Critical Listening 1

Author: Dan Thompson   •   Course Code: OMPRD-162

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No matter how good a song is or how accomplished the musicians playing it are, the wrong mix can leave an otherwise beautifully crafted song sounding unprofessional and unpolished. Critical Listening 1 provides recording musicians and aspiring producers and engineers with a better sense of the mixing process, and develops the ability to hear and identify the key features of a well balanced, artful and professional-sounding mix.

Through weekly training drills, analysis of classic recordings, and comparative studies of different styles of mixing, you'll learn to identify width and depth, frequency range, dynamics and the different mix approaches used in various musical genres. You'll learn to hear and identify techniques such as panning, alternate types and uses of reverb, delay, compression, phasing/flanging/chorus, and different types of distortion. The course also explores various types of instruments and arrangements, distinguishing between Telecasters, Strats, and Les Paul guitars, single versus dual coil pickups, direct versus miked acoustic and electric guitars, tremolo versus vibrato, Rhodes versus Wurlitzer electric pianos, and more. The course will also take you through the steps to turn your listening space into a more critical listening environment. Whether you are a recording musician looking to ready your music for CD, or an aspiring producer or engineer, you'll not only learn what elements are most important in a mix, what sort of arrangements you should be working towards, and how to optimize your mix to make your song as compelling as possible; in the process, you'll open your ears up to a whole new level of music listening and awareness.

By the end of this course, you will:

  • Hear width and depth, frequency range, dynamics and the different mix approaches used in various musical genres
  • Identify techniques such as panning, alternate types and uses of reverb, delay, compression, phasing/flanging/chorus, and different types of distortion, distinguish between different instruments, pickups, miked versus direct acoustic and electric guitars, and what mixing approach might be most appropriate for your music
  • Optimize your listening setup into a more critical listening environment

Lesson 1: Understanding Sound

  • Getting Started: Reference Listening
  • The Finished Mix
  • What is Sound? Frequency, Wavelength, and Period
  • EQ Bands: Bandwidth, Boost/Cut, and Center Frequencies
  • What are the Ear Training Drills?
  • Ear Training Drill 1: Pink Noise +24dB
  • Recap

Lesson 2: Understanding Your Listening Environment

  • Room Modes
  • Speaker Positioning
  • Reflections: Ray tracing
  • Absorption vs. Diffusion
  • Ear Training Drill 2: Program Material +12 dB
  • Recap

Lesson 3: Frameworks: Optimizing Your Listening Environment; Exploring Song Structure 

  • Treating the Room: Bass Trapping Strategies
  • Treating the Room: Absorption Strategies
  • Treating the Room: Diffusion Strategies
  • The Framework of the Mix: Song Structure
  • Ear Training Drill 3: Pink Noise -24 dB
  • Recap

Lesson 4: Final Audio Setup and Imaging/Panning Analysis

  • Tuning the Stereo Field
  • Evaluating Speakers/Amps: What to listen for
  • System Improvements
  • Panning Drums
  • Global Panning Concepts
  • Ear Training Drill 4: Program Material -12 dB
  • Recap

Lesson 5: Balances

  • Balances: Jazz
  • Balances: Pop/Rock
  • Balances: Hip-Hop
  • Ear Training Drill 5: Pink Noise -/+12 dB
  • Recap

Lesson 6: EQ/Timbre

  • EQ Revisited–Types and Approaches
  • EQ in Jazz
  • EQ in Pop/Rock
  • EQ in Hip-Hop/Rap
  • Ear Training Drill 6: Program Material +/-12 dB
  • Recap

Lesson 7: Reverb: Identifying Spaces

  • Reverb Types
  • Reverb: Stylistic Approaches
  • Reverb: Special-Effects
  • Ear Training Drill 7: Program Material +/-12 dB
  • Recap

Lesson 8: Time-Based Effects

  • Delay
  • Delay-Based Effects Using Modulation
  • Time-Based Effects: Stylistic Approaches
  • Ear Training Drill #8: Pink Noise +/–12 dB x2
  • Recap

Lesson 9: Compression

  • Compression/Limiting
  • Recording/Mixing with Compression
  • Compression on Individual Instruments
  • Compression: Stylistic Approaches
  • Ear Training Drill #9: Program Material +/–12 dB x2
  • Recap

Lesson 10: Phase and Distortion

  • Understanding Phase
  • Distortion (Amplitude) Types: Noise (Analog Tape), Poor Frequency Response, Tube vs. Solid State, Clipping
  • Data Compression Formats: MP3, AAC, AIFF
  • Identifying Creative Uses of Distortion
  • Ear-Training Drill 10: A/B Drills
  • Recap

Lesson 11: Identifying Instruments/Types

  • Guitars: Electric, Acoustic, DI
  • Acoustic Guitar: Mic vs. DI
  • Basses: Acoustic, P-Bass, Jazz Bass, Fretless
  • Keyboards: Electric Piano, Organ, Analog Synths, Digital Keyboards/Synths (DX7, Korg/Roland))
  • Other Interesting Instruments and Effects
  • Ear-Training Drill 11: A/B Drills
  • Recap

Lesson 12: Final Listening Evaluation

  • Listening Review
  • Listening Examples
  • Ear Training Final Exam
  • Where Do I Go from Here?
  • Recap

Dan Thompson

Author & Instructor

Daniel M. Thompson is Assistant Chair of Music Production and Engineering (MP&E) at Berklee College of Music, where he has taught advanced production, recording and mix techniques, and audio technology for over fifteen years. An independent writer/producer and recording engineer, his credits include work on records, feature films, and television series and movies, including ER, The Sopranos, Swimfan, The Sweetest Thing, Melrose Place, Malibu Shores, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Touched By An Angel, Soul Food and NCIS, to name just a few. Dan has authored articles on music technology for EQ and Electronic Musician, has been a presenter and clinician on music production topics in the U.S. and abroad, including at the Panama Jazz Festival, and his book Understanding Audio (Berklee Press, 2005) is a required textbook for Berklee College of Music's own Music Production and Engineering classes, as well as for numerous other music production and engineering programs throughout the country and abroad. He is a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), the Audio Engineering Society (AES), and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

Prince Charles Alexander


Prince Charles Alexander is a professor in the Music Production and Engineering department at Berklee College of Music, where he teaches advanced production and mixing. From the early to mid 80s, he produced, wrote, and recorded on Virgin Records with his group "Prince Charles and the City Beat Band." Alexander was an early innovator of wind synthesis and a part of the "punk-funk" generation that incorporated many of the devices that would propel rap music to the forefront of the American music scene.

He is a sought after recording and mixing engineer, whose clients include Mary J. Blige, Destiny's Child, Faith Evans, P. Diddy, the Notorious B.I.G., Usher, Boyz II Men, Brandy, Babyface, Sting, Aretha Franklin, Usher, Brian McKnight, and others. Alexander has garnered more than 40 Platinum and Gold certifications from the RIAA and has three Grammies and seven Grammy nominations from NARAS. He holds an adjunct instructor position at New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, has taught audio technology at the Institute of Audio Research, and is a frequent lecturer at the City College of New York in Manhattan. Alexander is a member of the Producers and Engineers Wing of the Grammy Committee Board of Governors, the Audio Engineering Society (AES), and the Musician's Union Local 802 in New York City. He holds a bachelor's degree in political science and music technology from Brandeis University.

Mark Wessel


Mark Wessel is an Assistant Professor in the Music Production and Engineering department at Berklee College Of Music, where he has taught audio engineering and production techniques since 1996. After receiving a B.S. in Mass Communication from Emerson College, Mark worked as a staff engineer at Blue Jay Recording Studio for many years and is now an independent recording and mix engineer. With over twenty years of experience in records, films, and television scores, his credits include numerous label projects including Sony, Narada, MCA, Rounder, RCA Victor, Gramavision, Sire, BMG, American Gramaphone, CBS, and Flying Fish, as well as projects for Miramax Films, WGBH, National Public Radio, Paramount Pictures, and various independent records and films.

Alejandro Rodriguez


Alejandro Rodriguez is an associate professor in the Music Production and Engineering department at Berklee College of Music, with more than 20 years of experience as a recording, editing, mixing, mastering, post-production, and live sound engineer and producer. He has worked with artists such as Mariah Carey, Compay Segundo, Eliades Ochoa and AfroCuban All Stars (from Buena Vista Social Club), Silvio Rodriguez, Pablo Milanes, J.M. Vitier, Grupo Niche, Armando Mnazanero, Ricardo Arjona, Pancho Cespedes, and Tania Libertad.

Prior to Berklee, Alejandro was an acoustics professor at the National School of Arts (ENA) and a professor of sound studies at Instituto Superior de Artes (ISA)—both in Havana, Cuba. He has also taught audio and recording techniques at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores in Monterrey, México. Alejandro worked as a staff engineer for EGREM Studios in Havana, Cuba, and has since pursued a freelance career as an engineer and producer. He holds a bachelor's degree in music from ENA and a bachelor's degree in arts communication (specializing in sound for film, radio, and TV) from ISA. In addition, he studied telecommunication engineering at the Technical University in Havana and recording techniques at the Supraphon Recording Faclities in Prague, Czech Republic.

Leanne Ungar


Leanne Ungar, Associate Professor in the Music Production and Engineering department at Berklee, is a producer/engineer with thirty years of experience in records, films, and television scores. With technical skills that encompass both analog equipment and digital applications, Ungar has produced or engineered seven albums for Leonard Cohen, and she worked with the avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson on Big Science, Mister Heartbreak, United States Parts I–IV, and a concert film, Home of the Brave. Ungar's list of artists also includes the Temptations, Fishbone, Holly Cole, Guster, Joe Henderson, Willie Nelson, Luther Vandross, Natalie Cole, Vonda Shepard, Carlene Carter, Paul Winter Consort, Tom Jones, and many others. Since the outset of her career in the early 1970s, she has worked in both New York and Los Angeles, and has had a hand in the creation of many historic recordings, including those by James Brown, the Brecker Brothers, Manhattan Transfer, Cat Stevens, Loudon Wainwright III, and Janis Ian. Her film score credits include Kafka, Pump Up the Volume, and The Limey; television scores include for thirtysomething, The Wonder Years, Full House, and Family Matters. She recorded music on location for Matewan, Passion Fish, and The Underneath, and was involved in live recordings for Cohen Live and Field Commander Cohen.

Enrique Gonzalez Müller


After graduating from Berklee College of Music in 1995, Enrique Gonzalez Müller started his career as a music producer and engineer at the Plant Studios working with artists like The Dave Matthews Band, Joe Satriani, Joan Baez and Les Claypool. In his home country of Venezuela, he's produced many chart-topping albums in for Caramelos de Cianuro, Viniloversus, Desorden Publico and in 2009 his collaboration with Los Amigos Invisibles won the band a Latin GRAMMY® Award for their album "Commercial". In Italy, among many collaborations, Gonzalez Müller has produced, arranged and mixed albums for L’Aura and scored a #1 hit with "Teach me Again" from Elisa and Tina Turner. In the US, he has recently worked with Jason Newsted (former Metallica), the Kronos Quartet, Nine Inch Nails, Joan Baez toured with Wynton Marsalis as well as many up and coming artists.


None required

Required Textbook

Understanding Audio by Daniel Thompson, Berklee Press/Hal Leonard

Required CDs

  • Steely Dan, Gaucho
  • Peter Gabriel, So
  • Cannonball Adderley, Know What I Mean?
  • Black Eyed Peas, Elephunk
  • Fourplay, Fourplay
  • Tom Petty, Wildflowers
  • Sting, Mercury Falling

Software Requirements

  • Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) such as GarageBand, Pro Tools, Logic, Ableton Live, Reason, SONAR, or Digital Performer. You should know how to perform some basic tasks, such as creating an audio track, and adding audio effects (EQ, compressor, delay, and reverb)
  • EQ of your choice (preferred) or Audacity audio recording software (a free download)
  • Any comprehensive text editing software that can create .doc files, such as Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, Apache OpenOffice, or Google Docs

Mac Users

  • OS X 10.9 Mavericks or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Windows Users

  • Windows 7 or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Hardware Requirements

  • CD-ROM Drive 
  • CD player 
  • Full-range loudspeakers
  • High quality headphones (Sony 7506 or equivalent)
  • SPL meter (RadioShack 33-4050, Tenma 72-935, or better) 
  • Optional: RTA (real-time analyzer) (Room EQ Wizard, Blue Cat's FrequAnalyst) 
  • Note: If you have an iPhone, we recommend Studio Six AudioTools, which contains both SPL meter and RTA. 
  • Optional: omni mic
  • 2 GB RAM (4 GB recommended)
  • 500 MB hard drive space
  • Webcam
  • Internet connection with at least 4 Mbps download speed ( to verify or download the Speedtest by Ookla app from your mobile app store)


Got a question? Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at We can also answer basic questions in the comments below. Please note that all comments are public.

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    12 weeks
  • 3-Credit Tuition
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