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What Is Music Visualization?

By Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Updated May 23, 2024
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Music visualization is the electronic generation of shapes and images based on music, which allows music listeners to "see" the songs to which they are listening. The primary tool to create shapes and images through music visualization is computer software which is designed to capture data from a music audio file. For example, it gathers information about frequencies and volume levels, both of which can be represented numerically. The computer software then translates the data into a specific hue on a predefined color spectrum. It also assigns the data a spatial point using X and Y axes.

As the computer program receives continuous data from the audio file, it defines new colors and spatial assignments in real time. This "animates" the music, making the shapes and images change in sync with the audio. Music visualizations generally are quite complex because music is not just one data set. At any given point, for example, multiple frequencies and amplitudes can be present, and the program has to deal with as many as possible given the constraints of the programmer's software code.

A major characteristic of music visualization is that the visualizations are unique for every piece of music run in tandem with the visualization software. The visualizations differ from work to work because the data the software captures are never the same from song to song. Subsequently, part of the intrigue of music visualization is the fact that users of the software, who may have hundreds or even thousands of audio files to use, perceive the visualizations as exciting and fresh each time.

More broadly, music visualization also can involve the control of light via computer programs that capture music audio information. This works on the same basic principles as regular music visualization, except that instead of assigning the data to what amounts to a constantly evolving graph, it assigns it to specific light circuits and fixtures. The person using this type of music visualization typically has to provide the program with basic information about the lighting system to which the computer connects. This is a popular form of music visualization at concerts and similar shows.

Most commonly, people who want personal music visualization use the visualization programs on desktop and laptop and computer systems. Advances in technology mean that the programs also can be run on mobile devices such as cell phones, however. Additionally, manufacturers sometimes include stand-alone visualization applications in devices such as televisions so that consumers can visualize music from the shows they are watching or from music stations.

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Discussion Comments
By anon996992 — On Nov 03, 2016

@anon298584, Kauna visualizer (for Windows 8.1+).

By anon298584 — On Oct 20, 2012

Could someone suggest some music visualization software?

By cloudel — On Apr 21, 2012

@Oceana – I am mesmerized by music visualization, too! I think that it satisfies some urge in our brains to combine sound with sight.

When you consider some of the odd shapes that computers make to the music, it almost makes me suspect that we are being brainwashed in a subtle manner. A lot of the nondescript images that pop onto my screen resemble those flash cards that psychiatrists hold up to ask patients what they see.

I'm sure I'm just being paranoid, because I continue to watch the music dance across my screen without any real worries or issues that I am aware of. I agree with you that it is hard to tear yourself away from the image in progress to do anything else, though!

By Oceana — On Apr 20, 2012

My media player automatically pops open a window with a music visualization in progress when I play a song on it. I have the option to shrink it down, but I usually leave it up for entertainment.

I've become so used to watching music videos that I often feel restless just listening to music without something to look at. The moving shapes and changing colors on my computer screen occupy my eyes and my mind, and I think they enhance my overall music listening experience.

Does anyone else find this totally hypnotizing? It can be hard to look away, even when I need to answer the door or the phone.

By Perdido — On Apr 20, 2012

I remember the first type of music visualization I ever saw. It was very basic, but I loved to watch it.

As a young kid, I used to watch the volume and frequency monitor on my parents' cassette tape player. As the music played, the display would light up with red bars that got higher as the volume intensified. When the song reached its maximum intensity, green and yellow bars would appear atop the red ones to fill up the space all the way.

Now, I enjoy watching the more complicated colors and shapes on my computer's visualization program. I will always remember my first experience with those little red bars, though.

By shell4life — On Apr 19, 2012

I didn't know that bands would sync their music to their lighting at concerts! I always thought that a lighting technician very familiar with the music was behind the scenes operating the lights accordingly. That is pretty cool!

Come to think of it, that would be a complex task. Some types of lighting, like lasers and colored spotlights, go off at the same time, so how could one person operate all of them?

It is an awesome effect. The moving lights always enhance the show for me, and I'm sure they help to get the crowd excited and set the mood for different songs.

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