Train Your Ears to Recognize Frequencies in Equalization
A child is able to perceive frequencies between 20 Hertz and 20 000 Hertz. As you grow older a natural hearing loss occurs. So when you are 50, you might just be able hear up to 15 or 16 kHz and by the time you turn 80, your upper limit normally drops down to 8 or 9 kHz. That is also the reason why some older people have trouble understanding the high pitched, squeaky voice of their grand-children. As most things in life hearing abilities and hearing loss are highly individual. They vary from one person to another.
Don’t worry to much. With a little training and some conscious listening you can learn to hear much more precisely than your 10-year-old nephew. In this article, I would like to give you a brief overview on all important frequency bands. How do they sound? How do we perceive them and What is their role in music? Getting to know your frequencies is crucial if want to learn to make good mixes. You only use equalizing effectively if you know what dip at 1000 Hz or a boost at 250 Hz actually sounds like. Beside this post you can also work with the program Train Your Ears EQ Edition. Working with this post and the program is a good strategy to learn to recognize frequencies in equalizing pretty fast.
It is important that you learn the words for frequency ranges. If you know the words, you recognize the frequency much easier. Download this overview I made and lay it beside your desk when mixing and producing:
Low Frequencies: Bass
0 Hz: DC-Offsetoccurrence: Sonic shock waves, change in altitude
The DC-Offset is a displacement of an audio signal in the electrical domain. If it is to high it can kill your speakers, as your audio is not oscillating around zero, but around the point of displacement. If that happens, you hear a clip (a short noise pulse) created by your speaker.
In nature you could see the DC-Offset as a change in pressure. In that case you don’t hear anything, but just feel the pressure on your eardrum. You normally compensate it by blowing your nose or by gulping.
1 – 20 Hz : Rumble, thumpoccurrence: Thunder, earthquakes, cracks in glaciers, big halls, bass drums
Rumble is produced by thunder, earthquakes, cracks in glaciers and other big phenomenons. For music and music recording there are two “instruments” that have deep low-frequencies. A bass drum, for example, emits frequencies that you can’t hear but feel. If you filter them out, you sometimes miss thump. Big orchestra halls have a sound by themselves
If you record an orchestra in a big hall, the room itself produces rumble. If you filter it, the feeling that you are in a big room might get lost.
20 – 40 Hz: Sub low, deep low, sizeoccurrence: bass drum, drums, bass, double bass, tuba, bassoon, piano bass synths, sub woofer
The frequency range between 20 and 40 Hz is the first one that you can actually hear. The subsonic parts of a stroke on a drum are found here. Also, the double bass and some synth basses emits sub low frequencies.
On an 88 keys piano the lowest note A0 has a frequency of 27,5 Hz. You actually don’t hear its root note, but its overtones. The most sub woofer have their lower limit somewhere in between this range. When it comes to music, you mainly perceive deep low frequencies as a pleasant feeling in your belly.
40 – 60 Hz: Fundamental, pressureoccurrence: bass drum, bass, double bass, timpani
This frequency spectrum contains the fundamental notes of most bass drums and timps. Frequencies between 40 and 60 Hz give pressure to your mix. A mix that misses this frequencies lacks a fundamental on which it can build.
60 – 100 Hz: Ground, bottomoccurrence: floor tom, cello, bass, bass drum, guitar
In this area a lot of interesting stuff is going on. 60 – 100 Hz is the range that holds the root notes of most floor toms, cellos and guitars. On a guitar, for example, the open E string vibrates around 82 per second. This range also contains a lot of crucial bass notes.
Furthermore, the character of a bass drum is defined by this frequencies. A bass drum that has its peak on 60 Hz sounds really different than one that peaks on 100 Hz. Listen to it. A mix that has to much ground sounds humming. One that has less sounds thin and small.
100 – 200 Hz: Warmth, punchoccurrence: bass, snare, male voice, guitar, viola, saxophone
Warmth and punch, how does that come along together? Frequencies between 100 and 200 Hz give warmth to bass sounds. At the same time, this range contains many root notes of guitars and the low-end spectrum of a snare. These elements give punch to your sound and are an important factor to the feeling of rhythm. Nonetheless, this qualities often clash. So choose wisely to give warmth and punch the opportunity to coexist. By the way, the deep male voice can reach frequencies down to 80 Hz, but commonly 100 – 200 Hz is the range where it has its fundamentals.
Middle Frequencies: Mid
200 – 300 Hz: Fullness, boxy, body
occurrence: female voice, snare, oboe, flute, cymbals
This range is the connection between the low and the middle frequencies. If balanced, it gives a feeling of fullness. If it is boosted too much, it will sound boxy. The character of a snare and the root of some cymbals are found here.Boost this range to give an acoustic guitar more body. Last but not least, the frequency of the middle C is around 261 Hz.
300 – 500 Hz: Hollow, honk, fullnessoccurrence: toms, guitar
Honk like a horn and you most likely sing a tone with frequencies around 300 and 500 Hz. If you honk to much in your mix, you create a hollow sound. Toms and guitars sound full if they have a balanced 300 – 500 Hz spectrum.
500 – 1000 Hz: Attack, honk, naturaloccurrence: snare, bass guitar, piccolo
This span is where the low part of the attack of bass guitar and snare lies. It is also the zone of the piccolo flute. The piccolo is the highest instrument in an orchestra, which has its root notes somewhere around 500 – 1000 Hz.
1000 – 2000 Hz: Whack, attack, personality, nasaloccurrence: all instruments, voice
1000 – 2000 Hz is an important frequency range for the human voice. Boost it and hear personality of the singers voice. Boost it too much and a voice becomes nasal. This span also is part of the whack or attack of your sound. If your mix is overloaded with 1000 – 2000 Hz frequencies, it makes the mix tiny.
High Frequencies: Treble
2000 – 4000 Hz: Crunch, presence, volume, detailoccurrence: all instruments, voice, percussive sounds
The human is most sensitive at around 2000 – 4000 Hz. Therefore, it is important for the understandability of words. Boost it to give a voice more presence. If you overdo it, your voice (or other instrument) becomes aggressive and hard. Here, the upper part of the attack of percussive sound is found.
4000 – 8000 Hz: Bite, definition, sibilanceoccurrence: all instruments, voice
If you have the feeling that an instrument is missing bite or definition lift frequencies around 4000 – 8000 Hz slightly. As always, do not overplay or it will hiss and whizz.
8000 – 12 000 Hz: Pierce, glanceoccurrence: all instruments, strings
Same story as before. Too much is piercing and too less is missing glance or sounds simply dull. In general, you can say that constantly present, piercing high frequencies are really fatiguing for your ears. It is all about balance. The sounds of a bow on a string instrument has its character here. So give it a lift if you want to give your solo recorded cello more intimacy.
12 000 – 20 000 Hz: Air, top, openoccurrence: woodwinds, voice, violin, cymbals
Older people lose the ability to hear these frequencies. Nonetheless, it will add air to your sound even if not perceived directly. Not all instruments reach up to 20 000 Hz and all to often you rather sense frequencies in this realm than you hear them. Nonetheless, they play an important role in the process of creating a balanced mix.
I hope you find my overview of frequencies useful and practical. If you want to add to this list, do so in the comments below.
One last thing I want to append is that these frequency zones are not absolute. They overlap and change from song to song. Each instrument has a wide spectrum of frequencies a few of which are most characteristic.
In the end, the most important tool in music is still your ability to hear and to judge what you perceive. This list helps you to getting started. The rest is up to your abilities in hearing.
If you want to practice frequencies more in depth also check out the program Train Your Ears EQ Edition.