Frequency Charts for Mixing – EQ Cheat Sheet

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Written By Tanya

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They are well designed and would make great posters for school classrooms. These posters get many re-pins via Pinterest. They are shared by half-interested amateurs because they seem deep and full of useful information.

They aren’t.

These abominations are obvious from the instrument frequency charts, which purport to show both the fundamental frequencies and the harmonics for every instrument you may mix.

Then they tell you that the “honk” of a saxophone is’somewhere between 150 Hz to 550 Hz. What is the sound of a “honk” and why does it exist at such a wide frequency range?

You consult another chart, which doesn’t mention “honk” at all. However, you learn that the saxophone’s ‘woof ranges from 200 Hz through 300 Hz. This has some crossover with the “boom” and a lot with the “mud”.

It is starting to make sense. Not the chart. But the fact that all data is subjective and changes depending on recording techniques. Some of it is completely untrue. These are marketing images created by people who have never mixed a single song in their lives.

Even if the information is correct, it is usually not usable and should be avoided. We’ll be showing you some examples and explaining the problems associated with these types of audio frequency charts.

These charts are often encountered by newcomers to equalization and mixing. We need to clarify the situation. These charts have a negative effect on amateur mixers who are trying to improve their skills.

EQ cheat sheets are the worst way to be a mixing engineer. They teach you to mix with your eyes, not your ears.

This extends from the cheat sheets to the user interfaces for parametric equalizer plugins and the volume bouncing on fadermeters, as well as the graphs of gain loss on compressors.

Before we get into the details, here’s an example of how terrible this is. Imagine learning to type on a computer keyboard.

To see the keyboard’s image, you must first look at it. This will help you to locate each letter. The images don’t show the letter you are looking for. Here’s a nickname and a location for the letter.

This is not only a disaster, but also traps you. Because the information isn’t clear enough to be useful, you have to keep looking at it. Your typing speed doesn’t increase because you can’t stop looking at the keys and at charts. The teacher’s tyranny is something you will never be free from.

Let’s first understand what these charts are supposed do and then let’s discuss the problems they cause and how we can solve them.

What is an EQ Cheat Sheet?

An EQ cheatsheet, also known as an instrument frequency table or an audio frequency table, is an infographic which displays the frequency responses of all common instruments across the frequency range of human listening.

These tips also include information about fundamental and harmonic frequencies, subjective sounds such as’squeek, ‘presence’, and information on how certain microphones can affect recording.

Although most of the information contained in these graphics is incorrect or unusable, they can be very interesting to those who are new to them due to the large amount of information packed into a visually appealing format.

They have one purpose: to hinder your ability to mix professional music.

Example of a Instrument Frequency Chart

Let’s take a look at some of these abominations. This first one is by LANDR. They use algorithms to’read” your song and then apply presets that master your music. It costs just a few dollars per track. This equalization cheatsheet is a great idea if that sounds good to you.

This one is a simple informational document that I will admit does not make any recommendations about how to use it for equalization. It simply shares instrument frequency ranges in a beautiful way. This article isn’t too harmful for you.

They were able to lay out a keyboard piano at the bottom of the screen and explain which keys belong in which key octave. They explain the sub-bass and bass regions, as well as the midrange and high-end regions.

This chart is also known as ‘ABC 123’, which tells you who these charts are aimed to impress. The above chart is both visually appealing and practically useless. NEXT!

This evil originates from a sound man at a church. This abomination has been around since 2003. It keeps getting worse and worse in resolution until I can’t see the credits on any copies.

This chart, like the previous one, explains the different regions of the frequency spectrum, but it also describes things that occur within them, such as ‘warmth’, ‘woody’, and ‘clutter.

It is full of words such as sizzle, crispness and fatness. These exact words can be used at thousands of different frequencies depending on which instrument they are. BOO!

This is an oldie but a goodie that’s been added to and removed over the years.

Instead of dwelling on its shortcomings (like being an eyesore), let’s point out the one thing it did right. This was to assign subjective names to frequencies like they should be. They don’t act as if they move and change depending on which instrument they are.

These terms are used to communicate mixing information and you should be familiar with them. In our discussion on guitar tones, we explain most of these terms.

These are the two worst. These are so ridiculous that they not only give guidelines for where to equalize tracks but also tell you to do it to every track, regardless of whether it is necessary.

The left sidebar shows you the compression settings for each instrument. This is a recipe you can’t mix. This is like a doctor giving the same medication to every patient, regardless of their illness. It’s stupid.

Mixing Frequency charts: The Problem

In a few bullets, we can sum up the problems with all these cheat sheets that you see on the internet.

  • Many people pretend to have valuable information, but they don’t.
  • Information presented here is purely subjective and without explanations.
  • These suggestions are far too broad for practicality.
  • These guidelines are not flexible enough to allow for the uniqueness of each song.
  • The other half of the information is only intangentially related with mixing or EQ.
  • They created the mixer to get rid of their bad habit of mixing with the eyes rather than their ears.
  • They want you to increase instead of cut when EQing .

If you have ever mic-ed a singer or guitarist, you will know that even the smallest movement in the microphone position can dramatically alter the sound recorded. This means that a different set of frequencies is being recorded at different volumes.

It is impossible to treat all these recordings in the same way, even if they were recorded on the exact same day, 5 minutes apart.

The main problem with these is:

They act as though you are mixing your tracks in solo mode, and they will never mix them together (also called’mixing a track’).

It doesn’t matter what any instrument sounds like in isolation. It doesn’t matter how an instrument sounds in isolation. The end result of all the tracks being mixed together is what matters. These charts don’t address that context, which is at least 90% the art of mixing.

How to properly learn to find problem frequencies

As a complete beginner, it is okay to consult a chart. Once you have the basics down, it is time to start mixing.

You can help your brain to identify problematic frequencies in the sounds that you are mixing. You can use a bandpass filter, parametric equalizer or Q boost to sweep the frequency spectrum up and down until you find the problem sound.

You can then take note of the location. This is a slow, steady and reliable way to train your ears for mixing. Time and effort are the only things that can replace a chart.

You can also find online quizzes for ear training or study with YouTube videos made from signal generators. Or, just sit down and play the keyboard or piano while you focus.

It is important to stay within the range. It is important to be able hear a frequency within a small plus-or-minus range of where it falls on the spectrum.

Although pitch is not essential, it can help you mix better. Professionals even sweep their EQ to determine the frequency.

To summarize, there are no shortcuts. Practice is the best way to learn

There is no magic formula that will make you a world-class mixer. Just like a poster with guitar chords doesn’t automatically mean you can play them, there’s no magical way to turn your head around. Practice is the best form of practice.

Real Frequency Spectrum Guidelines

You really only need to be able hear frequencies that you like or dislike and then be able identify the range in which it falls in the table below. You’re a master at EQ speed and skill.

Region NameFrequency range
Sub-Bass20 Hz – 60 Hz
Bass60 Hz – 250 Hz
Low mids250 Hz – 500 Hz
Midrange500 Hz – 2 KHz
Upper Mids2 Khz -4 kHz
Presence4 kHz – 6 kHz
Brilliance6 kHz – 20 kHz

It is helpful to understand each area of the audio spectrum in order to be able to make connections that will help you to learn them.

SUB-BASS 20 HZ 60 HZ

The lowest frequencies that humans can hear are found in the sub-bass. They can be heard but their vibrations can also physically be felt. This feeling gives you the power of a mix and can only be felt with a subwoofer.

Only a few instruments, other than bass guitars and other bass-focused instrument reach this far into the frequency spectrum. High-pass filtering can be used to remove noises and rumbles in a mix.

BASS: 60HZ – 250 HZ

You control the ‘fatness and ‘thickness of sound and mix in the bass region. The fundamental frequencies of most rhythm and bass instruments are located here.

A mix that has too little volume will sound weak and anemic. Too much can lead to a mix that sounds sloppy and unbalanced. Here is where you’ll see the battle between your kickdrum and your bass , each fighting for their space without affecting the clarity and definition of the other.

LOW MIDS 250 HZ – 500 HZ

Because it can control the feeling of’muddiness’, the low midrange is one the most important regions of the spectrum. Too much volume can create a muffled and boxy mix. However, too little can make the mix feel transparent.

You will generally cut frequencies when equalizing here. Generally, this is done with a medium Q to create smooth scoops. This is usually due to a lack in acoustic treatments in the recording environment.

MIDRANGE 500 HZ- 2 KHZ

The midrange, which is located between the upper and lower mids, is the most sensitive region when trying to affect the prominence of an instrument or vocal in a mix.

It is important to not boost your sales too much and to instead focus on cutting costs elsewhere. Otherwise, you could end up feeling ‘honky’, as I mentioned previously.

Too much boost towards 1 kHz or 2kHz can make the music ‘tinny’, which can lead to hearing fatigue. You won’t often do much with this track, since most tracks don’t need to be the main (except the actual lead).

You should be extra cautious in the 1 kHz-2 kHz frequency range as our sensitivity changes with volume. If you don’t test your mixes at different volumes, they can become too loud or too quiet. The Fletcher–Munson Curve illustrates this sensitivity.

UPPER MIDS 2KHZ -4KHZ

The upper mids share a similarity to the midrange, in that there is so much tonal activity here that even the smallest cuts or boosts can cause significant changes in a mix. This is especially true for vocals and guitar.

This region can also be boosted, which can give rise to a feeling of’solidness or ‘presence’, which is important for leading tracks.

PRESENCE: 4KHZ – 6KHZ

The presence range is responsible to clarity, intelligibility and general definition of most sounds that are not bass.

Combining compression with presence can make a vocal track standout in the mix. It adds a sense of solidness’ and hardness to the recording. Too much can be irritating. However, too little can make the sound seem distant, un-engaging and transparent. It is not a science to know how to EQ vocals , but it is an art.

BRILLIANCE 6 KHZ- 20 KHZ

The brilliance area is where the track’s’sparkle and ‘air are located. It is mainly very whispy and contains only harmonic frequencies in its upper region.

This is where a wide-Q or shelf should be used to boost. You can increase the volume of hiss and create harsh cymbals and sharp guitars. You can add high fidelity flair to your mix if you do it right.

Conclusion? Conclusion?

These charts can lead you to get lost or confused. These charts are useless unless you have never considered that low frequency sounds can be found in the bass and high frequency sounds in the upper regions.

They are pretty. But that’s it. There is nothing that can replace the time spent listening to your ears and mixing with your monitors. These EQ cheat sheets will not allow you to use your eyes.

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