Learning EQ Part 2 – How to Hear Harmonics

You'll often hear people say that you should always cut before you boost when using an EQ.

While I agree somewhat with this concept in the analog world, as boosting really limits the headroom on a channel, there is another reason this theory has made its way into many textbooks and classrooms on EQ.  Since each harmonic has a distinct pitch, not all harmonics are musically related to the fundamental in a way that is pleasing. So decreasing these harmonics can clean up the sound and make the sound much more pleasing to listen to.

However, once you understand how to hear harmonics, it’s no longer a matter of following the folklore.

For example, let’s say that the second harmonic (the octave of the fundamental) is too quiet.  This can happen often when EQing a kick drum for instance. In this case you might want to boost before you cut anything.  Cutting or boosting and EQ has only two rules and those rules are really questions.

The first question is:

How does each harmonic relate to the fundamental?

The second question is:

How does each harmonic relate to other tracks in the mix?

This can mean only boosting or it might mean only cutting.  Usually, it’s a matter of both.  I’ve done mixes where I have to boost 18dB or more as the tracking was less than perfect. The opposite is also true.  I’ve also had to do serious EQ surgery on sounds to get them to fit. Again, this comes down to how the sound was recorded. Some instruments will have unflattering characteristics that will impose themselves on the sound or the recording could have been done in an untreated room causing massive bumps or nulls in the sound.  Again, this is why it’s imperative to learn how to hear harmonics.

So let’s learn how to hear harmonics using an EQ.  

To follow along with the video below please make sure you are using quality speakers in a treated room or headphones.  Room nodes can amplify this is a way that is undesirable.

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