Audacity–a Quick and Dirty Tutorial

Audacity-logo-r_50pct“Audacity® is free, open source, cross-platform software for recording and editing sounds.”

That’s the first thing you read on the website from which Audacity can be downloaded. It’s also a simple, fast and free way to manipulate audio files for music practice.  I have often mentioned Audacity at the session–I’m finally getting around to explaining how to use it. This is going out especially to my session posse! Holla back!

A few things I do with Audacity:

  • Import and edit recordings I have made of our session tunes.
  • Export the session tunes as MP3s to make them easy to up-and download.
  • Speed up and slow down recorded music files–without changing the pitch.
  • Change the pitch of a recorded audio file (transpose to another key).
  • Select a section of recorded audio and play it as a loop.
  • Select, copy and paste a section of recorded audio to create a new file.

What I’ll do today is explain how I do a couple of the most common things I do–selecting audio, slowing it down, and playing it looped (so that it starts over automatically). There are much more extensive step-by-step tutorials on the Audacity website HERE.

Once you have downloaded Audacity and have the program open, you can go to the file menu at the top and select import>audio. Or you can drag and drop the file directly onto the open Audacity window.

Your file will a appear as a “wave form”–a sort of landscape looking thing, like this:

looks like trees reflected in a lake, right?

Typical audio waveform

It’s just a visual representation of the audio you’ve imported. You can press the space bar to play the audio, and watch as the cursor tracks across the waveform. You’ll notice that when the sound is louder, the waveform appears taller. With your cursor, you can click on the waveform, hold the mouse button down and drag the mouse across the waveform and you’ll notice you’re creating a shaded area–this is the part you’re selecting. You can copy, cut and paste this just like you would text, but for now we’re just going to play with it. Don’t click on the waveform again or your selection will disappear!

Now that you’ve managed to select some audio, we can do all sorts of fun things with it. Let’s slow it down, to start with.

With your audio selected, go to the top of the window and select the “effects” menu. Scroll down to “change tempo.” selecting this will allow you to speed up or slow down the selected audio without changing the pitch. A Dialogue box will pop up:

Change tempo dialogue box

Drag the slider left to slow the music down, right to speed it up. Hit “ok” and your selection (and ONLY your selection) will be processed. If you’d like to hear what it will sound like before you commit, click the “preview” button for a short sample. Making the audio too slow will result in the audio sounding kind of weird, so there are limits to how slow you can go.

Now let’s play the audio in a continuous loop. With your audio still selected, pressing the space bar will play the selection from the beginning. But when it gets to the end it’s just keeps going, or stops. To make the program automatically start playback from the beginning of the selection again, hold down the shift key while you hit the space bar. Now it’ll play over, and over, and over again until you get sick of it. Hit the space bar again to stop.

With practice you can select from the exact beginning to the exact end of a tune or song. Then when you play it as a loop it will seamlessly replay, as if you were playing with another musician!

Finally, to export your selection as a new file that you can listen to on your iPod or computer, click on the “file” menu and select “export selection.” It’ll give you the choice to export as various file types–typically I use the MP3 format. To do THAT you need to download another small helper file called the “LAME MP3 encoder.” You can download it HERE. Installation instructions can be found HERE. When you export as an MP3 for the first time, you will be asked to direct the program to the location of the LAME file, so put it somewhere you’ll remember, then find it when prompted. After that first time it will remember and won’t ask you again. If you’d rather not bother with all that “noise”, you can export as a .WAV without any further ado.

I hope this helps–please leave any questions you may have in the comments section below, or click the link above to the Audacity tutorials page. You might also want to check out the other “effects” you can apply to the audio


2 thoughts on “Audacity–a Quick and Dirty Tutorial

  1. Tá AUDACITY iontach maith agus cé go n-úsáidim é, níl mé i mo shaineolaí fá dtaobh de, agus thug an t-alt seo cuidiú domh. Go raibh maith agat as an alt beag seo, a chara.

    Audacity is fabulous and even though I use it, I’m not an expert, and this article helped me. Thanks for this wee article.

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