Seeing Sound: A tool for teaching music perception principles


  • Maxwell Ng McMaster University
  • Michael Schutz McMaster University


One challenge we have found in teaching auditory perception is the difficulty of conveying the combined spectral and temporal complexity of natural musical sounds.  Even single tones from musical instruments produce sounds that can only be fully conveyed using some type of 3D display showing continual changes in (1) amplitude and in (2) spectrum continuously over (3) time.  It can be difficult to convey in 2D textbook figures, obfuscating the importance of dynamic temporal changes in acoustic structure and auditory perception.  This pedagogical challenge mirrors a larger issue in auditory perception research, where the role of temporal changes in sounds often goes overlooked. Our aim with this project was to create a software tool offering an intuitive framework for understanding important concepts related to timbre perception useful for students with a background in either music or the sciences.  To this end, we designed a program allowing students to explore and manipulate complex, time-varying sounds.  Our software uses an intuitive Graphical User Interface (GUI) to covey the role of temporal changes in amplitude.  It can also be used to generate stimuli for perceptual experiments, facilitating better use of complex, time-varying sounds in the exploration of auditory perception.  A beta version of this tool was used in a 70-student introductory course during the 2016-2017 academic year, and we are also exploring potential research applications for the tool in our lab.  A beta version of this software is freely available to our colleagues and other interested parties at


Author Biographies

Maxwell Ng, McMaster University

Undergraduate StudentMcMaster University MAPLE Lab

Michael Schutz, McMaster University

Associate Professor of Music Cogntion/PercussionMcMaster University School of the Arts




How to Cite

Ng M, Schutz M. Seeing Sound: A tool for teaching music perception principles. Canadian Acoustics [Internet]. 2017 Aug. 15 [cited 2022 Oct. 4];45(3):104-5. Available from:



Proceedings of the Acoustics Week in Canada