back and hear how their sound has improved from September to May.
3. Auditions
Invariably we have a few students who need to record themselves singing. It takes only a few minutes to set up the recorder, hit record, and have an mp3 ready to email or upload to their music school audition or scholarship application.
4. Accompaniment/part recordings
Actually, you’re usually better off asking your student to pull out their phone for these. Then it’s automatically on the device they have with them, and they (usually) know exactly how to use it.
5. On the Road Recordings
On our European tour in July, 2014, we brought our handheld recorder and a tripod. For the cost of a mini SD card and a few AA batteries, we got high quality recordings of performances in fabulous cathedrals throughout central and Eastern Europe. These recording will be put on the CD we are currently producing from the trip.
Portable recording technology has changed so fast and so thoroughly since I was in high school; the new educational opportunities now available in the classroom are massive. I’m sure there are many I haven’t mentioned – please post in the comments how you use recorders in your choir.

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