Audacity as an aid to Harmony Singers


I’d first like to describe the background to this posting.

I sing in a Barbershop chorus and we learn our stuff from the score and from what are called “teach tracks” (they used to be called teach tapes but even Barbershop occasionally moves on :slight_smile: ). The teach tracks each separately contain the line sung by each of the 4 traditional Barbershop voices: tenor, lead, baritone and bass (they also come in combinations; ie mixed variously with the other voices but that’s not too relevant to what I am trying to do.)

What would be really beneficial would be a way of recording the 4 separate teach tracks to make a single track from which resulting combined track of all 4 voices, individual voices could be played or omitted selectively; for example, without the bass track, say, or with the lead and bass voices but with no tenor or baritone.

Each track would need to be either mono or recorded equally on both stereo tracks.

Does anyone know if it is a) possible to do this with Audacity and b) if it is, how could the desired “voice missing” combination be selected and then played back?

I hope this is the right forum and that someone can help with this. Thank you.

Brian Smith

How do you get these tracks, i.e. in which format?
Can’t you import them directly?
This would be the easiest way because the tracks will then presumably have the same length and play in sync within Audacity.
If you once have imported the files, you can simply use the mute and solo buttons to make your choice, which voices should be audible together.
This setting will also apply to the export. Muted tracks won’t appear in the exported (stereo or mono) wave or mp3 or whatever format you want.

Hi Robert

They are all almost exclusively MP3 format.

Is it as simple as you suggest?

Just import them one by one, export them out again as a single song and then reload it to play back suppressing (muting) the unwanted tracks?

Is there anyway the loading and playing back can be slickened up? I need to avoid lots of tech stuff and PC fiddling while there are 4 guys standing around waiting to sing.

Thanks for coming back on this.


Hi Robert

I had a go and it appears to work fine. The tracks are preserved in the output file and can be soloed or muted when played back.

Is there anyway I can reduce the tracks to mono from the original stereo recording?


Indeed, it is as simple as that.
You can open the import dialog with Ctrl-Shift-I. You can import all 4 tracks in a single step - just select them with the mouse or Shift-Up/Down.
After muting (or soloing) the tracks you can press Play (Spacebar) for play back.
You can also play a certain selection. Shift-Spacebar plays it over and over until you press agin Space.
If you want to export as mp3 (if Lame is installed) see that you select a high quality setting You’ll find it in the Export Dialog, under options, after you’ve selected the file type.
However, Wave would be better because it is lossless. It needs about 10 x times the space of an mp3 though.

Hi Robert

Thanks very much for all your help. I didn’t know about the import multiple tracks in 1 go feature; that’s a real Godsend. I’ve been doing them 1 by 1.

I’ve got MP3 output set to 128Kps; is that about right?

On MP3 export options, can you say what Joint Stereo as opposed to Stereo means? I don’t know what I’ve changed but when exporting now Audacity says the 4 imported tracks will be mixed down to two stereo tracks which isn’t what I want. I need the 4 original tracks to be preserved and selectable in the exported MP3 file. I’ve obviously changed something because that was the effect I was getting when exporting earlier.

Also, as all 4 tracks have the same song name with just a suffix to distinguish them, is there anyway of expanding the left hand song details window so as to make the whole name visible? (The name in the top bar doesn’t change as you select different tracks, it remains showing the name of the last track to load.)

Finally, the imported stereo tracks have the voice I want in the left hand stereo half while other extraneous voices have leaked into the right hand half.

Moving the Panning arrow all the way to the left removes these extraneous voices leaving the voice part I want isolated which is perfect for my purposes.

But, if having set the panning value I then convert the stereo track to mono all the extraneous sounds re-appear; the panning effect doesn’t carry over into the converted track.

If I write the tracks out the panning effect is lost as well. What are my options when exporting for both preserving the 4 tracks and keeping the benefits of the panning adjustment?


You have to stay in Audacity for all the multi-track tricks to work. Each time you escape Audacity by Exporting a sound file, Audacity will try to mix down a stereo show suitable for burning to a CD or playing on a standard stereo personal music player.

You can force Audacity to Export a multi-track file, but it may not play on most casual sound players and most people have no multi-track players – so you’ll be back in Audacity anyway. An alternative is highlight each combination and Export-Selected each one. So you will have one whole song file missing the bass, a completely separate song file missing the Altos, etc. I know of no way to switch that all in real time on a normal music player.

You can, if you want, Save an Audacity Project. A Project is a blueprint for creating your multi-track show. It’s an AUP file and a _DATA folder of the same name containing the ingredients of the show. If you load a Project into Audacity, all your tracks will come right back just as you left them. If you’re careful, you can ship a project to anybody who has Audacity and they can open it up and play it with good track control. You might have quality problems if you do that because a Project is pretty large. DropBox is your friend.

You can convert everything to mono by highlighting a stereo track and Tracks > Stereo Track to Mono. Do that to each one and you will have a collection of mono tracks to play with – and the associated filesize savings. Stereo tracks are about twice as large.

Of course, the obsessive engineers will want to convert the final show to stereo and direction offset each voice, so on headphones, it sounds like the singers are spread out in front of you. Bass on the left…etc. This is the gold-plated reason to do everything in WAV instead of MP3. Each time you import and export an MP3 in Audacity, the quality goes down. You might work on a song for days and find that your multi-generation MP3 sounds like a bad cellphone call.

I should bite my tongue, but why aren’t you doing all this in real time?


Koz is surely right. Just stay in Audacity for playback and so on. Import the tracks and save the whole bunch as an Audacity project with the appropriate song title. You can now rename the imported tracks to show the voice register only (in the track drop down menu).
You only need the export feature if you want to practice in your car or to pass a particular version to one of your co-singers.

Stereo/Joint Stereo:
If you choose Stereo for mp3 encoding, both channels will be treated separately and encoded with 64 kbps (for 128 kbps stereo file). Joint stereo “borrows” bits from the the other channel, if there is nearly silence. Thus one side could have 96 and the other 32 kbps.
This improves the quality for a given bit rate.
I would go higher than 128 kbps - choose a variable bit rate instead of a constant. The ranges are indicated after the quality setting.

Hi Robert and Koz

The underlying purpose of what I am trying to do is to compensate for the problem of the “missing” voice part.

Although I mainly sing in chorus, the heart of barbershop is the quartet but to quartet you need four different voices each of which knows the song you want to sing.

I hoped to prepare our current repertoire so that the “missing” voice - there’s always one - could be substituted for by playing the appropriate track out of Audacity.

In this way, having chosen a song to sing then, regardless of which voice part was “missing”, we’d always have a quartet.

I knew I could only play the resulting export track in Audacity and I was quite happy about that.

What I couldn’t really take on was doing all the set-up work, loading, panning etc, while blokes were standing around waiting to sing. They’d get fed-up, I’d get stressed and the whole thing would end in disaster.

So my wicked plan was to import the 4 tracks, pan to get rid of the extraneous voice leakage and do any other setting-up and then save the lot into a single loadable file that I could quickly find and re-import into Audacity so that singing could go on pretty seamlessly; ie without too much interruption while I fiddled about with the tech stuff.

From what you both have kindly suggested, it looks like projects are the answer. And thanks Robert for the tip about renaming the tracks to Tenor, Lead, Bari and Bass (as the song title is in the project name right?); that’s icing on the cake.

The only thing I don’t understand there is how long the reload process will be but that’s a suck it and see question isn’t it?

Finally, what does your reference to “real time” mean, Koz?

I know I’ve said “finally” but can I close by thanking Robert and Koz for all their help with this. And say that Audacity never ceases to surprise and amaze me.

Split the stereo track into two mono tracks , then delete the unwanted one (with the leakage), by clicking on he X in he top left corner …
Split Stereo to mono, delete 'right'.gif

Nice that we could be of some help.
The loading shouldn’t take too long - the files are already converted to a wav format within the Audacity project. I have a whole disk that is reserved for those projects.
The solo and mute states are also saved - if you want to do so. However, once a project is created, you can use it and close after practice without saving the changes.
By the way, could you upload a short sample of a leaking track?
Select a portion of one track (20 s or so) and export it via “Export Selection”.
You can attach the sample directly to your post (“upload attachment”) if it is shorter than 1000 KB.
I am only curious. I don’t mind if you don’t want to because it is to cumbersome.

Hi Robert

I’ve uploaded a project containing all 4 tracks into my DropBox account. If you send me an email address I can share it.


It should be possible to double click the AUP Project Manager file and it will automatically launch Audacity with all the tracks and tools ready to go. Two clicks.

– Audacity Projects do not save UNDO. You can’t launch a project and “step back” to an earlier place in your editing unless you saved a Project at that earlier date. In that case, you open that Project instead of this one.

– Do not reuse filenames. There’s nothing more “wounded puppy” than someone posting that they did extensive editing on a once-in-a-lifetime show and the computer crashed while they were saving the edit as the original filename. That efficiently wipes out both the edit and the capture. No more show.

– The AUP manager file and the _DATA folder have to see each other. They have to be in exactly the same directory or folder for this to work.

– There is an efficient method of editing existing audio tracks where, as you open each track, Audacity does not make personal copies of the files. Instead, it goes out and gets them only when they’re needed in the show. This is set in Audacity > Edit > Preferences > Import-Export > Make a copy…

If you opt for the fast method, the Audacity Project files must be accompanied by all the separate music files you used and in their original folders. This burns people who, like you, might ship projects around between different users. “Where’s the music at the fifteen second mark?” Probably on your hard drive where you left it. You would want this if you have a very large complex show and you find that when you do anything at all, it takes a week for Audacity to catch up.

– Make backups. I’m sure your computer is perfect in every way, like Mary Poppins, but it’s good to pile your songs onto a thumb drive or other removable media periodically as a safety backup. Macs have terrific automatic “Time Machine,” but on my older Windows machines, I have two hard drives and I make copies of important stuff on both.

– Real time is what Audacity doesn’t do as a rule. People want Audacity to apply filters, effects, and techniques at the time of recording. That’s applying effects In Real Time. Audacity has a really tiny list of things it will do like that: Timed Recording, Straight Recording and Sound Activated Recording. Everything else is done in Post Production. Capture the show at the theater and haul it home to apply effects and filters later.


Good tip; thank you.


The output file is a new creation; didn’t exist previously to the Save and I will be labelling them …-MultiTrack as well but thanks again for the tip.

I would keep them like that for manageability anyway.

Thanks for the heads-up on this technique.

I’m not intending to pass the files around; I’ll be the only operator during the singing. We couldn’t use the edited stuff for live gigs and the like. This is purely for rehearsal where we find ourselves wanting to sing something but find we are a voice part or two short.


The tracks I am working with have been purchased from people who specialise in making teach tracks. We use people like Antoine Kaiserman here in the UK and Tim Waurwick in the US who both provide outstanding quality. I am just repackaging their stuff to suit my very specific purpose.

Really grateful for the trouble you have taken to answer my issues.