Tracks Everywhere

If you have been following these guides then you are probably now at a point where you have installed some recording software and can use it to record simple tracks. This is a great place to be and if you are not quite there then feel free to read through part 1 and part 2 of this guide. Now we will look into multi track basics and how it can be achieved in audacity. We will be using hydrogen to make a click track so that everything can be kept in time and your music will be played at the right speed. Part 4 deals with using Ardour but the techniques you learn in this article are still essential for creating drum parts or custom clicks.

The Click of Choice

Hydrogen is a free drum sequencer that is available for Linux and has a good set of sounds for you to use. There is an expansion available which gives you a lot of drum kits to play with. We are going to us it in the most simple way for the purpose of having a click track. You may be wondering why we are not using the built in click track function built into audacity for this. The reason is twofold. Firstly the built in click in audacity is very fake sounding with the option for a tick, a ping or a noise and I personally have never been able to concentrate while using it. I have always prefered a real drummer to jam with, and hydrogen gives a more authentic sound for me to follow and it helps me concentrate. Secondly making a click track in hydrogen is a great way to get used to using it and exporting the results to ".WAV" format, and importing it into Audacity. This technique will be very useful if you want to make finished tracks at home but you do not know a drummer or you do not have the space and equipment to record a real drum kit.

Make A Pattern

Open up hydrogen now and you should see two grids. The top one is the song editor and the bottom one is the pattern editor. make sure that "pattern 1" is selected in the song editor then, using the pattern editor click one of the beat markers so that a black diamond shape is left. If you press space bar the pattern should start to play. If it only plays once there is no problem, all it means is that you are in " song mode" rather than pattern mode. You can toggle between these modes with a control at the top of the window. Once you are comfortable with these controls finish your pattern off so that it is a nice steady beat. There is a tempo control which dictates the speed at which your beat will be played which by default is set to 120.0 BPM (beats per minute). Using the "+ and -" buttons you can increase or decrease the speed until it is right for your song.

Give It Some Length

In order to make a click track there needs to be some length to the song otherwise you will only get a track of the pattern played through once. To make the track have the correct duration you should click the squares next to  "pattern 1 " in the song editor. They will turn blue indicating that they are active. Your screen should now look something like the picture. Now when you click on the "project" menu and select "export song" you will be led through a set of save dialogue boxes. Make sure you call your file something sensible and remember where you put it because you will need to be able to find it. When it is finished exporting save your project and close hydrogen.

It Should Look Like This

Click track in Hydrogen
Credit: Mike Keen

Now open audacity, this is the program that we are using to record with but it is also going to play the click track back to us. Now most computers will not have any trouble in doing this while others may struggle. If that is the case with your computer then you may need to send your click track to something like a smart phone so that you can play it back while the computer records. Most computers however should not have any trouble. on the File menu select import then choose "audio" from the sub menu that appears. A dialogue box should appear where you can find the .wav file that you previously exported from hydrogen. select your file and click the "open" button on the dialogue box. You should now see the track inside your audacity window. if you click play you will hear your click.

Playing while Recording

Click Track Overdub

Before you record anything click on the "edit" menu and select preferences. In the side pane of the dialogue box select "recording" and make sure that the "ovedub" option is checked. click "ok" to remove the dialogue. Now when you hit record you will be able to play along to your click and record your music in time. If you are recording through a microphone use headphones to record because if you use speakers the sound of the click will be recorded onto the music track you are laying down. You can record as many tracks as you want and they will all be in time with each other. If when you are finished recording you mute the click track you will be able to hear your masterpiece without the beat.

Play Around

Use overdub to play to the click track

Play Around

Instead of simply making a click track why not experiment and make more elaborate drum tracks. You now have a good understanding of some very basic techniques so you should do your own experiments in order to build on them. Why not see if you can use hydrogen to recreate your favorite songs drum line. If you are unclear on any details why not see if part 1 and part 2 can help. If you have read those part 4 is now available and it introduces a new way of routing sound to programs inside your computer called JACK, as well as the most basic use of Ardour.