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Sound Editing Basics: Audacity

Audacity is a free software for sound editing that is easy and simple to use! Features include a tone and noise generator, noise removal, reversing, filters, and pitch shifting.

How it Looks

This is a blank project that appears when you open the application. 

At the menu bar you can show or hide toolbars. 

You may want to take a second to get familiar with what each one is called and does. You can also rearrange their order by grabbing at the leftmost corner with all the lines. 

Upper Toolbar Dock Area

This is where all of your important toolbars are located. Consult the sections below for descriptions of each toolbar. 

Transport Toolbar

The Transport Toolbar is where you will find the pause, play, stop, skip to start, skip to end, and record buttons. 

Tools Toolbar

These tools function by clicking the mousepad or clicking, holding, and dragging. 

  • "Select" lets you select parts of your audio clip for all kinds of editing. 
  • "Envelope" lets you change the volume level and make new points on the clip to shape the volume of your clip. 
  • "Samples" lets you draw your own sound wave, though only if you are zoomed all the way in. 
  • "Zoom" lets you zoom in by clicking on your audio clip, and zoom out by pressing shift and clicking on the clip. You can find keyboard shortcuts for  zooming if you go to the menu bar at the top, View > Zoom. 
  • "Time-Shift" lets you drag your clips around your timeline and across multiple tracks. 
  • "Multi" lets you use all the tools at once. You can select how you would normally select, however the other tools require different things than they normally would. To use envelope, the cursor needs to be towards the top or bottom of the audio clip, then you can use the tool how you normally would. To use sample, you must be all the way zoomed in and hovering the cursor right on the dotted line. To use zoom in, you must press Ctrl, right click, and drag over the region you want to zoom in on. To zoom out, you must press Ctrl and click. To use time shift you must press Cmd. 

Recording Meter Tool Bar, Playback Meter Toolbar, Mixer Toolbar

These different tool bars allow you to monitor and control your levels. They may or may not appear in this order. 

The top toolbar is the recording meter which will show you if the levels are too low or high. The color will usually appear as green, although, if it is red and a little red bar shows up in the farthest right corner, that means the level is too high and the audio "clipped." 

"Clipping" means that the levels were too high for the capacity of a microphone or speaker, the waveform then gets recorded cut off and distorts the sound instead. Once the audio is recorded this way, it is not fixable, so make sure you are always setting your levels right! 

The middle toolbar is your playback meter which shows you the levels of an audio clip while it is playing. Here you can also see if audio you recorded has clipped. 

The bottom toolbar is your mixer, the microphone icon is your recording mixer where you can adjust the gain or input level. The speaker icon is the playback mixer where you can adjust volume or output level. 

Edit Toolbar

This toolbar is arguably less important because there are keyboard shortcuts for all of these. You can find them in the menu bar under Edit > or               View > Zoom >. You can also hover the cursor over each one and it will show you the shortcut. 

This toolbar allows you to cut, copy, paste, trim, silence, undo, redo, zoom in, zoom out, zoom back to normal, and zoom all the way in. 

Transcription Toolbar

This toolbar allows you to speed up or slow down audio, affecting pitch. 

 

Here are some tools not located on any tool bars. 

  • "Split" allows you to split your clip up at a selection point, you can also select a region and split the clip at both ends of the selected region.
  • "Split New" allows you to select a region, and it will move everything in the selected region to a new track. 
  • "Join" allows you to merge two clips into one, although it will keep the space between them as silence. 
  • "Detach at Silences" will undo the action of joining clips. 

Device Preferences

 

This is the preferences window that will appear if you go to the menu bar and go to Audacity > Preferences. Here you can change the recording and playback devices as well as the recording channels. 

The media labs have M-Audio Fast Track and FocusRite Scarlett, and Behringer U-Phoria interfaces. 

M-Audio Fast Track, silver device with 3 knobsFocusRite Scarlett, red device with inputs and 1 knob     Behring U-Phoria, black device connected to B5C and B5D computers

Device Toolbar

This toolbar lets you select your devices for recording and playback. Here it shows the audio host, the recording device, the recording channels, and the playback device. You can change these accordingly if you are using an audio interface for recording. 

MIDI

Here you can select a MIDI device if you would like to use one. 

MIDI - A Musical Instrument Digital Interface is a way for synthesizers, samplers, or computers to record information and communicate with each other. For example, with a MIDI keyboard you may record a track, a computer will record the information as tones, and from that point on, you can replace the MIDI keyboard with a different instrument or patch that will playback the exact same information but with that instrument’s sound instead.

The Media Labs have Alesis Q25, and M-Audio MIDI Keyboards. The Behringer U-Phoria interfaces have MIDI ports in them as well for recording your own MIDI device in the Sound Booth. 

MIDI keyboard, black device with 2 octave range       MIDI keyboard, silver device with 5 octave range