Inexpensive digital sampling technology and the never-ending quest for new sounds has opened up the world of music to any and all sounds in our environment.
Audio effects are designed to manipulate sound. They can be software (computer programs or plugins), or hardware (like guitar effects pedals or rack-mounted machines). The effect these devices have on sound can vary from a subtle colouration to all-out sonic terrorism!
There are a dizzying array of effects processors on the market but they fall into a small number of categories:
- Modulation effects (e.g. Chorus, Flangers, or Phasers) gradually sweep back and forth over time, creating various characteristic sounds
- Time-based effects (e.g. Delay and Reverb) create echoes and reverberations which can do anything from simulate the sound of a room to creating mesmerizing rhythmic patterns
- Pitch effects can create harmony from thin air or fix dodgy singing (like the infamous Autotune)
- Distortion effects (e.g. Overdrive, Fuzz) increase signal volume until smooth sound waves get ‘clipped’ into ugly squares, creating thick harmonics and endless sustain
- Dynamic effects (e.g. Compression, Limiters) make levels consistent and can make music thick and punchy
Audio effects are used by musicians to shape their tone into distinctive new forms, and by record producers and mastering engineers to make recordings sound more rich and full. Effects used to be the preserve of professional studios and millionaire rock stars, but the relentless march of technology means even beginners can now experience and use them to their heart’s desire.
Used carelessly, effects can rob an instrument of character and leave it lost in the mix… But in the hands of a master (such as U2’s The Edge) a musician can become a one-man soundscape.
Ear training can give you a deeper understanding of audio effects and help you:
- Recognise common audio effects by ear
- Creatively use effects to enhance your musical tone
- Make your demos sound punchier by mastering dynamic range compression
- Hear when vocalists have been auto-tuned (even tastefully!)
- Hear the difference between natural and artificial reverb
The Hearing Effects series on FX ear training teaches you to recognise all the most common types of audio effects by ear, including modulation, delay, echo, reverb, and distortion effects. You’ll also find out how to choose the right settings for each type of effect.
Free articles about Audio Effects
Explore the different types of synthesis, how to generate them and include them in your musical creations. With demo samples and real tracks as examples.
Want to learn how to make free sound effects using the tools in your home studio? Look no further! Find out here and train your ears for sound effects.
In episode 6 of the Bass Tone podcast, Bass FX Part 2, Nick Long explores some more unusual effects you can add to your bass tone. You’ll learn:
• What modulation effects are and how they work
• The Chorus and Flanger effects and how they impact your tone
• The sound of Wah-Wah effects, and why they combine well with distortion effects
• Pitch-shifter effects (including octaver effects)
Learn all about audio effects for bass guitar, including modulation, octave, pitch shift, wah-wah, chorus and flanger/phaser. How to hear them and why to learn.
In episode 5 of the Bass Tone podcast, Bass FX Part 1, Nick Long covers the most frequently used audio effects for the bass guitar. You’ll learn all about:
• Equalization (EQ), the cornerstone of a good effects chain
• Compression and Limiting to even out playing dynamics
• Multiband Compression
• Distortion, Overdrive and Fuzz Effects
Modulation audio effects are among the most popular, so train your ears for tremolo, vibrato, pitch shift, wah-wah. Learn how in this FX ear training tutorial.
Modulation effects, including chorus and flanger effects, are among most popular and noticeable audio effects. Learn about each type and how to hear them.
Reverb can create a subtle sound environment or have a strong impact on your tone. Learn more about reverb audio effects and how to train your ears for them.