Listening With Your Equalizer

West Coast Swing Online Musicality

You’ve probably had the experience of watching pros dance to a song that you’ve heard a million times—and they hit something you had never heard before! How did they find that little note buried in the harmony?

One way to get better at hearing elements in a song is by playing with the equalizer. Almost every computer music program nowadays, as well as most car audio systems, have an equalizer function. In iTunes, for example, it looks something like this:


The equalizer looks much more complicated than it actually is. Every sound has a specific pitch—from low bass notes to high treble notes. The equalizer divides that range of sounds into bands. In iTunes, there are 10 bands; some equalizers have fewer, while high-end professional equalizers can have more than 20. Having more bands simply means that each band covers a smaller range of pitches, which allows more precise modifications. (There’s also a single pre-amp slider on the far left, which we’ll ignore for now.)

Each band has a slider that allows you to increase or decrease the volume of that specific range of notes. In the Rock equalizer setting, you can see that the high and low bands are slightly louder than the mid-range bands. That means that the bass drum will be pumped up a little bit more than the vocals as it comes out your computer. By contrast, the Pop setting boosts the mid-range (where most vocals will be), making those sections louder than normal.


The Drill: Put on a song and drop all but the lowest band or two down to the bottom of the slider. As you listen to the song, see if you can hear more detail in the bass line. Then, turn the next two sliders to normal while dropping all the others. Again, listen and see what other instruments you notice. Continue to work your way through the song, listening to just a band or two at a time.

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