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Digital Recording for beginners

by Esmeralda Weatherwax (September 2001)


I start this article with a step-by-step introduction to the basics of digital recording using Melody or Harmony Assistant. Then I finish with a short tutorial showing how you can make a simple, customized musical instrument from any digitally recorded sample.

*
More information about digital recording can be found in the following sections
of the Melody/Harmony Assistant documentation:

  • Using the program > Digital audio tracks
  • Tutorial > User-defined sound

 

Requirements:

  • Melody Assistant 5.8.0 or Harmony Assistant 7.8.0
  • A microphone
  • Earphones are required for Chapter 2
Contents:
  Chapter 1 - Basics:
Chapter 2 - Fun with digital recording:
Chapter 3 - Customized instruments - a beginners tutorial:

Chapter 1 - Basics:


Sound-checking the microphone:


After you have connected the microphone to your computer you need to check the sound level using your computer's own software.
Both on Macintosh and Windows computers, the best way to do it is to use Melody Assistant or Harmony Assistant. Whichever program you use, go to Configuration menu>Digital input configuration.
Disable the automatic gain control and speak (or sing) into the microphone. The green vertical line should move without reaching the top.
If needed, adjust the gain.

When you are satisfied that your microphone is responding and that the "Gain" level is right, you are ready to record a digital track.  


Recording a Digital track:

In Melody/Harmony go to the menu (New > Empty digital track)

Now go to menu (Windows > Record tools). This brings you a new tool palette with 3 tools on it. Make sure that the first tool (with a picture of a microphone on it) is ticked

When you are ready to record: click on the third tool (with a picture of 2 circles - like a tape-deck).

Sing or play into the microphone. When you are finished, click on the "tape-deck" icon again to stop recording. This brings up a dialog with a picture of the sound-waves that you have just recorded. Press the "Play" button in this dialog to check the quality of your recording. If you are unhappy with it, click the "Cancel" button and try again. You can make some alterations to the sound in this panel. Perhaps the most important option here is to choose whether to save the recording as a mono or stereo track. These recordings are digital - so the resulting files will be big - choosing mono rather than stereo will cut down the file size.

If you are happy with your recording then click the "OK" button.

Now you have a digital staff with your recording, in blue, on it.

You can stop at this point, but I like to add "Special Effects" to my recordings.
 


Adding "Special Effects":
 

You can make all sorts of alterations and improvements to the recording by using "Special Effects":

Go to menu (Windows > Miscellaneous tools). This gives you the tool palette shown above. Select the 5th tool (with a blue "Special Effects" box on it). Click at the beginning of your digital staff. This places a "Special Effects" icon on your staff. Double-click on this icon. You get a dialog called "Effect processor".

Click on the button with a picture of a red guitar on it, shown above. (This allows you to hear the changes that you are making - as you make them). Try out the various effects.
 

My favourite effect for voice is (Delay/Reverb > Reverberation) as this makes my singing voice sound a little less like a dog whining for it's dinner. Also Equalizer can give your voice more treble, or bass, or volume. Applying Wah and/or Flanger to your voice is also good fun. Just experiment.
 




 

Chapter 2 - Fun with digital recording:

 

Recording your voice over an accompaniment:
 

Another brilliant thing you can do in Melody or Harmony Assistant with recording is to sing along with an accompaniment; and record and save the result:
 

For instance: you write a guitar accompaniment the usual way (i.e. you put the notes on a conventional treble staff). When you are happy with your guitar accompaniment, go to menu (Windows > Record tools). This, as I said earlier, brings you a tool palette with 3 tools on it. Make sure that the first tool (with a picture of a microphone on it) is ticked.
 

Plug your earphones into your computer. (This is so that you can hear the sound of your accompaniment without the sound being picked up by the microphone).
 

When you are ready to record: click on the third tool (with a picture of 2 circles - like a tape-deck).
 

You will hear your guitar accompaniment. Sing along with it. When you are finished, click the "tape-deck" button again to stop the recording. You can use this method to record duets or trios etc. with yourself! Don't forget that you can make alterations to the sound using "Special Effects" as mentioned above.
 

If you are too lazy to write your own accompaniment, then you can download karaoke files (*.kar) from the internet and sing along with them instead. Just import them into Melody/Harmony Assistant by using menu (File > Import > Midi Karaoke). These files tend to be of variable quality, so you may have to spend some time re-aligning the lyrics to the melody before you can use them.
 

I read in the Melody/Harmony documentation that you can also "record a song from an audio CD, erase the singer's voice, and replace it with your own". But I don't own any music CDs, so I have not been able to try that idea. It sounds fun though. :o)
 




 

Chapter 3 - Customized instruments - a beginners tutorial

 

Creating a simple instrument using a digitally recorded sample
 

Yet another brilliant thing you can do in Melody or Harmony Assistant with recording is to create your own instruments.
 

This is how you do it:
 

Note : Because this tutorial will be shown on the internet, I decided to record the smallest sample possible, so that this document would not take too long to download. So I recorded myself whistling a note. Then, as you will see, I selected one single sound-wave from this recording and made it into an instrument. But you can record a larger sample if you want. In my experience, the shorter a sample is, the less it retains the characteristics of the original sound.
 

Create a new file by going (File > New… > "Very simple (One staff only)")
 

Go to menu (Windows > Record tools). This brings you a new tool palette with 3 tools on it. Make sure that the first tool (with a picture of a microphone on it) is ticked.
 

Now double-click on the small black and white icon to the left of your staff. This brings up a dialog called "Staff instrument editing".
 

In the left-hand corner click on the grey square called "Std." This brings up a dialog with a picture of the Myriad sound sample that is used for this staff. Ignore this sound sample as we are going to replace it with our own recording.
 

Click on the button with a picture of a microphone on it. This brings up a dialog called "Digital sound input".
 

When you are ready to record - click on the grey button with the red circle on it.

Then whistle, play or sing a single note into the microphone. When you are finished recording, click the record button again to stop recording. Now click the "OK" button.
 

I recorded myself whistling one note for 2 seconds:

I could make an instrument out of this sample, but, as I explained above, I want the smallest sample possible. So I hi-lite a small section from the middle of the recording by clicking and dragging the mouse. Then I click on the "Action button"

and I select "Crop" from the list of actions. All the parts of the recording that were not selected are discarded.
 

Then I move the "Scale" slider to the right - this zooms the image.

I carry on hi-liting, cropping and zooming until I am left with just one sound wave. (Please remember that for a "normal" sample you would not crop it as small as this as it would lose the characteristic sound qualities that, for instance, make a flute sound different from a bassoon).
 

I then click on the left and right brackets to select the part of the sound wave that I want to use.

Then I click on the "Try" button to hear what my instrument will sound like. (Hold your mouse button down on the "Try" button and move the cursor up or down the screen to hear the instrument play different notes of the scale). You will find that a sample as small as this will sound very different depending on where you position the brackets - so experiment.
 

You can add tremolo or vibrato by clicking the "Tremolo" or "Vibrato" buttons in this dialog and changing these settings - but I decide to click on the "FX" button and add some "Equalizer" and "Feedback delay" to my sample.
 

When I am happy with the sound, I click the "OK" button to return to my score.
 

Now I am ready to write some music and play it using my new instrument - "Esme's Whistle"
 

To my surprise, my "whistle" sample sounded like a cross between a harp and a music-box. Below is a short piece of music which is played entirely on this simple instrument.
 

Press the "Play" button to listen to it. Press the "Save" button if you want to save it to your hard-disk for closer inspection. :o)




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