Sound Matters: Sound Equipment to Enhance Distance Learning in Orchestra

Mike Lawson • String Section • October 1, 2020

Music listening and playing is ultimately about sound. So why are you not using simple tools to enhance your teaching experience or your online learners experience?

Even a small upgrade in your input (microphones) or output (headphones) can make whatever learning situation you are currently in better for everyone involved. I know students may not be able to get these resources, but you can make your instruction the best it can be, for not a lot of money. Maybe you should use what little money you have this year and invest in some tech; if you purchase quality, you will be able to use it long term, even  when everyone is back in person.

USB Microphones

At the basic level, you should have at least a USB microphone and a pair of headphones. There are many styles to try, and with everything a wide variety of possibilities and price points. For portability, I recommend the Samson Go-Mic (retails for about $50). It clips to the top of any screen (including laptops) and even has a hole in the clip for the laptop’s built-in webcam. It can be unidirectional or omnidirectional at the flip of the switch.

It has a 3.5mm headphone jack on the mic so you can monitor while recording. While best for voice work, it also doesn’t do badly for instrumental work. If you are only interested in doing voice work, the Blue Snowball (again about $50 retail) is very popular amongst all teachers in the online learning situation right now. It even comes with its own desk stand. If you are looking for something that you can use more long-term, there is the Samson QU2 recording package. This is one of the few microphones that features both USB and XLR connections, meaning you could use it in your classroom or auditorium setups.

The package, which is about $70, comes with the microphone, the stand, both USB and XLR cables, and a foam pop filter. Even though it is designed for vocals, again any upgrade from the built-in microphone your computer offers will make your students thank you.

The Next Level

Maybe you are remote teaching the entire year or semester for whatever reason and are interested in upgrading your home studio. Maybe you are one of the orchestra directors who has IAS (Instrument Acquisition Syndrome — no judgement, I suffer from it too!) and has an electric plug in string instrument. Then you are ready to take the next step and get an audio interface for your computer. The Behringer Uphoria UM2 that retails for about $50 has everything you need: one connection that is XLR based and a .” pickup connection for your electric instrument. If you are ready for the next level after that and want to run multiple inputs through online live sessions with an acoustic instrument, I highly suggest the Focusrite Scarlet 2i2 3rd Generation for $160 (this is what I use every day) or the PreSonus Audiobox for $99.


Even in the classroom, students are notorious for mumbling, and it is even worse through online meeting platforms. Give yourself the best chance at hearing them by using a pair of headphones. You also will get less feedback since the output is not coming through the computer speakers, which in most laptops is right next to the microphone. Headphones are a personal decision, but if you are going to be wearing them four to six hours a day or more, I highly suggest you get a pair of decent cans, and avoid the earbuds (we want to protect what little hearing as music teachers we have left). As a personal reference, I picked up a pair of Shure SRH440’s earlier this year on sale, and I love them, even wearing them four to six hours a day like I do right now.

In conclusion, set yourself up for remote teaching success with some good tech hardware. For the price of about three orchestra pieces or less you can set yourself up with at least a microphone, and perhaps an audio interface, and you may already have headphones you can use until you decide to purchase a better pair. We don’t know how long we are going to be in this unknown world of education, but while we are here, our students deserve the best instruction we can offer, even remotely.

Lesley Schultz currently teaches orchestra and secondary general music at Princeton City Schools (Cincinnati, OH). She earned her Bachelors of Music Education from West Virginia University and her Masters of Music Education from Ohio University. Lesley is a Level 2 Google Certified Educator. Lesley keeps an active performing schedule around the state of Ohio, performing with several regional symphonies on viola. She is a member of TI:ME and serves as OMEA Conference Liaison for OMEA and on the conference committee for TI:ME. Lesley is a columnist for SBO Magazine. In her copious amounts of spare time she enjoys knitting, watching West Virginia Mountaineer sports and spending time with her family.



The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!