Getting Started with Audacity

Audacity is an open-source (free) program that allows you to record sound, alter sound files, add effects to the sound, and save/export sound files.

Turn In: MyFirstRecording.aup, MyFirstRecording.wav, word.wav, cough.aup, roar.wav

In this activity we are going to go through some of the features of Audacity.

Note: This is just a glimpse at what Audacity can do. There are a number of resources you can use to learn more about Audacity.

Running Audacity

If you have Audacity on your computer, you can press the Windows key and start typing in audacity to launch the appplication. You may have an icon on your desktop to launch Audacity.

Instructions are provided below if you do not have Audacity already installed on your computer.

Install Audacity

Audacity runs on Windows, Macintosh, and Linux. Directions below are for Windows. See the Audacity site for assistance with other operating systems or ask your instructor.

Go to the Audacity website ...


Click on Download then Windows. You can find this either on the left-hand side of the website or across the top of the home page. There are two options that can be used to install. The first option is the installer with help files. The second option does not have the help files but can be used if you are not able to install programs on the computer.

Note: Pick either option 1 or option 2 below, but not both. 1 is the installer and 2 is the zip file (no installer).

1. Download the EXE file, double-click on audacity-win-x.y.z.exe (where x.y.z is the current version) to start the installer. Answer yes if prompted to make changes to your computer, select your language (default is English), click on Ok. Click Next to start the install wizard, click Next when done reading the information, click Next for the location of the program, select your additional tasks and click Next, click Install, click Next when done reading the additional information, and click Finish.

2. Download zip file, right click Unblock, Extract all files, double-click on audacity.exe, answer yes to associate .AUP files with Audacity.

At this point Audacity should be running. Depending on how you did the installation, you may have a shortcut to start Audacity in the future, you may have to create your own shortcut, or you may want to pin Audacity to your taskbar.

When Audacity first starts up, you will see the "How to Get Help" page. If you don't want to see that on startup, there is an option in the lower left corner to adjust that. Be sure to read through the help options if you wish to use Audacity beyond the minimal number of things we will be doing in this activity.

Quick Audacity Overview

Audacity should be running, if not, please start it up.

Click on Help then Quick Help. Click on each of the links under "Using Audacity" for a quick overview of the program.

Menu Bar ... Across the top of the application are menu options starting with File then Edit. Many of the actions in Audacity are available through those menus. At startup, some options are available and others are not available.

Toolbars ... Directly under the Menu Bar are a number of different tool bars. The Quick help will provide names and more information about them. The Transport Toolbar is used frequently to record, stop, pause, skip to start, and skip to end (VCR/DVD style buttons). Depending on what you are doing, the other toolbars will most likely be used less. Notice the Lower Toolbar dock area.

The large area in the middle of Audacity shows the sound files that you are working on.

Record in Audacity

Many computers have a built-in microphone. If your computer does not, find a headset or microphone so that you can record sound and plug it into your computer. Some setup may be necessary.

Click the Record button (red circle) and start talking. Talk loud and talk soft, move closer to your microphone and further away. After recording for 10 seconds or so, click on the stop button (the yellow square).

You should see your recording in the middle of the Audacity application.

Click the record button again and start talking for about the same time but say different things. Notice that you will hear your first recording as you talk and you will see a second recording. If using the built-in microphone you will probably hear feedback since what is playing from the speakers is being recorded by the microphone.

Notice the X next to "Audio Track" in the upper left corner of your recording. Click on the X of the second recording to remove it.

Note: If using the built-in microphone, try plugging in earbuds. Remove the first recording then make two recordings again and see if you notice a difference.

Before moving to the next section be sure you have one recording visible in Audacity.

Saving A Sound File

Click File then Save Project. The shortcut Save key is to hold the Ctrl key then press the S key.

When saving a project the first time, you will get a warning about the project not being an audio file. This means that what you are saving will not be usable by other programs. We are going to save our projects in the Audacity format then will export them once we have done the editing. There is an option to not show this warning again if you like.

Click on Ok to save the project file then choose the location and the name of your project file. You should choose the current location of the projects for this week and use the name MyFirstRecording.aup

Playing Back Your Recording

Click the Play button (green triangle) to hear what you recorded. While playing, click on the Pause button (two blue lines) and the playback pauses. Click the Pause button again to continue playing the recording. Click the Stop button which stops playing and moves back to the start of the recording.

Click on the Skip to End button (arrows pointing to the right) then at the end of the clip, hold your left mouse button and drag a little bit to the left ... you should see the end of the recording selected. Press the Play button. Notice that it only plays the selected part of the clip.

Click on the Skip to Start button (arrows pointing to the left) then find the number 1.0 across the top and click on the recording somewhere directly under the 1.0. Click the Play button and the recording will start playing from the 1.0 second point.

Edit A Sound File

Zooming in and out is helpful when editing if you want to do things from the big picture or very detailed. In the View menu are options to Zoom In, Zoom Out, and Zoom Normal. There are also icons with the Magnify glass (and plus/minus signs) to zoom in, zoom out, and fit project. Try these controls out and play the recording when both zoomed in and zoomed out.

Choose one small phrase or group of words in the middle of your recording. We are going to remove the rest of the recording and leave just that phrase.

Find the start of the part you want to keep. Play back the file several times, click to pick start points close to the start, and watch the timeline across the top of the recording to find your edit points. Another visual cue when editing is the shape/size of the sound. Zoom in to see the recording in more detail and zoom out to see the bigger picture of the recording.

Once you have found the start of the part you want to keep, click on the starting point, hold down your left mouse button, and drag to the left of the clip. You have selected the part before what you want to keep. You can press the delete key, pick Edit then Cut, or press the Ctrl-X key combination to remove the unwanted part of the clip. Find the ending point of the clip then do the same thing by selecting the end point and dragging to the right side then delete/cut it.

Export a Sound File

The Audacity project file (AUP) cannot be used by other programs. Audacity has the ability to export into a number of different sound formats used by other programs. There are also plug-ins available for additional sound file formats.

A common format for sound files is the WAV format and that will be used in this section. Simply pick a different format to export into that format.

Click on File then "Export Audio". Select the location to place the file (i.e. your activity folder for this week), the name of the file (you should have MyFirstRecording.AUP open so the name of the exported file will be MyFirstRecording.WAV), and select the format of the file (we will use WAV signed 16-bit PCM). Once you make any necessary adjustments then click the Save button. A screen will come up that allows you to put in any Metadata about the sound file. Fill in any, all, or none of the information and then click on Ok. Metadata is used by some applications to provide additional information about the sound file that is being played. To verify that it saved properly, find the file and play the file. Usually, you can double-clicking on a sound file to play it.

Suppose you want just part of the audio track exported. Drag and select just one word in the audio track, when selected click on Play to play just the selection and verify that it is correct. Next,

click on File then "Export Selected Audio". Choose your activity folder, change the name to word.wav, and leave the format at WAV signed 16-bit PCM. Click on Save then click on Ok. Play the word.wav file to verify that it just saved the one word.

More information about sound file formats and what formats are used by various programs is available by doing some research.


Effects alter the current sound. A lot of time could be spent going through the details of each effect but since this is a "Getting Started" activity, we are going to do one illustration of effects.

If you have any audio tracks open in Audacity, close them. Record a new audio track of yourself coughing several times and in different ways. Play back the coughs, find one that you like, then cut the other coughs out so you only have one. If needed, zoom in when doing the editing. Save the project as Cough.aup

Click on the "Skip to Start" and Play the cough to assure that all of it is playing properly.

Click on the Effect menu then pick Change Speed. In the "Percent Change" box type in -75 then click Ok. You should see the length of the audio track expand. Audacity slowed down your cough recording so it will take longer to play.

Play your cough recording, it should sound like a lion roar. Export this as roar.wav then close Audacity but do not save the project (the last saved project was the cough.aup).

There are a number of tutorials on using Audacity to create a lion roar like this and a number of tutorials on using the effects in Audacity.

The effects can be used to address background noise, effect the volume of the recording, and altering the recording in a lot of different ways. The Audacity manual has a section devoted to Effects and covers each of them.

Combining Audio Tracks/Clips

Open MyFirstRecording.aup in Audacity then open cough.aup in Audacity. You should have two different copies of Audacity running one of the clips open in each. Select the cough (click at the starting point, hold down the left mouse button, and drag to the end of the clip). Choose Edit then Copy from the Audacity menu.

Switch to Audacity with MyFirstRecording.aup open. Click in the gray area below the audio track, click on Edit, then click on Paste. Notice that it adds a new audio track for the cough underneath MyFirstRecording. Play it and you will hear both at the same time. Click on the X in front of the cough audio track to remove it (you should only have the MyFirstRecording).

Click somewhere in the middle of the MyFirstRecording audio track then pick Edit and Paste. Notice that it pastes the cough at the point in MyFirstRecording that your had clicked on. Find another place in the MyFirstRecording and Edit then Paste again (or Ctrl-V is the shortcut key). You will see another cough. Play the clip and you will hear your first recording with coughs at the point that you added them.

There will be times you want to play multiple clips at the same time and other times that you want to put part of one clip inside another.

Close each of your Audacity programs and do not save the changes that you made.

For More Information

An excellent starting point for more information about Audacity is by clicking on Help then pick either Quick Help or Manual.

Also, search the Internet for Audacity tutorials in general or specific things you want to learn.

Note: Internet Disclaimer: The Internet has some good stuff, bad stuff, and dumb stuff. While you can learn some really good stuff on the Internet, there may be some inappropriate language and material. Simply move on to the next option.

Copyright © 2021 Eric Schumm. Permission granted to freely use this in your classroom.