Slow Down, You Move Too Fast (Audacity tutorial)

This post will give you a quick tutorial on how to slow down a fast tune with Audacity so you can learn it by ear more easily. This is an amazing piece of software and makes the process easy. Old-school jazz musicians would put a thumb on the record (that’s vinyl for you youngsters) to slow it down. This is a much better way!

Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

If you’ve listened to any Clifford Brown, the fantastic jazz trumpeter, you’ll know he’s able to play tasty, tasty licks at burning speeds. The first CB solo I tried to learn was from his tune,  Blues Walk (click to hear a snippet of the solo), but it was way too fast. I imported the whole tune to Audacity, edited it so only his solo remained, then slowed it down (sometimes by as much as 50%!). After nailing it at a slow tempo, I’d gradually speed up until I could play it at full speed. This will work for anything you want to learn by ear, a skill that too many students don’t have in their tool belt because our current music education system has tied them to the notes on the page. This is a handicap. Use your ears. Please!

I’ve spoken often of the necessity of practicing slowly, and this includes learning to play something by ear. If you’ve ever tried to learn a song from a recording you’ll know that those notes go by awful quickly and it’s hard to get a handle on them, especially if you’re new to this kind of practice. What you need is a way to slow the recording down so you can actually have a chance of keeping up. Audacity makes this process incredibly easy. I’ll take you through it and include a little video at the end of this blog post that will help show you more clearly the written instructions.

You’ll need the free program Audacity for this tutorial, so if you haven’t already, download and install Audacity. It works on Windows, Apple, Gnu and Linux systems and can be found in at least 14 different languages. If you speak Swahili or Urdu, you may be out of luck for a while.

Next, bookmark the Audacity Wiki, a great source for just about everything you need to know about the program. I’ll post some quick tutorials on this blog now and then for tricks and tips specifically geared toward practice, but to learn more about the program, the Wiki site is your best bet.

Audacity reads many audio formats: mp3, wav, ogg, flac, and several others. Chances are, if it’s in your computer and makes a sound, Audacity will be able to “read” it.

If the tune you have has the cursed DRM (digital rights management) encryption, Audacity won’t read it. Never fear. If you have this problem you can often burn the tune to a disc and re-import it to iTunes or whatever program you use, and this may take care of the issue. In the future, you might consider buying your music from Amazon.com which does not use DRM encrypted music. Yay, Amazon!

A couple things to be aware of. First is that the slower you make the original file, the less the quality of sound will be. In addition, mp3 files which take up the least amount of memory are what’s called a lossy format because some of the sound data is lost to make the file smaller. There are other files, like .wav which are not lossy, but they are much bigger in size, usually many megabytes.

Okay. Fire up Audacity and import an audio file, a song you really want to learn by ear and slow it down. To learn how to do this, watch the short vid below.

And there you have it. Have fun and good luck!

Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

For more Audacity tips, go to: http://www.allabouttrumpet.com/vids/YouTube/audacity.html

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. Alex says:

    Yes audacity is great (how can it be free?). But when it comes to practicing I find more specialized tools more convenient because they allow you to accomplish things in fewer steps (regarding practice sessions)

    1. Great point, Alex. I often forget that for me, it takes very little effort, as I’ve used Audacity a LOT. I’ve found that the extra work pays off when you actually sit down and practice, especially for practicing/learning long, difficult improvised solos by musicians like Clifford Brown. I can only handle a phrase or two at a time, so the looping/cutting in Audacity helps me a lot. What programs do you use and recommend?

      1. http://www.desktopmetronome.com/c5/index.php/products/phrase_trainer/ says:

        Well I didn’t wan to steal/spam your page. I myself am both developer and musician so I like to look at available software to keep an eye of what’s going on so that my own software don’t get outdated or inferior. If you are interested in what I use click the webpage link in my name it will take you to my site

  2. Alex says:

    Well I didn’t want to steal/spam your page. I myself am both developer and musician so I like to look at available software to keep an eye of what’s going on so that my own software don’t get outdated or inferior. If you are interested in what I use click the webpage link in my name it will take you to my site

    sorry for that double post…just delete one you don’t need

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