Reading Music Images

These images are spectrograms of sound waves. 

This 15-second video movie shows a few example sounds:

(click image to play; requires Quicktime)

Basic Patterns

Like sheet music, time runs across and pitch (frequency) runs up and down.

Unlike sheet music, you see all the vibrations in the sound. This picture of a plucked string shows the harmonic series:

Plucked string, with harmonics

Notes are horizontal  . . .  rhythm is vertical.

Musical pitch is a frequency that persists in time, so it's wide.  Sudden, rhythmic sounds contain lots of frequencies, so they're tall (or have a tall edge).

handdrums, low and high  

  Octaves are the same color.

An octave is a doubling of frequency, and notes related this way are musically nearly equivalent.  I use the color wheel to echo this relationship.

More details..

Higher pitches are better defined in time.

For example, a frequency of 16 cycles per second can't be pinned down to a hundredth of a second.

Vocals are noisy.

The human voice has a less pure tone than most instruments, as well as many kinds of sounds.  Music with vocals is usually harder to understand visually.

Complex music looks complex!

It takes skill to hear separate musical parts, or to read a score.  The images can also take patience.

© 2003-9  N. Resnikoff