We've done a few articles on ear training in the music theory sense, such as Bootcamp for Your Ear, where you learn to recognize musical intervals, like the minor 2nd or major 7th for instance. But what about frequency information?
We know that each frequency has its own specific sound, and many times we use slang such as boom, whack, or sheen to illustrate our meaning further. It's easier to say things like, “Can I get a little bit more air on those cymbals?” instead of saying “Can I get a little high frequency shelving boost at around 12Khz?” It sounds cooler, and makes communication easier.
But how do you recognize these specific frequencies? You actually need to know that boom means somewhere in the 200Hz range, and that brilliance is somewhere in the 8Khz region. So instead of trying to vaguely try to remember all these names for frequency ranges, there is a different way you can try to train your ears to detect and recognize specific frequencies.
Let's use pink noise to go through the first few frequency spectrums. We'll do it in octaves since that's the best way to start.
I studied frequency recognition by using the Golden Ears product from Moulton Libraries. It's an invaluable ear training course if you want to get serious about recognizing frequencies. It enables you to quickly hear and pinpoint which frequencies are too dominant in a mix, making you a better engineer.
Pink noise is noise that's inversely proportional to frequency (Wikipedia). Due to the fact that we hear higher frequencies better, pink noise has a very even sound to our ears. Therefore it is perfect for acoustic tests, like testing PA systems and other acoustic tests.
Here is a sample of pink noise. Please not that these are mp3s and not full on WAV files. Therefore I strongly encourage you to experiment on your own so you get the full benefit of listening and experimenting.
First four octaves
32 Hz - The 32Hz is boosted by 24dbs in the following sample. 32Hz is a very low frequency and isn't as audible as when we boost other higher range frequencies. Especially if you have small speakers, then you might not even notice a difference at all.
64 Hz – As soon as we get up to 64Hz we get a more audible sensation of the frequency that's being boosted. You clearly hear the low hum derived from the boost at 64Hz. This is the low bass, where you can add deep thickness to bass instruments such as kick drum or bass guitar.
125 Hz – The 125Hz range is where you give instruments a little fullness or body. Although the pink noise suggests a very annoying and offending frequency, the fact is that boosting this range can give more meat to a specific part. Boost to give more weight but be careful to not “over-boom” the instrument.
250 Hz – Kind of sounds like an airplane way up in the sky. This is the high range of the bass frequency. Too much of 200-250Hz can result in a very boomy and muddy sound on bass instruments, but can increase clarity and fullness of higher range instruments.
Recognizing frequencies is not an easy thing. Each instrument sounds different and reacts differently to each frequency. By using pink noise you can get a feeling for where a certain frequency sits, and you can try connecting it so a specific sound in your everyday life.
It is a good way to start to recognize how each frequency band sounds like and how you can react to it in order for you pinpoint problematic frequencies in your mix faster and more efficiently.
In next week's Quick Tip I'll continue down the frequency range with more examples like these, hopefully shedding some light on how you can better work your mix.