Recording Harmonica for free with Audacity

Recording your harmonica is an great way to improve your playing, the free Audacity recording software is a good starting point. Even beginners should attempt to record themselves. Please try, and do not be disappointed if your first recordings don't sound the way that you want them to. With practice, your recordings will sound better. Remember, the important thing is that your playing improves, and that you enjoy yourself.

If you have a computer, then you have almost all the equipment needed to make your own recordings. There is is very good free recording software package, called Audacity. Download the Audacity package, and install it in your computer.

You will also need a microphone. The picture above is a Shure SM58, a very common professional microphone used by many harmonica players. If you cannot afford one of these, then your music shop or electronics store should have cheaper microphones, which should also work.

You need to connect the microphone to your computer soundcard to record your playing. The plug on the microphone cable probably looks like this.

However, the plug hole on your sound card is most probably smaller than the microphone plug. So, you need to buy an adaptor plug, as shown in the photo below. You can get these plugs from your electronics store. Plug the microphone cable into the adaptor plug, then insert the adaptor plug into the microphone input of your soundcard. You recording will work better if you use headphones to hear the music while you play, rather than your computer speakers.

When you record, it is best to hold the microphone in your hand, as shown in the photo below.

The best method is to record your harmonica along with an backing track. Choose one of the mp3 tracks from the backing tracks page, or from one of lessons.

Once you have chosen your backing track, then start the Audacity application, go to file -> open, then pick your mp3 backing track. It should open in the Audacity window. Press the green play button. You should hear the track. Stop the track, by pressing the brown stop button. Now plug your microphone into your soundcard, put your headphones on, take the harmonica and microphone in your hand, and press the red record button. Start playing as soon as you hear the track. You will see that your harmonica part appears in a separate track.

Now play the track again. You should hear the backing track, and the harmonica part which you have recorded.It is very important to set the correct recording level for your microphone. In particular, if your microphone is too loud, then your harmonica will sound distorted. You can adjust the level of your microphone by adjusting the slider in the top bar of the audacity window, with the microphone picture next to it. There is also a red recording level indicator in the top bar of the audactiy window. You should aim to have this indicator level at about half way while you play. If the indicator bar is full while you play, then your music will be distorted, and you should turn your microphone down.

Try not to record too much to start with. Maybe just a single 12 bar blues, or a single tune. Listen to your recording. You will almost certainly be disappointed (everyone is!). However, there will be maybe one or two notes that you are happy with. Remember these notes. Delete your recording, by pressing the small cross in the top left hand corner of your audio window. Then record your part again. Try to play the notes you liked the same way. With many attempts, you will finally have a recording that you are happy with.

A few tips to improve your recordings. Firstly, your harmonica will sound much better if you plug your microphone into an external preamp, then connect the preamp to the soundcard. Below is a picture of a preamp which I often use for recording. If you do use a preamp, then you must set your soundcard recording input to "line", rather than "microphone". You should be able to do this by looking in the "Sounds and Audio Devices" section of your computer control panel.

Also, your harmonica part will sound better with some delay effect added to it. Once you have recorded the harmonica part, then select it, by dragging your mouse over it. Then go to the effects menu and select delay. Try a delay amount of 6, a delay time of 0.20, and a 1 for the number of echos. Remember, delay is like chilli sauce. A small amount is great, too much will ruin the dish.

If you are recording a blues track, then record only 12 bars at a time. Record the same 12 bars many times, until you are happy with your playing (or, until you have decided that it is not likely to get any better!). Then, click your mouse in the backing track, a couple of seconds before the end of the first 12 bar. Now, start the same process with the second 12 bar, repeating your recording many times until you are happy. You should now have two good harmonica parts, one for the first 12 bar, another for the second 12 bar. Continue in this way until you have recorded harmonica parts for all the 12 bar sections in the backing track. The final result will be MUCH better than if you had attempted to record all of the 12 bar sections at the same time. When I record, I often make 50 attempts of the same small section before I have a take that I am happy with.

Finally, once you have recorded your harmonica parts, adjust the volume of each part, by moving the volume slider in each audio window.

Good luck with your recording. Be patient, and you will eventually make recordings that you are happy with. And, most importantly, you will become a much better harmonica player as a result.