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It is that time of year when many of us elementary music educators are preparing for a performance and we are given the task of trying to comprehend the sound system.
Earlier this month, a post spoke to the concepts of space, portable sound systems, and microphones for when you have to amplify your students’ voices because you are in a space that diminishes sound. Today’s post addresses how to interpret the soundboard.
I am not an expert…
Again, I state for the record:
First off, I am not an expert. I am an elementary music educator who, like many, did not take a course in sound, but has gone to several sessions or online webinars to learn more about how to amplify voices or find the correct balance from a sound system.
Second, I learn by trial and error. Whether it be baptism by fire, or years of improving upon learned errors, I know that I will make mistakes when it comes to the sound system. I do my best to stick to my goals: To assist with the students feeling confident when they perform and to make sure that their performance is a safe space for them. Are there years when I wished I knew more about the sound so that the system worked properly? Yes. Many times yes. However, I cannot go back and change the sound system, so I need to learn to work with it.
On the Samson Expedition, I have the following little mixer that does the job I need in my classroom and when unexpectedly, the sound system in the auditorium quits during a rehearsal.
This mixer connects to two larger speakers (where you see the red cords) and you can also add inputs such as microphones, devices, amps, and more. Currently, the 1/4 inch cables are linked to iPads so that the students can play virtual instruments in our classroom and we can have an acoustic/electronic ensemble.
However, three days before our holiday concert last week, we lost power and the the generator kicked in at school. I am thankful that we have a generator. However, the power loss produced a blown fuse ten minutes before the rehearsal and our sound system went down. I grabbed the Samson Expedition, plugged it in, and had a system working again. Since I had no accompanist for this rehearsal, I was relying on recordings to assist with accompanying the students.
When looking at this board, it is not very complicated. I start from the top and go down when looking at the channel. The top begins with HF (high frequency), then LF (low frequency), then Reverb, and then Volume. The HF and LF are apart of the EQ (equalizer), which assists in the balance of frequencies. These frequencies are the sound. Reverb adds a sense of space to the sound. Finally, volume controls how loud and quiet you want the sound.
This mixer assists me a lot when mixing acoustic and electronic sounds together for an ensemble. It also is a great system for when I need to present at a workshop or need a backup system quickly.
Allen & Heath GLD
In our sound booth, we have an Allen & Heath GLD sound board. This is much more complex than the Samson mixer, but I do approach it the same way. I just have a lot more options.
Looking at the board from left to right, the board has color coding to assist with labeling. With the color coding, I know that my dark blue channels are for handheld microphones, purple are for hanging microphones, green are for lavaliers, and the far right channels are for the auxiliary inputs such as the stage monitors, music players, etc.
I begin working with each channel the same way I did with the Samson: start at the top and work my way down. At the top of the channel is the knob that I designated as the gain. I can also pan the channel through this knob as well. The next button mutes the channel. Under the mute button, there are green, blue, and white buttons that allow me to select the channels to tweak them and to mix other channels into them. This gets complicated and for me, it means a phone call to the fabulous company that installed it so I can ask the experts on how to tweak the channels.
Finally, the sliders are my volumes. I usually set the sliders at 0 and use the gain knobs to tweak the volume of each channel.
Things I have learned…
As I stated, I am no expert. As I write this, I asked my husband again, who works in audio, sound, and post-production, to explain EQ to me in simple terms. However, when we find ourselves having to work with various sound systems, it can be challenging. Here it is what I have learned:
- Ask for help. Call the makers of the sound board or call a company like Sweetwater to see if they can assist with you learning how to use it.
- Look for YouTube videos or google for help with your particular system.
- Ask Facebook music teacher groups or tweet a help-message out to #mused or #elmused to see if you can find another music educator who can assist you.
- Go to sessions about sound and audio at conferences. TI:ME (Technology in Music Education) always has sessions about this at their conference. They have their upcoming national conference at TMEA in February of 2020.
- Find webinars from music tech experts about this topic.
- Find articles through google searches.
- Finally, ask questions from anyone who understands how to use sound in a concert. It is something that cannot be easily taught, but can be learned through a lot of experimentation.
I hope that this helps. It is not something I have perfected and have made unfortunate errors during a concert. However, it is a learning process and if I ask my students to question and try new things with the knowledge that their mistakes will help them learn, then I must follow the same advice.
Amy M. Burns is an elementary music educator, clinician, author, and musician. She currently works at Far Hills Country Day School in Far Hills, NJ teaching PreK through Grade 3 general music, grade 5 instrumental music, and grades 4-8 instrumental band. She is the author of Technology Integration in the Elementary Music Classroom, Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with a SMART Board, and Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with One or more iPads! She is also an author for Online Learning Exchange™ Interactive Music powered by Silver Burdett. She has given numerous presentations on integrating technology into the elementary music classroom as well as being a keynote speaker for music technology conferences in Texas, Indiana, St. Maarten, and Australia. She is the recipient of the 2005 TI:ME Teacher of the Year Award, the 2016 NJ Master Music Teacher Award, the 2016 NJ Governor’s Leader in Arts Education Award, and the 2017 Non-Public School Teacher of the Year Award. You can find out more about Amy at her website: amymburns.com