A-Z Music Technology Glossary
Here is a basic A-Z glossary of music technology so that you can feel comfortable in this wonderful music technology world.
Music technology is a big technical subject that requires an understanding a wide range of words that you may not have heard anywhere else. You may just nod and smile politely at the sound engineer while he bamboozles you with his entire technical gobbledegook while you sit at the mixing desk with him. Do not be afraid of the language that the ‘so called’ professionals may use whilst trying to strike up a conversation about… well anything really.
An Arpeggiator is a device that plays a sequence of notes based upon the input of the keyboard/synthesiser, commonly used in dance music production. Many arpegiattors can be programmed to play a sequence of notes over different octaves just by simply playing a chord or just one note.
Arpegiattors can appear in hardware or software devices: famous examples include the Roland Jupiter 4 and Reason 4’s RPG8 Monophonic Arpeggiator.
Filter Band Pass
A Band Pass Filter is a filter that is used in the equalisation process to ‘pass’ or remove a band of frequencies. Frequencies outside of the band are attenuated while frequencies inside the band are enhanced.
Cardioid is a pattern of sensitivity. A microphone with a cardioid pattern is said to have high sensitivity to sounds that are produced in front of it and low sensitivity to sounds produced behind it. A cardioid pattern can easily be recognised as its shape resembles that of a love heart.
A De-esser is a signal processor used to reduce the sibilance from a singer’s voice. Occasionally ‘ess’ and ‘shh’ sounds are produced by singers so a de-esser is used to reduce this sibilance.
An equaliser is a device used for tonal enhancement. Equalisation can be used to make sounds sound ‘brighter’, ‘fuller’, ‘darker’ etc.
Parametric, Semi parametric, Graphic, Notch, Peak and Swept are all types of equalisers.
F Flutter Echo
A flutter echo is an easily recognisable ringing noise that echoes between two reflective, parallel surfaces. A flutter echo can easily be achieved through a loud hand clap in a small room.
A gate is a term used in audio processing. A noise gate is used to control the volume of a signal. In essence a noise gate only allows a signal to pass through when it is above a certain threshold and it does not allow a signal through if it is below the threshold. Not to be confused with compression or limiting.
Headroom is the term used to describe the space between nominal signal level and the undistorted value. A signal will clip and distort if it goes above the headroom. On a mixing desk the nominal level is usually a green colour, headroom is usually a yellow/amber colour and the distorted signal appears as a red colour.
Impedance is a measurement of the opposition to the alternating current in a circuit. Impedance is usually specified on most mixing desks, speakers and amps.
J Jack Plug
A jack plug is also known as a TRS connector. It is commonly found on head phones and is available in three standard sizes: 2.5mm, 3.5 mm and ¼”. Mono Jacks and Stereo jacks are easily distinctive. Mono Jacks only have one ring around the tip while stereo jacks have two rings around the tip.
Keyboards are commonly used in music production. A MIDI keyboard however does not produce sounds unlike a piano; instead a
MIDI keyboard sends information to a device such a VST instrument which then interprets that information that produces the desired sound.
A limiter is a signal processor which cuts off a signal once it reaches a set threshold. In essence a limiter is a type of compression but with a very high ratio.
Modulation can be described as the process when the pitch of a tone rises and falls. Many MIDI Keyboards feature a modulation wheel and this can be used to create a wobbly sound when a set of keys have been programmed.
Noise reduction is the process of removing unwanted noise from a given signal. An example of noise reduction would be removing the hiss from an old analogue recording. Noise reduction is commonly used in music restoration.
Oscillators are used in synthesisers to create a waveform which can then be passed through an ADSR (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release) envelope and an LFO (Low Frequency Oscillator) to create a particular sound.
P Parallel Compression
Parallel Compression is a technique used in mixing a production. Parallel compression can be used to make a drum track sound more dynamic. It is achieved by mixing an unprocessed signal with compressed version of the same signal.
Quantisation can be used to program notes that have been recorded into a sequencer. Quantisation is often used to rectify timing mistakes by using full bars, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32 and 1/64 notes. Over quantisation can create a robotic and artificial sound.
Resonance is a term used in acoustics. A resonant frequency is the natural frequency at which a material will vibrate. For example your body may start to vibrate (resonate) in a loud club due to the heavy bass.
S Side Chain Compression
Side Chain Compression is a type of dynamic range compression. Side Chain Compression is achieved by reducing the level of one signal with a different signal and it creates a ‘pumping’ sound.
Side Chain compression is commonly used in the production of French house.
T Total Harmonic Distortion
Total Harmonic Distortion is the measurement of difference between an input signal and an output signal of an amplifier. This THD is a specification usually found on amplifiers. It is measured as a percentage; the lower the percentage the more impressive the amplifier specification e.g. 0.003% Total Harmonic Distortion is better than 0.008% Total Harmonic Distortion.
The hearing range of a young person is about 20Hz – 20 kHz. Frequencies that are produced over 20 kHz are known as ultrasonic frequencies.
A vocoder is an audio processing effect that creates a robotic sound from a human voice. In essence a vocoder synthesises speech. Vocoders are commonly used in music production and vocoder examples can be heard in recent productions by Daft Punk, Madonna and Chromeo.
A wavelength is one full cycle of a sound wave. It can be measured peak to peak. In physics the symbol λ is used to represent wavelength.
XLR is a connection found on ‘industry-standard’ microphones. It is a three pin connector. XLR stands for X-tended Locking Round.
A Y-lead is a lead that feeds two different sources from one point. Y-leads commonly use jack plugs to connect to a destination. A Y-lead may be used to feed sound from an audio interface to a pair of speakers where two mono jack plugs would feed a right and left speaker, respectively.
A Zenith is the perfect alignment between a tape and a tape head. It is when a tape and a tape head are making 100% contact with each other. When a tape and a tape head are not aligned correctly it can lead to a poor sound quality.