Recording and Music Terminology

Your Home Studio - a basic tutorial on home recording studio setup, including building a home recording studio, digital recording techniques, computer recording information, recording software information, how to buy equipment for a home recording studio and operating an audio recording studio at home

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      As promised, I’m continuing the recording and music terms and their definitions from last month


Chorus—Actually two different things, the first having to do with song structure and the second being an effect . 1) Chorus as it relates to song structure—as opposed to the verse, the chorus’ usually have the same melodic content and very similar if not identical lyrical content. It’s the main statement of the song and usually but not always relates to the title of the song. A chorus may also be instrumental but the musical content will be identical to the other chorus’ with the solo instrument taking the place of the vocalist. 2) Chorus as an effect—the original signal is split into two signals and one is varied in time in relationship to the original by use of an variable oscillator (the speed control). The second signal is also detuned by an amount determined by another variable oscillator (the depth control). When set properly, it can produce the illusion of two instruments playing the same notes by different people.

Close-mic'ing—First used on The Beatles “Revolver” album, it involves mic’ing individual drums very closely and mixing them together with overhead mics and distance (or room) mics to produce the sound of the drum kit. This allows the engineer to tweak the sound of each drum and place effects on each drum as he sees fit. Prior to this, only one or two overhead mics were used with the bleed into the vocal mics providing the sense of space.
Color Tones—related to chord extensions, color tones are notes other than the root,  the third and fifth that add “color” to a chord. These can be scale or chromatic tones.

Comb filtering—A delayed copy of the original signal is added to the original resulting in constructive and destructive interference. The resulting waveform is a series of regularly spaced spikes which resemble the teeth of a comb. It’s often used in echo and flanging effects as well as digital wavetable synthesis.
Comping—A musical term derived from the term “accompanying”. It usually refers to the way jazz players will support the lead instrumentalist by playing chords and counter melodies while giving instrumentalist room to play by adjusting the rhythm. Basically, comping provides the structure of the song while not competing with the soloist(s).
Condenser Microphone-A microphone with either a large (1”) or small diaphragm (less than 1”) that requires external power usually provided by “phantom power” from the mixing console but sometimes supplied customized external power supply
Contact Microphone—rather than picking up sound waves in the air, a contact microphone picks up vibrations through sold materials. Also know as  a piezoelectric vibration transducer, they are most commonly used for acoustic/electric guitars and other acoustic instruments.
Countermelody—a series of notes, independent in rhythm and contour meant to be contrapuntal or a counter point to the melody of a song. The Beach Boys used this musical technique in many of the their songs with the outro to “God Only Knows” being a prime example.
Crescendo— Most people will think of this as being the loudest part of a song but that is incorrect. It’s actually musical notation to gradually get louder
Cross-fade—The fading out of one song while another is gradually faded in.
Decrescendo—The opposite of crescendo, that is gradually getting softer
Delay—An effect where the original signal is split and delayed by a user determined time and can either be the same or lesser volume as the original signal, again determined by the user.
Distance Mic'ing—A technique where a microphone is placed at a distance from the source in order to pickup the sound of the room the instrument is being recorded in. Usually used in conjunction with close mic’ing
Distortion—There are two types—analogue and digital. 1) Analogue—usually desirable and intentional, this can be produced in many ways from overdriving a tube amplifier to recording a signal that is over 0db to an analogue tape recorder to going over 0db on a mixing console. The result, however, is the same. The top of the waveform is cut off or “clipped” and the remaining wave form is compressed, which brings out the harmonics in the signal and depending on the amount of the compression, the distortion can be as mild as “tape warmth” or all the way to over the top distorted electric guitar.2) Digital distortion—going over 0db at any point after the signal enters the digital realm will introduce undesirable distortion that sounds like static, pops and clicks.

Dithering—A mathematical construct in which a higher bit digital sample is converted to a lower bit sample such as a 24 bit to 16 bit. This is necessary because CD’s are produced using a 16bit file.

Continued next month