Audacity Lesson 2: Edit Essentials
In this lesson we’re going to look at basic editing in Audacity. In particular we’re going to look at the six tools used for editing, we’ll also examine how to arrange audio in your session.
The Tools Toolbar
The aptly named Tools Toolbar is home to your tools. You can cycle through the six tools using the A and D keys on your keyboard. We’ll look at these in the order they appear on the Tools Toolbar, starting at the top-left with the Selection Tool.
The first tool we’re going to look at is the Selection Tool. If you’ve read through the Mix Essentials lesson you’ll have a rough idea what this does already, but let’s go over it again.
The selection tool is used to make selections.
A lot of the functionality in Audacity is reliant on having a selection, you can’t apply effects, copy, cut, trim or silence audio without a selection (noting that if you try to apply an effect without first making a selection the whole session will be selected). Making a selection is as easy as click and drag, you can also select across a number of tracks at one time.
As well as the selection tool, there are a number of commands available in the Edit menu for making selections:
Selects everything in your session/clears selections. Control+A and Control+Shift+A, respectively.
Left/Right at Playback Position
This lets you select an area to the left or right of the playback position. If you know exactly where you want to select to and from then this is how to do it. Place your playback position by clicking with the mouse then select this option, you can then key in where you want the selection to extend to. The short-cut is [ for Left and ] for Right.
Track Start to Cursor/Cursor to Track End
These select from the beginning of the session to the playback position cursor or from the playback position cursor to the end of the session. Short-cuts are Shift+J for Start to Cursor and Shift+K for Cursor to End by default.
In All Tracks/In Sync-Locked Tracks
Up till now the selection options have referred only to time. These two extend a selection to other tracks in your session. If you have a selection in one track and want other tracks included you can select either of these options to expand the selection to those tracks so they can be edited together. The short-cut for In All Tracks is Control+Shift+K.
Sync-Locked tracks are bound together in such a way that they can’t be separated in time by moving them with the Time Shift Tool (see Lesson 2: Edit Essentials). You can Sync Lock Tracks by clicking on this icon , or you can find it in the Tracks menu. The short-cut for selecting In Sync-Locked Tracks is Control+Shift+Y.
The Envelope Tools is a handy tool that allows you to change the level of a track at different points. The tool can be used to change the level of the track on the waveform rather than in the mix controls, more useful however is the ability to introduce fades to the track. If you try to change the level at two different points on one track you will add handles to the track, by dragging the handles down or up you the program will draw a fade between the existing handles. You can use this to make a particularly loud part of your track quieter without using any other dynamic processing (see the lesson on Dynamic Controls) or to add fades at the end of a song.
The Draw Tool lets you alter the waveform at the sample level. Exactly what a sample is is beyond the scope of this lesson, digital audio is composed of many thousands of samples which are drawn from the original analogue signal which was recorded.
To use the Draw Tool you have to zoom in to the point where you can see the individual samples marked on the waveform. In your average day-to-day edit, there isn’t an awful lot of need for the Draw Tool, you could use it to reduce any clicks or pops that appear in your recording, but more often than not you are better off simply re-recording your take rather than trying to edit it.
As the name suggests, the Zoom Tool lets you zoom into and out of your session view. Click to zoom in, Shift+Click or Right Click to zoom out. Click and drag with the Zoom Tool to zoom in on a specific area. If you have a middle mouse button (more than likely if you have a mouse with a wheel) clicking using that resets the zoom to the default level (you can also find this in the View menu – it’s called Zoom Normal).
You can also find Zoom controls on the Edit Toolbar. Zoom In and Zoom Out are both there, as well as two other options: Fit Selection and Fit Project. As the names suggest, these commands zoom in until the selection or the project fills the width of the screen. Fit Selection is useful for quickly zooming in on an area you want to work with. Fit Project is a useful alternative to Zoom Normal, since it gives you a view of the whole width of the session.
Time Shift Tool
The Time Shift Tool lets you move objects through time. Click and drag on a clip of audio to move it. You can also shift audio to other tracks using the Time Shift Tool.
If you have multiple clips of audio on a single track you can’t overlap the clips, though you can move one clip into the time before or after another by dragging it into the space at the far end. Time shifting is a useful skill for rearranging audio in your session, which we’ll look at later.
The Swiss Army Knife of Audacity tools, the Multi-Tool does it all. Mostly.
If you select the Multi-Tool (F6 on the keyboard), the first thing you’ll notice is that your track view changes the same way it does when you select the Envelope Tool. Another visual change is a semi-transparent tab at the left and right of the display for each track; if you click and drag these tabs with the Multi-Tool you can Time Shift audio on that track. Alternatively you can time shift by holding Control and dragging the waveform as you would with the Time Shift Tool.
If you Zoom right in to the track you can edit at the sample level as you would with the Draw Tool. Control zooming by holding Control on your keyboard and use the mouse wheel, although you can zoom like this at any time in Audacity.
That leaves selections and Envelope controls. If you hover over different parts of the waveform with the Multi-Tool, the mouse cursor will change to reflect what function is available at that point.
The Edit Toolbar
Many of these you’ll be familiar with from other software packages, not necessarily DAWs either, we’ll gloss over them quickly but they really need no introduction.
Cut, Copy and Paste
Cut, Copy and Paste work like they do in any other software. You lift a selection from the track to the Clipboard, where it’s kept until you Cut or Copy something else; you then place the information somewhere else by using Paste. You can Paste audio as often as you want as it stays on the Clipboard until you Cut or Copy something else. The difference between Cut and Copy is that Copy leaves the original selection in place as well as creating a version on the Clipboard; Cut removes the original.
The keyboard short-cuts for Cut, Copy and Paste are Control and X, C and V, respectively.
There is a particular kind of Cut in Audacity known as Split Cut. Split Cut works in much the same way as normal Cut with one difference. When you remove audio with normal Cut the audio that is after the Cut in the track is moved to where the cut starts, Split Cut takes away the audio in the normal way but leaves a gap instead. The short-cut for Split Cut is Control+Alt+X. Handy if you want to move a section of audio.
This isn’t on the Edit Toolbar, but it probably should be. You can also Delete audio from tracks. The fastest way to do this is by selecting the audio and using the Delete or Backspace key on your keyboard. Like Cut, Deleting audio like this will move any audio that comes after the Deleted audio to move forward. Again like Cut, there is an alternative Delete called Split Delete, which behaves in the same way as Split Cut only without moving the audio to the Clipboard. The short-cut for Split Delete is Control+Alt+K.
Trim Audio is a useful tool if you have a take with sections where there is no useful audio, perhaps a quiet part of a song where an instrument doesn’t play or a track where an instrument only plays a short section. Trim Audio removes all audio in a clip excluding the selection. Select the audio you want to keep and click the icon (or use the short-cut Control+T) and the surrounding audio will be removed.
This has predictable results. All audio in the selection is replaced with silence. You could use this as an alternative to Gating (discussed in the lesson on Dynamic Controls) by using Silence Audio to create silence where an instrument is not playing during a take. Note that Silence Audio does not create separate clips.
Undo and Redo
The only thing you might not know about Undo and Redo is the keyboard short-cuts. Undo is Control+Z, Redo is Control+Y.
Split and Join
These aren’t on the Edit Toolbar either but, like Delete, they should be; they’re in the Edit menu instead, under Clip Boundaries. As the name suggests Splitting clips results in two separate clips on a single track. When you split clips you can move them independently of each other. You can extract a selection to a new track by selecting Split New from the Edit → Clip Boundaries menu. As you might expect, Join does the opposite: Join attaches clips together.
One last option in the Clip Boundaries sub-menu is Detach at Silences, this option effectively Split Deletes any completely silent audio in the selection. The idea being that you can tidy up your project by removing these unnecessary silences. The problem with this is that absolute silence is pretty unlikely, even generated tracks like Click Tracks aren’t silent between clicks. What I’m trying to say is that it’s completely useless unless you manually silence the area beforehand, but if you’re going to do that you’re as well using Split Delete and do both in one move.
These guys control zoom from the Edit Toolbar. From left to right: Zoom In, Zoom Out, Fit Selection and Fit Project, as explained earlier in this lesson.
Arranging Audio in Audacity
So how does all this come together to be of any use to you? Well I’m glad you asked. Here’s a couple of tips for working with audio.
Working with Loops
So we’re sure, a Loop is exactly that; a clip of audio that you repeat over and over again, perhaps a drum pattern or guitar riff that you want to reuse a previous version of rather than playing the part again. Automatic looping in Audacity is restricted to the Repeat effect, it’s worth looking at looping manually so you can get a handle on working with the tools. If the section you want to loop is part of a larger clip, highlight it with the Selection Tool (you might want to Zoom in to the sample level to find the exact point where the loop starts and ends so it isn’t out of time) and select Split New from the Edit → Clip Boundaries menu. That will result in the selection being moved to a new track; from there it’s a simple case of using Copy and Paste to duplicate the clip as often as it is needed then using the Time Shift tool to align the clips. Audacity will snap clips together when you align them in time, resulting in a smooth loop.
Clicks and Pops
When you’re editing audio you’ll sometimes find you wind up with clicks and pops after you edit. One possible cause of this is the position of the edit, if you clip off the end of a section of audio you’re likely to introduce an artefact into your sound. This is something that’s easier to avoid than it is to fix. The best place to trim a section of audio is any point where the amplitude of the waveform is 0, on the waveform view in Audacity, that’s the black line running through the middle.
Alternatively you can introduce a fade over the section. To do this you can use the Envelope tool to draw a fade in or you can use the fade effects in the Effects menu, select the audio you want to fade, go through that menu to either Fade In or Fade Out, as needed.
You’ll likely find that DAWs tend to work around the idea of splitting larger blocks of audio into smaller ones for editing and arrangement. Audacity is no different as we’ve discussed, but it’s perhaps not as intuitive as it’s more expensive counterparts; I’m really thinking about the Delete and Cut functions which knock the rest of that track out of place. Of course if you use the Split versions this won’t happen, but if you’re into your keyboard short-cuts you’ll quickly realise the most obvious key on your keyboard for scrapping a section of audio (for Delete: Delete or Backspace) isn’t the one you want to use (Split Delete: Control+Alt+K). Like most things it’s really down to experience and how you prefer working with the audio.