Framework for critical listening


Simon Audus – student #1008255

AUD210 – Framework for critical and analytical listening


I’m currently studying a degree in audio that at SAE – Brisbane and this critical and analytical listening framework is being produced for the subject AUD210 – studio module. This subject replaces three other subjects and is a simulated workplace where my lecturer is technically acting as a facilitator and we are to consider ourselves employees. The requirements of this subject are to encourage independent learning that encompasses 18 learning outcomes, 7 graduate attributes and 10 transferable / soft skills.

The framework for critical and analytical listening is an exercise that has been designed to assist students in the process of ‘reverse engineering’ a reference track for two main recording projects that form the basis of my primary ‘deliverables’ for the trimester. Reference tracks are chosen on the basis that they should meet a particular outcome for the project and the case study should assist me in creating a recording that not only resembles the sonic qualities of the reference track but also meets the learning outcomes for the trimester.

The first step in this process was to create this critical and analytical listening framework that I can use to assess my chosen reference track and then conduct a case study to assist in the process of evaluating and then re-creating important aspects of the reference track. My journey has been less ‘linear’ and little more ‘circuitous’. My first project was already underway and eventually completed before this framework or case study could be completed.  Feedback received from my facilitator Peter Trimbacher, has suggested that our goal of incorporating important sonic qualities from both this reference track, Agua De Coco – Marcos Valle and Nangs – Tame Impala, have been achieved. Please click on the following link to listen to the results of project 1.



 What is the importance of critical and analytical listening?

Both critical and analytical listening are very important whenever assessing music for the purpose of ‘reverse engineering’ a particular track, i.e. creating music based on the inherent sound of a reference track, with the intention of meeting a project brief. Critical listening and analytical listening are the foundation for all music production work and It’s important to listen as both an engineer and a producer in order to influence how a music production will be received by the music consumer (“Critical Listening vs. Analytical Listening”, 2017). A reference track is assessed by the engineer and producer from both a critical and analytical perspective then, during the recording process, the engineer and producer would attempt to re-create certain elements of the reference track that reflect the intended message of the music that will be recorded. Moylan states: “Sound quality alone can convey tension or repose and give direction to a musical idea. Sound quality can add dramatic or extra-musical meaning or significance to a musical idea … the timbral quality of the sound source can, itself, be a primary musical idea, capable of conveying a meaningful musical message.” (Moylan, 2007, p46). Critical and Analytical creates a ‘musical blueprint’ that is used to create music that reflects its’ intended purpose.

What is the difference between critical and analytical listening?

Critical listening

Critical listening is closely aligned to the sound engineer’s perspective of music making and encompasses the ‘physical elements’ of the sound which includes:

  • Frequency response
  • Dynamic range
  • Tone
  • Imaging
  • The blend of the instruments together

(“Critical Listening vs. Analytical Listening”, 2017)

Critical listening is a very important consideration because:

1)  It allows greater understanding of the physical components of the music which, allows greater control of how the musical elements interact with each other. The interaction of musical elements within a mix can often result in ‘frequency masking’ which, is an undesirable effect produced when the qualities or activities of one sound source ‘masks’ or diminishes the clarity of another sound source in the mix (Moylan, 2007, p372). The addition or subtraction of EQ to one musical element within a similar frequency range, in order to increase a portion of the frequency spectrum of one of the sounds, as opposed to another within a similar frequency range, will affect the ‘timbral’ balance of the mix (Moylan, 2007, p338).

2) Great processing of the musical elements within a mix is achieved through critical listening which, allows for an instrument to be more realistically placed within the mix in terms of it’s perceived loudness and position within a traditional ‘soundstage’.

The foundation of engineering lies in critical listening however a technically perfect production may not always have a good ‘feel’ so, while it is important to understand the technical aspects of a mix it’s equally important to understand how these elements affect the ‘feeling’ of a recorded performance (“Critical Listening vs. Analytical Listening”, 2017).

Analytical listening

Analytical listening encompasses the emotional intention, meaning and overall feeling of the music. Every aspect of the recording process including the microphone placement, to the perceived loudness of a voice or instrument in the mix, should adequately reflect the characteristic feeling or intention of a song. The listener should also be made clear of this intention rather than be confused. “Everything in a music production must reflect this intention in order for the feeling of the song to be properly conveyed to the listener” (“Critical Listening vs. Analytical Listening”, 2017). Indeed, an engineer and producer should determine first, what type of feeling or sound is considered appropriate to the intended genre, before deciding upon the best approach to recording the performances of the musicians (“Critical Listening vs. Analytical Listening”, 2017).

Critical / Analytical Analysis – Methodology

The approach taken to undertaking a critical and analytical assessment of my chosen reference tracks will be organised as follows:

  • 1. The reference track will be imported into pro tools
  • 2. The tempo of the reference track will be matched using the ‘tap tempo’ feature in pro tools which, facilitates an accurate analysis of song structure
  • 3. The structure of the song will be assessed within pro tools and various sections will be identified using markers and all sections will be colour coded
  • 4. The core musical elements within the reference track will be identified

Once these 4 steps have been completed, a case study of each one of chosen reference tracks will be conducted using a framework for both critical and analytical listening, as prescribed by Jason Corey in Audio Production and Critical Listening (2010). This framework will then be applied to each of the core musical elements that have been identified.

There are seven steps in the framework supplied by Corey are:

  1. Overall bandwidth
  2. Spectral balance
  3. Auditory image
  4. Spatial impression,
  5. Dynamic range
  6. Noise and distortion
  7. Balance of elements within a mix

The Overall Bandwidth part of this category applies to the entire track and not just the core musical elements so, this step will be completed first. A spectrum analyser will be used on the entire track, not just the core musical elements, to provide a detailed analysis in respect to this parameter. The remaining six steps will be applied to each core musical element and then an overall assessment of the reference track, from an analytical perspective will be conducted.




Corey, J. (2013) Audio Production and Critical Listening. (2nd Ed).Milton Park, UK: Focal Press. 


Critical Listening vs. Analytical Listening. (2017). Retrieved 3 July 2017, from


Moylan, W. (2007). Understanding and crafting the mix. Milton Park, UK: Focal Fress,

Focal Press,

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