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All About Audio: How to survive your freshman AET courses

So you’re finally here, and you made it through the first three days of classes. You listened to everything Steve said in “What incoming AET students should bring to Belmont”  and are prepared to engineer like a pro this year. So what’s next?

Chances are you’re in at least one of the following classes: Critical Listening, Introduction to the DAW or Survey of Recording Technology. These are the three foundational AET classes freshmen take before the more advanced classes, like Audio I and Live Sound Reinforcement.

So how do you survive in these classes? Come take a walk with me, Steve the Sound Man, and let me teach you how you can succeed in each one of these classes.

Critical Listening

Critical Listening was one of my favorite classes I took my fall semester freshman year. You’ll have one of three professors this semester: Kelly Ford, Jon Lechner or Doyuen Ko — all of whom are fantastic teachers and invaluable resources to use when you need guidance or clarification.

I had Dr. Ko when I took this class, and it was a great experience, but I’m also a huge nerd when it comes to this stuff, so I may be a little bit biased.

Critical listening is described in the AET course catalog as “the study and practice of ear training as it relates to the identification, manipulation and perception of sound. This course provides a concentrated in-depth study utilizing exercises designed to develop specific listening skills in audio production.” In layman’s terms, you’re pretty much learning how to hear.

Sounds weird, right? You may be thinking, “But Steve, I already know how to hear!” Shh. Trust me, you don’t. Not yet. Everyone listens to music and “hears” it, but what separates a novice listener from an expert listener is the ability to comprehend all of the elements that make up a song both musically and scientifically. Although both are important in order to form the entire piece, critical listening focuses mainly on the scientific part and how frequencies, time-based effects and technical anomalies can affect and shape just how we perceive music in both positive and negative ways.

I know what you’re asking yourself: “Steve, that’s a great explanation of the class. Like, that’s incredible. You have such a way with words. But how can I do well?” Firstly, thank you anonymous reader. I appreciate your kindness. Secondly, great question! It takes a lot of practice to do well in this class. And I mean a lot. If you’re naturally good at hearing frequencies and different technical aspects of music and understanding how and why they do what they do, congratulations. That will definitely come to your advantage during these next eight weeks. If you’re not as lucky and can’t pick up on those minor details as well as others, that’s okay too! It’ll just require a little more effort to really drill those frequencies into your brain. The program that you’ll end up using will be your best friend and one of the most important tools you will use during this course. There are apps for iOS and Android devices that help you develop your ear by playing games like “name that frequency,” which you will be doing a lot of during your time in Critical Listening.


For anyone unfamiliar with what a DAW is, it’s short for Digital Audio Workstation. These are programs like Pro Tools, Logic and even Audacity. This course is taught by Nathan Adam, Alan Shacklock and Billy Bennett, and it focuses on Pro Tools and how to use it quickly, effectively, and efficiently. Even if you’re used to a different DAW or have never touched one before, this class will be extremely beneficial to your career as an AET student. The material is fast-paced as it is an eight-week class, but you’ll learn a lot. Just remember your shortcuts. Please, if there’s anything you do, just remember your shortcuts.

But how do you survive the class? Again, just do the work. Practice whenever you can. Go into the computer labs on the third floor of the Johnson Center and play around with Pro Tools. Obviously do your assignments too, but trial and error is one of the best ways to learn your way around the program. Watch the videos (if that’s how they’re still doing things. That’s how we did it when I took DAW in fall 2015) and read along with the transcripts. Buy Pro Tools for yourself with a student discount (I personally recommend Studica, check it out here or try Pro Tools First ( for free. Either way, getting your hands on the program is going to be the best way to ensure that you do well in DAW.

Survey of Recording Technology

Commonly referred to as Rec-Tech, this class’ central focus is to give a general overview of the history of the recording industry from its inception all the way up to present day. The professors teaching Rec-Tech this semester are Mark Robinson, Tim Brown, Michael Poston, Kelly Ford, Justin Dowse, Jason Garner, Billy Bennett, Jim Kaiser and Benjamin Poff. Rec-Tech is essentially an applied history class, since you trace through the development of recording technology, who was important in developing it and how it shaped the musical world over time.

You can survive this class by memorizing facts and reading the material, but understanding where this technology came from and how it came to be will get you a lot farther than merely committing dates and names to memory. The content is interesting — at least, it is to me — which makes it easier to stay attentive and do well. One of the highlights of Rec-Tech is the recording project in which you’ll mix a pre-recorded song on an analog console in the basement of the Massey Business Center. You really get some creative freedom with that project, and if you know what you’re doing, it can be a lot of fun.

That was a lot of information. To sum it up, as long as you do the work you’ll be fine. That’s the obvious answer and that goes for any class you’ll take, but these are your foundational AET classes. You’ll be building off of this information for the next four years, so it’s safe to say that the information you’re learning in these classes will be important to you for a while after. The top priority is to learn and enjoy yourself while you’re doing it.

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