Playing and Recording

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Audacity offers many tools which allow the user to play all or part of a sound. There are also many recording options.

Controlling Playback and Recording

The Transport Toolbar

The easiest way to control Audacity playback and recording is with the Transport Toolbar:

Transport Toolbar showing default "ergonomic" button layout

This offers buttons (from left to right in the image above) for Pause, Standard Speed Play/Loop-Play, Stop, Skip to Start, Skip to End, Record/Append-Record.

The alternative Loop-Play action for the Play button is activated by holding SHIFT while clicking Play. The button changes to display two circular green arrows to indicate Loop-Play.

The alternative Append-Record action for the Record button is activated by holding SHIFT while clicking Record.

Clicking Play when the track is already playing or paused is a quick way to restart playback without first pressing Stop.

When you get more used to Audacity, it's often easier to use keyboard shortcuts for repetitive actions like playing, pausing and recording. Below is a list of the equivalent keyboard shortcut for each of the Transport Toolbar buttons, with a description of what each button and its shortcut does.

Button Shortcut What it does
Pause P Press once to pause playback or recording then once to resume.
Play or Stop SPACE Press once to start playback then once to stop. Starting playback again starts from its original starting position at the cursor.
Loop-Play SHIFT + SPACE Play the entire selection repeatedly (or the entire track if no selection) until stopped.
Skip to Start HOME Move the cursor to start of project.
Skip to End END Move the cursor to end of project.
Record R Record in a new track starting from the cursor position or start of the selection.
Append-Record SHIFT + R Record starting from the end of the selected track(s).

There is an additional shortcut for Play/Stop and Set Cursor (SHIFT + A). This acts exactly like Space when starting playback, but when used to stop, the cursor is set to the position where playback was stopped. Using either SPACE or SHIFT + A will then start playback from that stop position.

All shortcuts can be changed if desired in Keyboard Preferences.

Playing at slower or faster speeds than normal

Using the Play button in Transcription Toolbar plays at a constant speed but slower or faster than normal. Envelope Tool on the Tools Toolbar, when used in conjunction with a Time Track, allows a speed envelope to be drawn which can increase or decrease playback speed over the length of the audio.

Controlling and Monitoring Playback Volume

You can adjust the playback volume using the output level slider in the Mixer Toolbar.

The playback level meter in the Meter Toolbar will show you the overall volume of all of your tracks when mixed together.


Play Regions

The current region being played is indicated by arrows in the Timeline. For example in the image below, the play region is from 15 to 45 seconds.

The arrows indicate the current playback region

During playback, a green triangle indicates the current playback position - in this example, at about the 25 second mark (second image below).

The green triangle indicates the current playback position

You can easily play by clicking and dragging in the Ruler to create a play region! That's a great way to play without modifying the selection. If you do modify the selection or the play region after playback has begun, it does not affect the active play region. The audio will stop whenever it would have done, based on the region when playback began.

Similarly, left-click on the Timeline starts playback immediately from that point. As usual, playback continues until you stop playback or the end of the track is reached. This is a quick way to move the playback position to arbitrary points in the track without having to stop and restart playback and without moving the original cursor position.

Keyboard-and-mouse change of playback position

Another way to move the playback position to arbitrary points without stopping is to hold CTRL (or CMD on a Mac) then left-click in the waveform. The key to hold while clicking cannot be configured in Keyboard Preferences.

Special Playback Keyboard Commands

Play relative to mouse pointer or selection

These are three keyboard commands that let you play a few seconds of audio without changing the selection. They can be really useful during editing, such as when you're trying to find the exact spot to cut and paste.

Action Shortcut
Play One Second 1
Play To Selection B
Play Cut Preview C
Play One Second (1)

Press 1 while the mouse is pointing to a particular point on the Timeline, and you will hear 1 second of audio centered on that time. The mouse does not need to be over the waveform itself. For example, position the mouse at 1.0 seconds and press 1 , and you will hear the time range from 0.5 to 1.5 seconds (below).

Press the 1 key to play one second around the pointer position
Play To Selection (B)
An example of a selection.

Suppose you've selected a range of audio (above), and you want to make sure it's exactly what you want to cut out. In order to determine whether you've selected exactly the right range of audio, you can not only listen to the selection, but you can listen to the audio before and after the selection. If you press Space, you'll hear the whole selection (indicated by the playback region shown in the ruler) (below).

Press Space to hear the whole selection.


The "B" key lets you play the audio from the mouse to the selection - what you get depends on where the mouse pointer is. Move the mouse to a part of the audio you're interested in hearing, and press B, without clicking the mouse button (the first through the fourth images below).  

If the mouse pointer is to the left of the selection and you press B, you'll hear the audio up to the selection.

audio up to the selection

If the mouse pointer is inside the left side of the selection and you press B, you'll hear the first part of the selection up to the mouse pointer.

the first part of the selection up to the mouse pointer

If the mouse pointer is inside the right side of the selection and you press B, you'll hear from the mouse pointer to the end of the selection.

from the mouse pointer to the end of the selection

Finally if the mouse pointer is to the right of the selection and you press B, you'll hear from the selection to the mouse pointer.

from the selection to the mouse pointer
Play Cut Preview (C)

Press the C key to hear 1 second of audio before and then 1 second of audio after the selection - as if the selection was deleted (below). You can change the length of the audio that is played before and after the selection in the Playback Preferences.

Playing the two second Cut preview.
You may customize almost all keyboard shortcuts! Change them using the Keyboard tab of the Preferences.

Move playback position by specified short and long periods

These commands skip the playback cursor backwards (left) or forwards (right) by a short or long period of time. You can specify the length of the short or long period at "Seek Time when playing" in the Playback Preferences.

Action Shortcut
Short seek left LEFT or ,
Short seek right RIGHT or .
Long seek left SHIFT+LEFT or SHIFT+,
Long seek right SHIFT+RIGHT or SHIFT+.
Warning icon

You cannot seek backwards to left of the current position of the playback cursor.


Setting Up

  1. Connect your input source to your computer and verify that you are getting sound into your computer using your computer's sound input control panel or the custom mixer application that came with your particular sound card.
  2. Tell Audacity which source you have selected to record from.
  3. Set the recording level using the input slider on the Mixer Toolbar while watching the indications in the recording level meter on the Meter Toolbar. Try to aim for a maximum peak of around –6.0 dB (or 0.5 if you have your meters set to linear rather than dB). Tip: enlarging the Meter Toolbar by clicking and dragging helps with this task.

To listen to what you are recording you have two options.

  1. If you computer's sound control panel supports sending the audio input to the computer's audio output then make this setting there.
  2. If that is not possible, click on Transport > Software Playthrough (on/off) so that it is checked.

Alternatively, if you are using an external sound card or mixer you may be able to monitor the signal directly from that device.

For further information on setting up see: Audacity Setup and Configuration.

Detailed step by step instructions for setting up for recording are provided in the Your First Recording and the Copying tapes, LPs or MiniDiscs tutorials.

Recording a New Track

Every time you click the Record button on the Transport Toolbar Audacity will create a new track and begin recording on that track from the current cursor position. There is no need to create a new track before starting to record. If you want recording to start from the beginning of the new track, click the "Skip to Start" button on the Transport Toolbar.

Continuing Recording on an Existing Track

If you want to continue recording on an existing track instead of starting a new track you have two options.

  1. Instead of clicking the Stop button to end recording, click the Pause button to pause recording. Click the Pause button again to continue recording.
  2. Select the track you want add the recording to and, while holding down the SHIFT key, click the Record button. This is called "Append Record".


You can record a new track while listening to previously recorded tracks. This is called overdubbing. To set up for overdubbing, make sure that "Overdub (on/off)" is checked in the Transport Menu.

Timer Recording

Yet another way to record is using the Timer Record dialog, found in the Transport Menu.

The Timer Record dialog

Use it to start recording later, or to record for a certain duration before stopping.

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