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Editing Voice Tracks. by Jay Rose DV Magazine April 2001. One View of Editing Dialog. Look at waveform Find pauses where waveform drops to zero Edit during silence. Silence Method. Simple Easy to describe May not be the best method Limits creativity

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Editing voice tracks

Editing Voice Tracks

by Jay Rose

DV Magazine April 2001

One view of editing dialog
One View of Editing Dialog

  • Look at waveform

  • Find pauses where waveform drops to zero

  • Edit during silence

Silence method
Silence Method

  • Simple

  • Easy to describe

  • May not be the best method

    • Limits creativity

    • Forces you to discard otherwise perfect takes when they have easily fixable sound problems

Silence method1
Silence Method

  • Doesn’t edit sound – it edits pictures of sound

  • Many audio details don’t show up on a waveform

  • Professional editors use waveforms only as a rough guide only

  • They mark their edits while scrubbing and listening

Pro editing
Pro Editing

  • Takes a little ear training and understanding of how sounds fit together

  • You’ll be able to replace individual syllables of dialog…

  • piece together difficult interviews…

  • and assemble VO’s that are inhumanly perfect

The ear is faster than the eye
The Ear is Faster than the Eye

  • Film and video work because your eyes can’t distinguish individual frames when they’re flashed quickly

  • However, you can identify sounds that are much faster than a single frame

  • Say these two phrases aloud:

    • The small pot

    • The small tot

The ear is faster than the eye1
The Ear is Faster than the Eye

  • The picture shows the first phrase on the upper channel and the second one on the bottom

The ear is faster than the eye2
The Ear is Faster than the Eye

  • Only about a dozen milliseconds of sound - in the red circles – have any significant difference

  • That’s less than half a video frame…

  • …but you’d never confuse a cooking utensil with a small child

Edit like a pro
Edit Like a Pro

  • The ability to hear and understand fast sounds is built in to most of us

  • To edit successfully you have to learn to analyze what you hear

  • Say “the small pot” aloud listening very closely to your own voice while you do.

  • Then immediately afterwards hear those three syllables again in your head

  • Repeat this a few times

Edit like a pro1
Edit Like a Pro

  • Now slow down what you’re hearing in your head so you can hear the tiny changes inside each word

  • In “the small pot” example you should be able to hear the definite transitions between /th/, /uh/, /s/, /maw/, /l/, /p/, /ah/, and /t/

  • Don’t give up if you aren’t hearing individual sounds immediately…

  • …it takes a little practice, especially for visually orientated people

What you re listening for
What You’re Listening For

  • We can predict exactly which tiny sounds are in “the small pot” because there aren’t that many ways humans move their mouths during speech.

  • In the entire English vocabulary there are only a few dozen of these sounds called…



  • Phonemes can be organized into groups that are useful to editors

  • They don’t necessarily correspond to letters that spell a word

  • There’s no phoneme for “C” because it’s pronounced as /s/ or /k/…

  • …but there are 16 phonemes for the 5 vowels

Phonemes of standard english
Phonemes of Standard English

  • Stop Consonants

    • p (paint)

    • b (barbell)

    • k (cat)

    • g (go)

    • t (tot)

    • d (dot)

Phonemes continued
Phonemes Continued

  • Friction Consonants

    • f (food)

    • v (very)

    • s (silly)

    • z (zebra)

    • sh (shoe)

    • zh (leisure)

    • th (thin)

    • TH (then)

    • h (horse)

    • t-sh (church)

    • d-zh (judge)

Phonemes continued1
Phonemes Continued

  • Nasal Consonants

    • m (mighty)

    • n (nap)

    • ng (lung)

Phonemes continued2
Phonemes Continued

  • Glide Consonants

    • w (willing)

    • y (yes)

    • l (locate)

    • r (rub)

Phonemes continued3
Phonemes Continued

  • Vowels

    • ee (eat)

    • ae (hat)

    • eh (lend)

    • ih (sit)

    • aw (all)

    • ah (father)

    • o (note)

    • u (bull)

    • oo (tool)

    • uh (up)

    • er (worker)

Phonemes continued4
Phonemes Continued

  • Double Vowels

    • ay-ih (play)

    • i-ih (high)

    • aw-ih (toy)

How the pros edit
How the Pros Edit

  • Listen to the phrase you want to edit, slowly, in your head. Identify any phonemes that might be useful for the edit you want to make, and decide which one will be easiest to use.

  • Scrub slowly through the audio clip for the first half of the edit. Even though speech is continuous, you should be able to hear most of the places where one phoneme changes into another. Stop precisely at the beginning of the desired phoneme.

  • What you do next depends on the program you're using. If you're scrubbing in an NLE's clip window, mark where you've stopped as the out-point of one clip. Then open another clip that where'll you'll be able to mark an in-point for the other side of the edit. (You can also use a tool in Pro Tools -- to split a single clip into pieces.)

How the pros edit1
How the Pros Edit

  • Do the same scrub-stop-and-mark for the other side of the edit.

  • Join the clips together in the NLE, or press Delete in your audio editor, and listen to the result. If you've marked the start of the phonemes accurately, it should be fine. Sometimes there'll be a volume difference between the two pieces of the edit, but that's easy to adjust in any program. Occasionally there'll be an intonation difference that can't be fixed without special tools, and sometimes the two pieces are so radically different that the edit is impossible. But if you're using this technique, at least you'll have the comfort of knowing that no professional sound cutter could have done the job any better.

Edit tips stop consonants
Edit Tips – Stop Consonants

  • All of these are created by storing the flow of air pressure and then releasing it in a burst. There's a moment of silence in the middle of each stop consonant, right before the pressure is released. It can be as short as a third of a frame.

  • If a stop consonant is followed by a pause, it usually has two distinct sounds: one when the pressure is cut off, and another when it's released. But the second part isn't important. Eliminate it if you want to shorten the pause or go onto some other word.

Edit tips stop consonants1
Edit Tips – Stop Consonants

  • If two stop consonants are next to each other (as in "The Fat Cat"), they're usually elided: the closure uses the mouth shape of the first, and the release uses the mouth shape of the second. But when people are self-conscious, they often pronounce each stop separately for a total of four distinct sounds. Editing from one silence to the next will make your performer sound more relaxed.

Edit tips friction consonants
Edit Tips – Friction Consonants

  • With the exception of /h/, these are created by forcing air through a narrow opening: between the lips for /f/ and /v/, between the tip of the tongue and back of teeth for /th/ and /TH/, and so on. This always makes a high-pitched sound that's very easy to spot while you're scrubbing.

  • You can often edit from the start of one friction consonant to the start of a completely different one.

Edit tips friction consonants1
Edit Tips – Friction Consonants

  • /h/ is also created by air pressure, but it's flowing through an open mouth. There's very little friction there, so this phoneme can be very quiet and not even show up on a waveform display. Be careful that you don't accidentally delete it while you're editing.

Edit tips double consonants
Edit Tips – Double Consonants

  • These are actually two phonemes, one after another, that we usually hear as a single sound. But if you scrub through them slowly -- or have a well-trained inner ear -- you can hear the transition. You can also edit them separately, clipping the /d/ to turn my name into "Zhim" or borrowing a /t/ from the beginning of "chicken".

Edit tips consonant pairs
Edit Tips – Consonant Pairs

  • The stop, friction, and double consonants are listed two to a line for a reason. Each pair uses exactly the same tongue and lip movement. The only difference is that the first in a pair relies on air pressure alone, while the second adds a buzzing from the vocal cords. Phoneticists call these 'unvoiced' and 'voiced' consonants.

Edit tips consonant pairs1
Edit Tips – Consonant Pairs

  • Unvoiced consonants don't carry any pitch, so they tend to stay consistent even if the speaker has a lot of tonal variety. This makes it easier to match them, even over a long speech. They also don't carry much that can identified as a specific voice: you can often substitute one person's unvoiced phoneme for someone else's.

Edit tips consonant pairs2
Edit Tips – Consonant Pairs

  • Since the mouth movements are identical, you can occasionally substitute one consonant in a pair for its brother. Sometimes this may be the only way to build words that weren't in the original. It lends a slight accent to the dialog, because we're used to hearing foreigners confuse these pairs when learning English.

Edit tips consonant pairs3
Edit Tips – Consonant Pairs

  • When the consonant /b/ begins a word, some people start their vocal cords a half-second or so before the release. The result turns a word like "Baby" into "mmmBaby". Deleting the hum or covering it with room tone makes it sound better.

Edit tips nasals
Edit Tips - Nasals

  • For these three consonants, air comes out of the nose instead of the mouth (try saying a long "nnn" as you pinch your nostrils together). That's not particularly relevant to editing, but can make a difference if your performer has a head cold.

Edit tips nasals1
Edit Tips - Nasals

  • The /ng/ phoneme is written that way because it's heard at the end of words like "ring". But it's not a double consonant -- there's no separate /g/ in it. Many people say one anyway, as in the New York regionalism "Long Guyland". Feel free to delete the extra sound.

Edit tips glide consonants
Edit Tips – Glide Consonants

  • These change shape while they're sounding. They're influenced a lot by the sounds on either side, so they're more difficult to match during editing.

  • The /l/ glide involves lifting your tongue from the ridge behind your upper front teeth. If the speaker's mouth is dry, saliva can stick and cause a tiny click in the middle of this sound. You can delete the click easily.

Edit tips glide consonants1
Edit Tips – Glide Consonants

  • Some people have trouble with an initial /r/, turning it almost into a /w/. When this happens it's usually consistent throughout a take, so it may be hard to find a good /r/ to substitute. If you get a chance to re-record, ask the talent to add a tiny /d/ to the start of a critical word. This puts the tongue in the right place for the /r/ that follows. Then drop the extra /d/ -- it's a stop consonant, so it's easy to find -- while you're editing.

Edit tips vowels
Edit Tips - Vowels

  • Practice saying them aloud, and learn to recognize them in dialog, because they're all different. You can't substitute one for another.

  • Vowels and voiced consonants carry the pitch of a voice, which varies a lot during normal speech. After you edit them, make sure the pitch doesn't jump unnaturally. If it does, try moving the edit to a nearby unvoiced consonant instead. As a last resort, varispeed or pitch-shift a few words one or two percent.

Edit tips vowels1
Edit Tips - Vowels

  • Vowels and friction consonants carry most of the pacing of a voice. If a word is said too slowly, you can often make a small cut in the middle of one of these sounds to pick up the speed.

  • When nervous performers pause before a word that starts with a vowel, they often build up pressure in the back of their throats. When they release it to say the word, the result is a tiny click, almost like a stop consonant. It sounds tense. But you can calm things down by deleting the click.

Edit tips vowels2
Edit Tips - Vowels

  • There are three double vowels in normal English, similar to the double consonants. They always end with /ih/. (Say "Play" aloud and you'll hear it at the end.) Frequently, the two phonemes can be edited separately.


  • Bad dialog edits grow on you. While you're practicing these techniques, don't make the mistake of listening to a questionable edit over and over until it starts to sound good. Instead, trust your first instinct -- or move on to something else, and review the edit a few hours later.