Digital Audio Project #1: Record & Edit

What it means to be a music educator has transformed considerably in the last few decades. The traditional mold of a music teacher being either a band director, choir director, orchestra director, or general music teacher is becoming less frequent with each passing year. Many teachers find themselves teaching courses outside of their specialty, including classes in music production where many students may not have music reading skills or any formal training on an instrument or as a singer. This is not to say these students are not musical. Chances are they are very musical. More importantly, they are in our classes and they want to learn how to create their own music. This is where digital audio workstations can be a powerful tool for music instruction.

Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) help users represent and transform musical knowledge to engage and facilitate higher-order thinking skills such as evaluation and creation in Bloom’s Taxonomy. DAWs are computer-based programs that are easily accessible, affordable, and highly scalable. There are DAWs available on every type of computer operating system including Microsoft Windows, Apple’s macOS, and Google Chrome OS, along with tablets and mobile devices such as Chromebook, iPad, iPhone, and Android. 

Many DAWs are free, and many users can typically begin recording, transforming, and creating their own music within minutes. This ease of use allows for powerful applications in a music classroom that are also transferrable to other domains, both musical and non-musical. Not only can users represent foundational principles of music performance such as melodic and rhythmic accuracy, but they can also demonstrate more advanced musical understandings, like harmony, texture, development, and form. All of these can be accomplished with little to no formal music training, giving users the ability to organize and represent musical understanding with a low barrier for entry. More importantly, the knowledge and experiences gained through DAWs provide users with the higher order thinking skills that are applicable to non-musical domains. 

There is no shortage of options of digital audio workstations on the market. Just in the realm of freeware, there is GarageBandMusic Maker, Waveform FreePodium FreeArdourKRISTAL Audio Engine, and Cakewalk. Unfortunately, not all of them work well across all operating systems (i.e. Microsoft Windows, Apple’s macOS, Google Chrome OS). In addition, many students will likely enter the class with some previous experience with a digital audio workstation and prefer not to learn a new one. These circumstances may require some flexibility in our teaching, which leads us back to problem-based learning (PBL).

These projects are designed to be completed in any Digital Audio Workstation that the learners choose. While we will primarily share examples in Audacity and GarageBand, the fundamental concepts being covered and the outcomes remain the same.

Project Description: Record & Edit

As a performer or educator, you will likely find yourself needing to submit recordings of you or your ensembles for graduate auditions, conference acceptance, or some other kind of evaluation at some point. This assignment is structured to help familiarize you with the basics of audio recording and editing in the hopes that you are comfortable using these skills as a professional musician and educator in the field.

In this project, learners will get experience recording and editing performances of a piece of their choosing to create one mastered recording that represents that performer or ensemble in the best light.

Assignment  Requirements 

  • 3 unedited tracks of you (or another live performers) performing on their primary instrument of voice. Audio must be recorded by a digital recorder similar to a TASCAM or ZOOM recorder. In addition:
    • Each track should be a minimum of 90 seconds. Ideally, they would be an entire performance of an etude of a movement from a solo. Something that your are working on as a musician or have used for auditions in the past would be fine.
    • Audio files should be .mp3, .wmv, or .mp4
    • Each unedited track will be uploaded to canvas along with the edited track. File names for the unedited tracks should be your first initial and last name, followed by #1, #2, or #3 (order for unedited tracks is arbitrary). For example, a track may look like this: 
      • J_Doe(Track_1_Unedited).mp3
      • J_Doe(Track_2_Unedited).mp3
      • J_Doe(Track_3_Unedited).mp3
  • 1 edited track, minimum of 60 seconds, consisting of the 3 tracks (listed above) spliced into one track and edited to be the best recording of you (or your colleague) performing. Track should include the following:
    • Compression tool to correct gain control/ limiting in order to minimize clipping and reduce dynamic range of audio.
    • Noise reduction is used (if applicable) to reduce sounds that may distract from the performance such as crowd noise, fan noise, air conditioning noise, etc. 
    • Add reverberation to simulate optional acoustical environment
    • Export to one file in .mp3, .wmv, or .mp4 format
    • Upload to canvas with the 3 unedited files (listed above). File names for the final, edited track should be your first initial and last name, followed by #4. For example, a track may look like this: 
      • J_Doe(Track_4_Final).mp3

The basic concepts surrounding recording, importing, and editing audio are at the heart of using a digital audio workstation, not matter where your skills or experience level lies on the spectrum or what software you choose. While there are many types of digital audio workstations available, we will primarily focus on GarageBand for these projects.

GarageBand Overview:
Editing Audio in GarageBand:

There are numerous resources online for learning digital audio workstations, but Scott Watson’s website and YouTube Channel are some excellent places to start. Dr. Watson has ever 30 years of teaching experience at the public school and university level in addition to being a composer and an expert in instructional music technology. Dr. Watson’s music education text, Using Technology to Unlock Musical Creativity is excellent resource for any educator interested in improving their digital audio skills.

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