Thursday, January 17, 2013

Teaching Sound

Education is major part of our industry. Anyone working in audio is on a life long journey to gather knowledge and experience and most of us to some degree pass that information on. More often than not it's in the context of trying to get some misinformed person to understand the way things really are. Fighting misconceptions is no way to teach. Sometimes though we get an opportunity to help people out who are starting with a clean slate. Working with school and community theatre projects or teaching volunteers at a church are good examples.

But where do you start? It's not that common these days but it's a similar endeavor to teaching someone how to use a computer. How do you go about teaching complex operations to someone who's never used a mouse? Sometimes people in the forums will answer that question with a laundry list of all the arts and sciences a neophyte will need to learn. Basic physics and electrics, electronic theory, filters, dynamic processing, acoustics, equalization, balance, and the list goes on and on. And you're standing in front of someone who may not know the difference between a guitar amp and a line array.

My current method is to locate a book so they can wade through a lot of the basics on their own. My current favorite is Live Sound Fundamentals. That lets them start to understand the physics, basic signal routing and processing and possibly more on their own time. Once their up to a certain level it's a lot easier to start building them up. Some of them will already know a few things, some of the material will make a light bulb go on, and some of it will be incomprehensible. Once it's all in their heads though it can surface later as the learning process goes on.

Lesson one though is pretty easy to define though. When I'm faced with a bunch of fresh faced junior high kids that need to know how to run the house system for the play I've got a ten minute lesson that will get them through the week without making their little heads explode. Mic, cable, snake, console, amp, speaker. Then I cover the trim knob and fader, explaining coarse and fine adjustment. If they're still with me I'll cover EQ just a tiny bit.

Even that is a lot to start out with and a lot of times it will take going over it every day for a week before it sinks in. The big thing to remember is not to give them too much. I've run in to people who have been mixing at their church for years and have no idea about anything in between the trim and the faders. It's like that section of the console just doesn't exist. It's pretty fun to explain that an aux bus is like another row of faders and watch the light bulb go on.

Just keep at it Brethren of the Knob and Fader. Education is part of the job. Keep training yourself and share your knowledge every chance you get. In an industry infused with misinformation and sometimes even outright superstition it's an up hill battle. But it's one worth fighting.

1 comment:

  1. As I believe I've mentioned on here before, I teach audio formally, focusing heavily on in-studio practices, and "casually"; by which I mean more in-the-field live sound reinforcement. The differences between the two are astounding and I accordingly take totally different approaches.

    The former is actually a structured curriculum that I developed mostly myself and teach at an established local studio. It's in a totally controlled environment with folks who are actually paying money to listen to me lecture and get hands-on time as well. It's spread out over the span of about seven months so there's tons of time to answer questions as we go and stop and dwell on a topic that is giving the students more of a hard time. In that scenario I start with a basic overview of the industry and get an idea of what the students want out of the classes and what their interested in pursuing. Then we start with a basic physics of sound / studio design. Up next is mics / mic technique, the console / signal flow, processing, and eventually running sessions. Then all the digital aspects. We also talk about film and surround sound mixing and some other good stuff in the more advanced classes. That's overly simplified, but I think you get the gist.

    The latter is more learn-as-you-go, address-topics-as-they-come-up, as you might imagine. So it starts with super simplified signal flow just so they can get some kind of sounds up and then filling in the blanks as we go. All the real theory is taught during the downtimes or times when we don't have to be quite as attentive to the stage. It has it's benefits for sure, but in general I can tell the student's brain is more taxed as it has jump back and forth between topics and they always have a ton of questions after the gig. I also find it's harder for them to retain information this way.

    And yeah, seeing folks "get" aux sends is a pretty magical moment. I find that most people (including my newbie self) really have a hard time understanding them at first.

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