Train Your Ears – Part 1: Frequency Ranges

What’s up MixCoachers!

Hope you all had a great weekend! A couple weeks ago on MixCoach Member, Kevin and I were asked about resources for training your ears. As I was pulling together an answer with some resources I decided to take the time and send everyone the info! So over then next two weeks we’re going to talk about how to train your ears to hear mud, over compression, compression distortion, and more. I’m going to give you guys links to some great products and places to train.

Train to hear frequency ranges in 7 steps:

There are some great places to help with this, but I’m only going to chat about 2 of them today. The first is to purchase a product like “Golden Ears” from Moulton Labs. It’s really revealing to hear various frequency ranges boosted and cut with both white noise and music.

The second method is similar and probably the most simple solution. It’s also what I would consider the most helpful and definitely the least expensive.

What you will need:
1)    Your favorite DAW
2)    An EQ plug-in
3)    Your favorite mix.

The Workflow:

  •     Step 1 – Import your favorite mix
  •     Step 2 – Turn the track down by 13 dB (this is so when you’re boosting EQ ranges you won’t distort the track)
  •     Step 3 – Insert the EQ plug-in on the track. Set it with a Q of 4 or 5.
  •     Step 4 – Select a few frequencies to both boost and cut. I would suggest doing boosts and cuts of 12 dB at 64 Hz, 120 Hz, 250 Hz, 500 Hz, 1 kHz, 2 kHz, 4 kHz, 8 kHz, and 16 kHz. This covers each major octave of the sound spectrum that we can reasonably hear. If you wanted to add in 6 kHz, 315 Hz, and 800 Hz after getting comfortable with the others that would be great.
  •     Step 5 – Boost each frequency climbing up the “ladder” and back then back down. Now do cuts.
  •     Step 6 – At each frequency try to write on a notebook what you hear. What is the sensation? Muddy? Sharp? Pointed? What “real life” sounds can you compare the sounds to? does 8k sound like bacon sizzle? Write what instruments mainly live in each range and are boosted or cut on each range. Does the vocal disappear? Is there more reverb in a certain range? Write comparisons comparing this to how your mixes have sounded in the past.
  •     Step 7 – Repeat.

What’s funny about this method is how long it took me to actually try it. I had trained this way with the “Golden Ears” cd set, but had never thought about trying it with mixes I’ve listened to for years. When I finally broke down and started boosting the EQ in different ranges it was incredibly revealing. I noticed that my mixes at the time typically sounded like they had too much build up around 315 Hz. Once the problem was identified I could then work toward a solution.

There you go! You’re off to a great start of training your ears. Next week we will talk about ways to identify and hear compression and compression distortion in your mixes.

What methods and resources for training your ears have you used? Tell us in the comments!

By Jon Wright

As a graduate of MTSU with a degree in Audio Engineering and Technology Jon has been working as a full time mixer and engineer in Nashville. He loves running, writing, and all forms of entertainment. He also enjoys long walks on the beach with his wife.

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