Using Audacity

I really love tinkering around with music software – it takes me forever (computers and I don’t get along) but I’m always happy playing around with all the different things I can do!

Every music teacher should be familiar with audacity. It’s a free program that can take a while to learn to use but once you’ve go the hang of it it becomes simple to turn your ideas into musical reality.

I generally use this program to change the pitch of backing tracks so it suits the voices of my students, and have also used it to speed up or slow down music if my students are doing a dance number.

You can also record straight into audacity – this is how I created the backing track for Sailing For Adventure. I found this problematic as there was about a half-second delay between what I was hearing and what I was laying down. I tried to compensate by playing slightly in front of the beat but this drove me insane and impacted the recording – if you listen closely you can hear a few of the tracks wobble in and out of time. If you have any suggestions to help with this problem I’d love to hear as I want to start another recording project soon.

Right now I’m changing the backing track of The Dock Of The Bay up two tones to suit the voice of one of my students. I’ll walk you through the process:

1 – Download the backing track you want to work with from iTunes.

2 – Locate the file in your iTunes folder and copy and paste into a separate audacity folder. I just like to keep it all together so I don’t get confused with what I’m working with.

3 – Convert the file to WAV form. I use Zamzar which is a free online file converter. It sends a link to your e-mail where you can download the converted file. I haven’t signed up for an account with them because I abhor trying to remember all my log-ins and passwords and I do not want to add more clutter to my online footprint, but apparently doing so can increase your download speed. I find that it takes 5-10 minutes to convert and download a song.

4 – Open audacity.

5 – Import the WAV file into audacity: File/Import/Audio

6 – Change the pitch: Effect/change pitch. A box will come up and you can choose to select how many semitones you want to change the pitch by, or you can choose what hertz to play at. I’m not too sure what a hertz is so I moved the piece up by two semitones. I find that when I’ve done this the quality becomes a little muffled. Not too many people will notice but this a glitch I would like to get around if anyone knows what else I could do.

7 – Now I want to turn it from an audacity project to an audio file I can put onto a CD. Select File/Export and it will pop up with a box where you can choose the location to save to and type in the name of the file.

Because this particular backing track is difficult to sing to I want to add a piano track playing the melody. Because this is just for practice the quality does not have to be amazing so rather than faffing about trying to plug my keyboard directly into the computer I’ll just record straight in using the laptop’s microphone (which is terrible).

8 – Put the laptop on the keyboard and press the round record button. Play the piano along with the backing track. Press stop at the end.

9 – Delete the original track (the one that you put up two semitones) and you are left with the audio of you playing the melody line. The laptop microphone will also have picked up and recorded the backing track.

10 – Export this file.

11 – Close audacity. Save the project if you like, but with something as simple as this I don’t bother. I’ve converted the original file to WAV form which is the time-consuming part. If I need to change the pitch again I’ll pop in the original WAV file. Indeed, due to the quality distortions, it’s always best to go back to the original recording if you can.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into audacity – have a go at your own project!!

**If you are an audacity God, please comment below if you think I can improve this process in any way!


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