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Educational Digital Recording: Hearing How to Improve

By Steffen Parker on December 19, 2017 hst Print

As professionally produced music moved from analog to digital through LPs to cassettes to CDs to iPods and Apple Music, the hardware and technology needed to create that level of quality recording became more common, less expensive, easier to operate and smaller. What once required a large reel-to-reel tape recorder, a multi-channel mixer and several high-quality microphones (with cables and stands), now can be done with a hand-held device and inexpensive input sources.

And, similar to other technology in the 21st century, as soon as you make a purchase, the next generation of equipment, software and features becomes available. Most of the technology updates, however, are inexpensive enough such that only being able to maintain its viability for five years is not a restriction financially.

Even the “digital age” has seen some remarkable improvements in the features that are available, the ease in using the products and the hardware. Years ago, the standard in quality live audio recording equipment was a one-piece unit that could mix inputs, record them on a CD and replicate copies for use when the performance ended. Such units, like the SuperScope system, continue to be viable options for most recording situations in high school music, theatre, drama and forensics programs. They have become easier to use (mainly through the inclusion of a built-in microphone in newer models) and smaller – now in a portable system. And when
recording is done in the same facility on a regular basis and/or the production/replication of a CD is desired, they are still considered one of the best pieces of equipment for the price.

However, the educational use of recordings has progressed, along with the supportive technology, and is now a daily aspect of teaching rather than a one-time focus on the final product. Because recordings can be made with a simple setup of inexpensive equipment, stored as files on a computer and other devices, replayed promptly with existing equipment and shared via email, websites or flash drives, making a recording of a band rehearsal, drama monologue or debate closing argument can be done multiple times prior to a concert, play or competition. With the ability to review rehearsals and performances on an immediate basis, leaders find recording their students to be a critical part of their methods.

Most people have the necessary equipment in their pockets – their smartphone. All types of smartphones (actually their operating systems) have a basic recording app on the phone. Other apps that offer a wider variety of features including external inputs through Bluetooth and Internet connections, separate channels, mixing capabilities, extended recording times and multiple sharing options are available for little or no money. Reading the reviews is always the best way to find the app that works for you, and, in most cases, the smartphone will fill an advisor’s needs.

If your needs to share the device preclude using your own smartphone, but you still want the portability and ease of use that it provides, then a small hand-held digital recorder would be a wise purchase. The Zoom H2 has been the standard unit as the basic, multi-channel, battery-operated recording device that uses Secure Digital chips for storage. The advantage of removable and upgradeable storage makes the use of these devices convenient. Of course, the H2 has been around for more than a decade and Zoom’s H4n, Tascam’s DR-40 or 50, and others are units that cost a bit more but have additional features. As with any technology purchase, reading product specifications, customer reviews and identifying your needs is time well spent. It is a good idea to make sure your handheld device has removable storage like an SD card.

Laptops now have recording capabilities, and like the smartphone, can be extended through more sophisticated applications and additional hardware. More than the smartphone, computer software can range all the way from basic two channels to being comparable to a full-sized recording studio, allowing for the tracking of multiple inputs, fine-tuning each channel and mixing capabilities including sound enhancements. For quality recordings of musical performances, a laptop with two or three input sources and a $100 software program will create all that is needed for rehearsal and concert purposes.

Making a recording of something as simple as a lesson etude, a simple line of dialogue or an introduction can have huge effects and benefits. By providing a recording of a student’s efforts for playback and immediate review will allow you to bring focus to what is done well and what could be done better. Even the most technologically challenged educators can make that happen with the recording device they think is a phone.