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