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Understanding the mechanics of sound

From: Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools

Video: Understanding the mechanics of sound

Before we can dig in into equalization and how it relates to the mixing process, it is important to review the basis of sound waves and frequencies and how they relate to instruments and the musical concept of pitch. So what is sound? In nature, sound exists and travels as mechanical vibrations in the air. It can also travel in things like water or drywall, but an audio, we are generally thinking of something like a speaker or an instrument sort of propagating these vibrations, positive and negative changes to atmospheric pressure, which are in term perceived as variations and pressure against eardrums and subsequently processed by the brain into what we perceive as "sound".

Understanding the mechanics of sound

Before we can dig in into equalization and how it relates to the mixing process, it is important to review the basis of sound waves and frequencies and how they relate to instruments and the musical concept of pitch. So what is sound? In nature, sound exists and travels as mechanical vibrations in the air. It can also travel in things like water or drywall, but an audio, we are generally thinking of something like a speaker or an instrument sort of propagating these vibrations, positive and negative changes to atmospheric pressure, which are in term perceived as variations and pressure against eardrums and subsequently processed by the brain into what we perceive as "sound".

So frequency as it relates to sound is the speed at which the sound wave oscillates or increases or decreases like waves in the ocean and is usually measured in cycles per second or hertz. Now on the other end, amplitude is the power at which the sound waves vibrate. So if you think about the Y in the graphs versus the X in the graph. Human can hear frequencies in a range between 20 Hz or 20 cycles per second and about 20,000 Hz or 20K. The upper range diminishes as we age pretty significantly down to around 10K, even to 6K in some individuals.

So pitch and how frequency relates to pitch, when this oscillation of positive and negative pressure in the atmosphere is periodic or repeating, we are going to perceive this sound as a specific pitch. Now when we think about instruments and their sound waves, they are going to be made up as what we call fundamentals and harmonics. So when an instrument propagates a sound wave, the frequency at which the entire wave vibrates is known as the fundamental.

The fundamental of a waveform contains the most power or amplitude and thus defines the perceived pitch of the note. So for example, a middle C on the piano. Now other higher frequency waveforms are what are called overtones and generally travel with this fundamental frequency and they make up the total waveform. So including the fundamental and the overtones, we call this the harmonic series. So a note's fundamental and its overtones combine to create the pitch as well as the complex timbre or tonal characteristic of that specific instrument.

So most instruments frequency range so that the fundamental plus the overtones live within the human range of hearing. That is they are sort of designed to be that way. There are many charts you can reference when mixing to sort of determine the general frequency range of the specific instrument. But in the end, we are always going to use our ears and sort of our gut to tell us whether or not instrument is sitting in the mix. But I recommend printing out one of these charts and sitting them in your studio and just to help to guide you in kind of make decisions and these can also help in the arrangement process when you need to understand sort of where instruments sit relative to one another.

Understanding where an instrument lives in the frequency spectrum is especially useful like I said in the arrangement stage. Symphonic composers need to know how each instrument is going to sit relative to another as they are writing out an arrangement. They need to know what notes the violin can play relative to what notes and what octaves the viola can play. Sometimes in this era of virtual instruments though, we kind of take for granted a sound specific range, because you can take and play any sound almost all over the keyboard and this can kind of create confusion and muddiness in your arrangement sometimes.

So try to remember these relationships between frequency and pitch and sound waves when you are using EQ to blend and balance and creatively shape a mix or an instrument.

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This video is part of

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Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools

77 video lessons · 9401 viewers

Brian Lee White
Author

 
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  1. 14m 50s
    1. Welcome
      1m 12s
    2. The past, present, and future of mixing
      6m 20s
    3. Strategies for mixing and mastering
      5m 38s
    4. Using the exercise files
      1m 40s
  2. 40m 24s
    1. Mixing "in the box"
      5m 9s
    2. Setting up the studio: Speakers and acoustics
      13m 12s
    3. Staying organized: Effectively prepping the mix
      10m 50s
    4. Managing system resources during mixdown
      11m 13s
  3. 41m 39s
    1. Introducing the Pro Tools Mixer
      2m 24s
    2. Understanding mixer signal flow
      3m 42s
    3. Using inserts and plug-ins
      7m 4s
    4. Working with plug-in settings
      5m 1s
    5. Using sends and creating FX returns
      6m 55s
    6. Submixing with aux tracks
      4m 30s
    7. Using groups while mixing
      3m 46s
    8. Using master faders effectively
      8m 17s
  4. 21m 11s
    1. Conceptualizing the mix and making a plan
      7m 45s
    2. Using volume and pan to balance the mix
      11m 18s
    3. Knowing when to process: Mix problems vs. mix solutions
      2m 8s
  5. 1h 3m
    1. Understanding the mechanics of sound
      3m 53s
    2. Learning the basics of EQ: Frequency-specific level control
      4m 29s
    3. Using DigiRack EQ III
      16m 3s
    4. EQ strategies in mixing: Corrective vs. creative
      7m 18s
    5. EQ workflow example 1: Kick drum
      5m 39s
    6. EQ workflow example 2: Filtering loops
      5m 10s
    7. EQ workflow example 3: The "telephone" effect
      3m 7s
    8. Mixing tips and tricks for EQ
      17m 36s
  6. 1h 15m
    1. Understanding dynamics and dynamic range
      2m 1s
    2. Working with dynamics processors
      2m 57s
    3. Using the DigiRack Dyn III compressor/limiter
      10m 6s
    4. Balancing and shaping track dynamics
      3m 19s
    5. Using gates and expanders
      9m 22s
    6. Using de-essers to eliminate sibilance
      5m 47s
    7. Dynamics workflow example 1: Vocals
      10m 0s
    8. Dynamics workflow example 2: Drums
      9m 29s
    9. Mixing tips and tricks: Dynamics
      11m 37s
    10. Building parallel or "upward" compression
      7m 53s
    11. Reviewing dynamics concerns: How much is too much?
      3m 28s
  7. 47m 48s
    1. Using time-based effects to add depth and width
      3m 22s
    2. Using DigiRack D-Verb
      14m 27s
    3. Using the DigiRack delays
      9m 18s
    4. Mixing with reverb
      7m 59s
    5. Mixing with delays
      6m 19s
    6. Mixing tips and tricks: Creating mix depth
      6m 23s
  8. 18m 8s
    1. Working with the Creative Collection
      9m 8s
    2. Building distortion and saturation
      9m 0s
  9. 37m 33s
    1. Understanding automation
      4m 10s
    2. Recording real-time automation moves
      7m 6s
    3. Viewing and editing automation
      10m 17s
    4. Automating plug-ins
      7m 36s
    5. Automation strategies for mixing
      8m 24s
  10. 29m 31s
    1. Understanding the characteristics of a great mix
      7m 2s
    2. Working to reference tracks
      4m 35s
    3. Avoiding some common pitfalls
      7m 50s
    4. Building healthy mixing habits
      3m 36s
    5. Crafting your mix from start to finish
      6m 28s
  11. 1h 5m
    1. Understanding mastering
      4m 15s
    2. Bouncing the mix
      7m 9s
    3. Working with general mastering strategies
      8m 50s
    4. Using limiting and compression to maximize track level
      10m 57s
    5. Working with multi-band compression
      7m 9s
    6. Understanding sample rate, bit depth, file formats, and dither
      7m 30s
    7. Using Pro Tools for CD track sequencing
      10m 11s
    8. Compressing audio for the web
      9m 41s
  12. 44m 51s
    1. Tips for evaluating plug-in processors
      6m 51s
    2. Using EQ plug-ins
      5m 35s
    3. Using dynamic compression plug-ins
      11m 3s
    4. Using reverb and delay plug-ins
      10m 46s
    5. Reviewing additional plug-ins
      10m 36s
  13. 57m 18s
    1. Effectively using saturation/analog style effects
      13m 40s
    2. Setting up side chains
      7m 5s
    3. Master buss processing
      5m 34s
    4. Creating and using mix templates
      6m 54s
    5. Surround mixing
      6m 22s
    6. Dealing with plug-in delay and latency
      6m 26s
    7. Drum sample replacing
      11m 17s
  14. 32s
    1. Goodbye
      32s

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