"Beginners" package by Andrea Zanini
This package has been created by the mastering engineer Andrea Zanini, founder of Owl Mastering. He has been using TrainYourEars with students since 2013. It contains 18 exercises designed by him to get you started in frequency recognition.
Download the package
Then unzip it and use the import button to load the exercises in TrainYourEars.
During the exercises, sometimes Andrea asks you to download additional songs. Scroll down to the List of Exercises to find the download links.
One of the essential skills of an audio engineer is the ability to decide "how" to listen to something.
Pretty much like a musician, who has to develop the ability to listen to himself/herself and, in the meanwhile, decide how to adjust his/her playing according to what is going on in the music, an audio engineer should be able to mentally dive into the finest details of sound and, at discretion, observe everything from a general perspective.
In order to acquire an unbiased ability to do so, a certain amount of constant training is required.
Music is a constant emotional state so the idea of developing the "skill" to take emotional distance from it is sometimes rejected by the aspiring engineer who looks at this surgeon-like approach like something to be avoided or better left to audio geeks. In fact, it's quite the opposite.
Aural abilities like these will make you a better musician in the first place and a more accurate player but, at the same time, you will be able to apply these skills to your own recordings thus increasing their emotional impact on the listener!
You do not actually need to spend too much time doing these exercises in order to improve, as long as you train constantly.
Before each mastering session, I always spend no more than 5 minutes doing these exercises with Pink Noise in order to warm up for the session. Occasionally, when I sit down to ear-train, I like to go for more extended periods of time but I rarely hit more than 30 minutes. Past a certain threshold, It is simply not beneficial any more.
When practising, try not to exceed 5 minutes per session and practice each exercise with pink noise first and then using one or more songs you know very well. Also, watch your volume! Practice at the lowest possible volume at which you feel comfortable. You can use good speakers or, in alternative, a set of quality headphones (which I recommend for this kind of training).
Make sure you practice the exercises in sequence.
Some exercises will require you to use the multitrack libraries found at http://www.cambridge-mt.com/ms-mtk.htm (an incredibly valuable resource for students and pro's of all levels) where all downloads are offered free of charge for educational purposes but you can apply the same exercises to the songs you prefer of course. Also, I recommend you visit the mixes discussion sections where you can take a listen to the users' different mix versions of the same tracks. You will hear how different some of them sound and this gives you valuable info about how different people are when it comes to sound perception.
When you feel confident enough, import al the tracks in your favorite DAW and start experimenting with EQ. Try to create space for each element using only EQ based on the arrangement, role of the instrument and so on.
Follow the instructions as given in each description and most importantly, have fun while practicing! You will improve much faster and for good.
"The most important thing I look for in a musician is whether he knows how to listen." Duke Ellington
"I don't believe in geniuses, I believe in hard work" Michel Petrucciani.
List of Exercises
1. Basic Perception - Boosts and Cuts (9dB's - 0.5Q)
Start trying to spot some simple boots and cuts with a wide Q: 0.5. Can you tell what EQ has been applied to the sound?
2. Basic Perception - Boosts and Cuts (9dB's - 1.2Q)
This exercise will not introduce new frequencies but will focus on the impact of Q width. The same EQ than before but now with a Q of 1.2. TIP: Wide EQ settings are good for general tonal balance while narrow bands are used more for correction purposes. You will hear what this means.
3. Basic Perception - Boosts and Cuts (9dB's - 3Q)
Is it getting easier or more difficult to spot the right frequency by using a narrower Q value? Probably easier right? This is because wide EQ settings have a big impact on larger frequency intervals and the ear has more difficulty to spot which frequency was used as "center frequency" for that particular setting.
4. Basic Perception - Boosts and Cuts (9dB's - 10Q)
As we narrow the Q, we can start memorizing the sound of each central frequency and add in some more frequencies to recognize (8kHz and 16kHz). Notice how, at both ends of the spectrum, it becomes harder to always hear the right change. This is because the ear becomes less sensitive and the tone of the frequencies is less perceivable.
5. Basic Perception - Boosts and Cuts (9dB's - 25Q)
The Q is now very narrow. This level of precision is usually only used for correcting resonances or imbalances on single notes. Because the interval is very small, the distinct sound of frequencies can be recognized easily. 200Hz, 2kHz and 5kHz have been added to the exercise.
6. Obscure Matters - The Low End - 20Hz to 80Hz
The low end of a track can be problematic as it carries a lot of energy. Too much of it a your music will sound muffled and boomy. A good trick to avoid mistakes is to think in terms of relative volumes and fight the urge to hear the low end clearly in a mix.
7. The 20Hz Challenge - Is it there?
Many engineers routinely filter this range out as it swallows up a good deal of headroom and it contains almost no musical information. Some others feel it is missing when it is not there. This exercise is only apparently easy. Can you hear down there? Can you manage to feel the difference? Don't be fooled by yourself! (You need a subwoofer for this).
8. Tuning in - The Low End - 40Hz to 100Hz
This exercise is a good way to start analysing the lowest frequencies characteristic sound. 40Hz boosts can be easy to recognize but 64Hz and 80Hz cuts are tricky. Make sure you take the time to learn what to expect from this range. With proper training you will achieve perfect low end balance in your mixes.
9. Tuning in - Low-Mids - 125Hz to 500Hz - 3Q
The warmth and body of many instruments reside between 120 and 500 Hz. Given the crucial nature of this range (as it contains a lot of musical information) achieving clarity and separation here is vital and can be done with judicious use of EQ as well as proper song arrangement.
10. Tuning in - Mids - 630Hz to 1250Hz - 3Q
This range includes the low-order harmonics of many instruments like male and female vocals, snare, kick, toms, cymbals and a lot of string and brass instruments. Sice harmonics and partials are responsible for the timbre of an instrument make sure you do not make the mistake of routinely take this range away. Try to achieve balance!
11. Tuning in - High Mids - 1600Hz to 3150Hz - 3Q
High Mids carry the percussive attack of most percussion instruments, vocal recognition, guitar presence, brass presence and much more. Too much of this range, if not balanced, will cause listener's fatigue.
12. Tuning in - High There! - 4kHz to 8kHz - 10Q - 9dB's
High Frequencies from 4kHz to 8kHz are responsible for the clarity and definition of a mix. They carry the higher order harmonics of many instruments and they are usually increased to add presence to a song or individual instruments. Pay attention to sibilance though. Too much boosting and you will end up with the typical amateur-sounding harsh mix
13. Tuning in - Brilliant! - 10kHz to 20kHz - 10Q - 9dB's
The highest harmonics are essential to the sense of space, air and brilliance of a song. Very little boosting / cutting goes a long way here. Do not panic if you feel that 16kHz or 20kHz are hard to discern. Those frequencies sit at the top of what humans can hear and they are more felt rather than heard. It takes practice to perceive them clearly.
14. Style: Rock Blues - Mid-Range Clean-up
Download Peter White - 'The Blues Is A Lady' - If you listen to the multitrack excerpt you will notice the muffled and somewhat muddy sound with undefined bass. This mix, as well as some of the instruments, need serious mid-range clean-up. Use this exercise with the single pre-recorded guitar and vocal tracks.
15. Style: Drum & Bass I - Low End Control - +9dB's/3Q
Download Nervbloc - 'Slapback' - This track is all about the bass, so we will focus on the bass response. This is a good exercise for studying low end control. You can either use the single bass or drum stems or use the whole mix.
16. Style: Drum & Bass II - Low End Control - +9dB's/3Q & 10Q
Download Nervbloc - 'Slapback' - Using the same track as in the previous exercise, we will now make things slightly harder by introducing more frequencies and two different Q factors. There also a 10% no-change probability so keep an ear out!
17. Style: Theatrical Pop - Midrange Honkyness
Drumtracks - 'Ghostbitch' - The vocal track in this song (main excerpt) sounds extremely nasal and resonant. Generally this problem occurs in the range from 700Hz to 2000Hz. This exercise will help you realize what resonance sounds like. Practice this exercise with both the vocal track in isolation and the whole mix.
18. Bass Problems - 12 dB's Cuts/Boosts
DrumTracks - 'Ghostbitch SH's Mix' - Download this version of the mix to practice the next exercise. As you can clearly hear the bass drum response on this one is a bit out of control. Probably it was mixed on a poor system with no proper bass response.
Questions and Feedback
If you have questions or feedback about this package you can send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will help you out.
And if you have developed some interesting exercises and you want to share them with the world, that's awesome! Send us an email and we will publish them here :)