this may be a bit dated – it was written back in 2018
The purpose of this tutorial is to show how I record duets with me playing both parts. (If you have prior experience doing audio mixing, you already know everything that’s here.)
When I do this, I want it to be fun — not work. One of the things that makes it fun for me is to wind up with a recording I like the sound of. So I want good software tools. However, if you have never used this kind of software before, the terminology can be so confusing that you get discouraged. This tutorial uses an open source Audio Editor called Audacity. It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, so it’s a bit easier to learn than some of the more powerful tools. It is available for Mac, Linux, and Windows. My examples are done with Windows 10. You also need headphones or earbuds so you can record one part while listening to the other.
Step by Step
Download, install, and run Audacity
Download at https://www.audacityteam.org/download/. Plug in your headset or earbuds so output from the speakers won’t be picked up and re-recorded by the microphone.
When you first start the program, there are a couple of settings you need to change:
- Right above the gray background window, there is a combo box that probably says “Stereo Record” by default. Change that to Mono.
- Select Transport from the menu bar, and make sure the Overdub option is checked.
At the top left, just below the menu bar, there are six round buttons that look like controls for a tape deck. the rightmost one is the record button. Click it and start talking. You should see an “Audio Track” of sound appear in the main window. You can stop, rewind, playback, etc. This means the record function is working.
Now that we’ve confirmed that recording works, click the x at the upper left of your test audio track to delete it.
Where we’re going
For our first effort, we want a piece of music that is short, not technically challenging, and has a steady rhythm. For this tutorial I chose Are You Sleeping?
We are going to record three tracks, a metronome track, a track for Clarinet 1, and a track for Clarinet 2. Each track will be completely separate, so it can be deleted or re-recorded as needed until we get it right. When we are happy with the separate tracks we can either mix them into one “performance” mp3, or keep them separate as practice tools.
Create the metronome track
Michelle can sit down and play a duet part straight thru with correct timing all the way. Since I’m not in her league, I need a metronome track to keep me straight.
Are You Sleeping has 18 measures in 4/4 time. I want to play it at 80 bpm, and give myself a 2 measure pre-count so I have time to pick up my horn. That’s 20 measures total. To create the metronome track:
- From the menu, choose Generate/Click Track
- Select tempo-80, Beats/Meas-4, Number of Measures-20
- Click OK
You should now see a new Audio Track. Rewind and play it, and you’ll hear the metronome.
Record the first clarinet part
For this step, make sure you have your headset on. Rewind your file, then click the Record button. You should hear the metronome. You should also see a new audio track being recorded. After two measures of metronome click, start playing the Clarinet 1 part. When you get to the end, click the stop button.
If you make a mistake, just delete the clarinet 1 track and record a new one.
I find it easier to do this if the volume in my headset is plenty loud. At the top right of the Audacity screen there is a playback volume control that lets you adjust volume in the headset.
There is also a record volume control, but probably better not to mess with that yet. If record volume is too high, the over-all quality of the recording is poor.
Now, if you rewind the file and play it back, you should hear both the metronome and Clarinet 1. If you want to mute the metronome, just click its Mute button.
Record the second clarinet part
Process is just like recording the first clarinet part. Only difference is that you hear both metronome and Clarinet 1 as you record Clarinet 2. Or, if you prefer, you can mute the metronome and just listen to Clarinet 1 as you record Clarinet 2.
Save your work
File/Save Project As will save your work so you can come back to it later.
That covers the basics of creating a duet project. Once you have the project, here are a few things you can do with it:
- Export both clarinet parts together as a “performance” mp3. For this, you usually mute the metronome track, and export only the part after the count-in. Note that exporting mp3’s requires downloading and installing a small Audacity Add-in.
- Use the project in its present form to practice one part with the computer playing the other part
- Adjust volume and panning of each track separately
- Add reverb