Yes, it’s true—video editors can have friends too.

Behold the audio waveform, that squiggly visual representation of what you’re hearing. Learn it, understand it, and most of all, use it!

audio waveform

 

You’re probably already familiar with waveforms. They can come attached with video clips from built-in camera microphones, separately from dual-system audio, or in the form of music or sound effects.

Once a waveform is imported into your editor of choice, a visual preview of the waveform is usually generated automatically. Audio waveforms can provide a blueprint for editors, both technically and creatively.

But, what is a waveform?

Waveforms are actually graphs that show the amplitude of a recorded signal over time. In other words, waveforms show us when things get really loud, really soft, and everywhere in between for the duration of the clip.

Recognizing common patterns in waveforms can open up new ways to edit. Here are a few of my favorites:

 

The Kick Drum

The all-important kick drum (or bass drum) marks the tempo of the music, which, in turn, often influences the pace of an edit. Because kick drums are composed of low frequencies, which are visually bigger in a waveform, they are easy to identify without even listening to the music.

Follow along with this song until you hear the kick drum come in. Pay attention to each time there’s a kickdrum, and notice the similar shape it forms in the waveform. Now, pause the music and see if you’re still able to identify where the kick drums are.

Once you can recognize kick drums and other music patterns, you’ll be able to edit much faster and more purposefully. For example, if you knew you wanted to use a section of music with drums, you could skip to the more upbeat part of a track without having to listen through everything else. Inversely, if you want a more subdued section, you could jump to a segment of the song without drums.

Additionally, lining up visual cut points with these audio markers, like kick drums, is an easy way to add rhythm to your edit.

 

Dialogue Editing

people sitting and talking

Many types of videos, be it commercial, documentary, or even podcasts and YouTube videos, start with an interview or narration. As an editor, this often means getting handed lengthy clips that take a long time to listen through and select the best parts.

Like with music, the audio waveform of a voice track provides some clues about which parts of the clip might be useful to you.

There will be a big visual difference between the speaking voice and the background noise. Skipping forward in your timeline between the gaps of empty space is an easy time-saver.

If you are working with interview footage, often the interviewee (the subject) has a dedicated microphone while the interviewer isn’t mic’d up. This creates a difference in their audio waveforms. The subject will have a bigger waveform, letting you know visually where the questions are being asked and answered.

 

Timing Sound Effects

Jumping into the world of sound design can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Just like every other type of audio file, sound effects each have their own waveforms. Since sound effects tend to be short in length, it is easier to decipher visually where the important moments are.

For example, a “hit” has a big waveform at the very beginning and then gets smaller over time. A “whoosh” will start small, get bigger until it peaks, and then get smaller again.

Using your knowledge of the waveform, you can line up sound effects to work in concert with music, dialogue, and visuals. I will often line up the start of a hit, or the peak of a whoosh, with a kick drum of a music track. This way, everything sounds more cohesive and impactful.

On your next few projects, start to take note of the waveform. Notice how certain sounds look visually. Appreciate the patterns that are laid out in front of you. And use them to your advantage.

 

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AUTHOR
Jason Brandel,

Filmmaker/Video Editor

Jason is currently offering the Soundsnap community a 95% discount on his top-rated online course, The Complete Audio Guide for Video Editors, which includes 4.5 hours of in-depth video tutorials. Clicking the link automatically applies your discount