Digital audio recorders are excellent for recording and online learning. They are very portable and work with computers, smart phones, tablets, and cameras. They can be used as stand alone audio recorders, USB microphones, smart phone and tablet microphones, and as audio interfaces. They record in a wide range of formats from the lowest quality mp3 to some of the highest professional quality resolutions. They record for hours on AA or AA batteries, and can store many hours of recordings on an SD micro card. The built in mics are excellent, but you can also attach external mics to them. They fit in your hand and you can find them for under $100.
H1n as external microphone with an ipad mini. This also works with my iphone.
iPad built-in mic 0:08
Zoom h1n as mic 0:34
Zoom h1n as mic/ Garage Band running in the background 0:55
Zoom line out connected to ipad lightning port. I used a headphone to lightning adapter, female 3.5mm to male TRRS adapter, 3.5 male to male audio cable. (About $20. for all 3).
My goal is to provide beginning and intermediate students an impediment-free foundation, and to provide advanced students the tools they need in order to interpret music intelligently, in their quest to becoming expert players and musicians.
Enough about me for now. There are more lesson specifics down the page.
LESSONS ARE CURRENTLY ONLINE ONLY.
EQUIPMENT RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ONLINE LESSONS
Samson Go Mic $45.00- $50.00
Fifine K670 $55.00+
JLab Talk Pro $149.00
Audio Technica AT 2020 USB $149.00
Zoom H1n $119. 2 track digital recorder
Zoom H4n $200 4 track digital recorder
Tascam DR 05X $89.00
Tascam DR 40 $120+
Overview: I've tested several USB mics for teaching online and was able to get good sound quality on all of the ones I am recommending. External gain control is not so important for students who don't do much talking in lessons, but is a nice feature for teachers to have. High notes on the flute still tend to distort, even on the more expensive USB mics (especially above A3, and even F#3 on some). I've chosen mics on which I am able to get minimal to no distortion. It is challenging to get good levels for both speaking and playing when using a single mic. In the higher price range, I recommend USB mics that have a headphone jack and gain control ON the microphone over those that do not. I think that a digital recorder is a better option for most advanced students. Zoom (not the app) and Tascam make excellent recorders. These have very good built in mics and they can be used as a USB mic as well as an audio interface. They have a headphone jack. They make very high quality audio recordings on an SD card with very little, and often NO distortion. External mics can also be added to some of them. Files can easily be uploaded to a computer or device to be edited and/or shared. They're small and light: easy to fit in a backpack.
RECOMMENDED MICS: LOW TO HIGH
Prices fluctuate a bit. I found these on August 13, 2020.
Samson GO mic: $45-$50. 2 patterns*: cardioid and omni-directional (there is also an option to lower the decibels on the cardioid pattern by 10 dB). It has a built in headphone jack, comes with a built in clip/stand and a soft case, It is is very small, so it would be easy for students to carry. The clip is very strong so observe caution when removing or replacing the mic from/to the clip.
Fifine K 670: $55.00+ Single pattern (Cardioid) mic with a headphone jack, and comes with a sturdy, built in stand. The sound is a little bright, but for the money, this is a very good mic.
J Lab Pro: $149.00. The J Lab Pro is my current favorite because the gain control is on the mic and there is an excellent display so you can easily see how much you have adjusted it. This is important for switching from playing to speaking. It also has 4 patterns: cardioid, stereo, figure 8, omni-directional, has a headphone jack, detachable tripod, and can also be used on a mic stand. It is quite large, but lightweight. Probably not good for transporting a lot, but fine if kept in one place most of the time. It doesn't sound quite as good as the AT 2020, but the gain control on the mic is worth it for teaching.
Audio Technica AT 2020 USB: $149.00. I get the best sound with the Audio Technica AT 2020 USB mic, BUT, in order to get a great flute sound AND an audible speaking voice, I have to suspend the mic in a shock mount on a mic stand with a boom stick right over me. It is VERY heavy. It comes with a tripod that is a little tricky to balance on a desk top, but it also can fit onto a mic stand. There is a headphone jack, but no gain control on the microphone. It comes with a zippered pouch for storage. The Yeti microphone in this same price range has controls on the mic and 4 patterns, but I prefer the sound of the AT 2020, and for the price, I prefer the JLab Talk Pro because it has comparable features to the Yeti.
*Microphones have polar patterns: how they pick up sound. Some USB mics have only a single pattern, and some have multiple patterns. The three most common patterns are:
Cardioid: the mic pics up the sound from the front of the mic. The pattern is most sensitive at 0° and least sensitive at 180°.
Omnidirectional: has the same sensitivity to sound pressure coming from any direction.
Figure 8: The figure-8 pattern has the same sensitivity at 0° and 180°; it is the least sensitive at 90° and 270°.
There are many USB mics on the market. These are some of the ones I have tested and liked. I also tested the Apogee Mic+ which is around $250, has gain control on the front and can be used on computers AND ios devices. For the high price, it didn't sound any better than the other USB mics, at least on my flute. It has great options for recording on ios devices, but for teaching using a USB mic, I was just as happy with lower priced mics.
MICROPHONES FOR SMARTPHONES AND TABLETS
There are several excellent mics for ios and Android devices, but they don't work in video conferencing apps like Zoom or Face Time because the devices only recognize external mics in the camera (sometimes), their own apps, and audio apps like Garage Band. I'm not sure about Acapella. These are great for making recordings but will not improve the sound quality of lessons at this time. Hopefully this will change soon.
STUDENTS USING THE ZOOM PLATFORM FOR LESSONS MUST HAVE:
PRIVATE LESSON INFO:
Piccolo Lessons: I am happy to include piccolo study as part of the flute lessons of intermediate - advanced players. I offer stand alone piccolo lessons to advanced and professional players only.
NOTE: All students must have a music stand and a metronome. Yes, it isTHAT important. Metronome apps are fine, and, ideally, should be accessible during online lessons.
LESSONS ARE CURRENTLY ONLINE ONLY
Students may choose Zoom, Skype, or Face Time for lessons.
Depending on the internet speed/quality, and the equipment a student has, the online lesson experience can range from terrible to excellent. For the best quality, a very strong internet connection is needed as well as an external microphone and an external audio output. Students will hear very unpleasant feedback and distortion unless they are wearing ear buds, headphones, or are listening though an external speaker. Ear buds and headphones can be uncomfortable, and can make it harder for a students to hear themselves. Options are to cover only one ear, wear one ear bud, or use an external speaker.
With young beginning students, built in microphones are usually OK, but more advanced players are often too loud, and have sounds that are too complex for the built-ins to manage.
If you must use a built in mic, I strongly suggest lessons via Face Time on iPhone or iPad. Record yourself on your device by testing different proximities to it in order to find the least distorted sound BEFORE the first lesson. I have a video demonstrating this below: Equipment Tests.
Compared to other instruments, it is more difficult to get good sound quality when playing the flute into a microphone: built in or external. That said, with a little testing, even an inexpensive microphone can do the job fairly well.
I tested 5 USB microphones in order to see if I could find microphones that do an adequate job with both the flute sound and speaking voice. I set the levels where I could get the best flute sound with no distortion and did not adjust them for speaking.
Samson GO: 0:01
Fifine K670: 1:26
JLAB Talk Pro: 2:44
Apogee Mic+: 4:21
Audio Technica AT2020 USB: 5:47
These days, we all have wifi, which is wonderful for so many things. Unfortunately, it’s not great for online music lessons via videoconferencing apps. The apps themselves have challenges, but there are some pretty good workarounds for the sound. One thing students can do to improve the quality of remote lessons is to hook their computers up to an ethernet cable.
This is very easy to do. The wifi in the rest of the house will still work. Ethernet cables and adapters are inexpensive. Plug an ethernet cable into one of the empty ports on the back of the wifi box (modem) and then plug it into the computer. Turn off the wifi on the computer and you’re good to go.
If the computer doesn’t have an ethernet port (mine doesn’t) you need an adapter. My computer has USB C ports, so I needed an Ethernet to USB C adapter. You can get an adapter for Ethernet to USB, or Ethernet to USB C for under $15.00.
Ethernet cable is also inexpensive. I got a 50’ flat one, so I could run it under an area rug and teach in different rooms in my house, for under $20.00
This video is a test of equipment commonly used in online lessons. Please note that internet speed and the quality of the connection are important for good sound processing online. I tested the built-in inputs from three distances, as well as two different external microphones on an iPad Mini4, iPhone X, and Macbook Pro. I used a Shure MV88 on the iPad and iPhone, and an Audio Technica AT 2020 USB mic on the laptop.
We are hoping to be able to get back to in-person teaching very soon, but as of June 1, 2020, all lessons remain online.
The Dominican Sisters School of Music, located near Mission San Jose in Fremont, CA, is a wonderful facility in a beautiful location with quiet, spacious studios, excellent recital venues on campus, and ample room for workshops, studio classes, and ensembles. DSSM is in a convenient location for people in the East Bay, South Bay, and the 680 Corridor.