Wave Form Biofeedback in the Teaching Studio.


Check out this short video of a student playing an excerpt of Clarke 2 (#37) followed by the same passage played by the the teacher (me). The recording software used is Audacity, a free open source recording application.

Compare and Contrast

What do you hear and what do you see?  In the teaching studio, it can be difficult to express certain sounds or perceptions in words that clearly communicate to the student the difference between what the student is playing and what the teacher is describing and modeling.  Inexpensive technology offers a way to bring the differences to life visually and to drive home a teacher’s observations with indisputable evidence.

In the video above, the student missed zero notes, however NONE of them were centered or resonant.  When this was pointed out to the student, he agreed, but really didn’t have a clue why, nor what to do differently in order to achieve the different effect. After my demonstration, I described the physical way I approach making those sounds (pressurized breath and articulation) as well as the musical considerations that go beyond simply popping out a consistent sequence of pitches in time.

Wa-Wa Wave Forms

Here is an example of a student, again not “missing” any notes, producing an overall pleasing sound but unable to sense an issue where she was putting a slight crescendo on EVERY note. She could not hear that this was happening in the moment and gave a good degree of push back when this was pointed out (hence the recording).  In this case, the student was attempting to be “musical with the air” and result was a “Wa-Wa” effect. Again, perhaps because this is a a more subtle effect, the student could NOT hear that this was happening, but when shown the video was able to see and, more importantly, hear the difference.  Of course, this information is less helpful if the teacher doesn’t have an effective way of addressing and fixing the issue.

(This and the following examples were recorded with the Garageband app on Mac)

Goldman, Dotted Eighth/Sixteenths: Teach a Man to Fish….



Dotted 8-16_Student



Goldman Etude # 6

This video of the wave forms generated by Garage Band clearly illustrate at least two important concepts and, at the same time, give the student a visible representation of what they need to work on.  Further, students can use this technology in their own practice sessions for very little cost.

The spacing of the notes gives away the underlying triplet feel that the student plays.

The size of the 16th notes, being smaller, reveals that they are slightly “swallowed.”

The “Teacher” wave forms reveal a uniformity of articulation, resonance, and rhythm.  The dotted 8ths are all consistent triangles, the 16th notes are full, and the spacing is indicative of a beat squarely subdivided into 4 rather than 3.

When demonstrating this concept in lessons, I routinely exaggerate two aspects of this rhythm:

1) Conceptually, the 16th note is twice as loud as the dotted 8th just to get it to be “as loud” and not swallowed.

2) To illustrate the difference between the 16th rhythm and the triplet figure, it may be necessary to compress it just slightly.  This is done, hopefully, without changing it to a 32nd note.

Notice the size of 16th notes and how much closer they are to the down beat immediately afterward.  The “Student” wave forms show the more rounded, triplet like distance between the first and second notes of each beat of the dotted 8th/16th rhythm.


Consistency of the note shapes below represents (to this observer at least) a balance of resonance and precise articulation as well as consistent rhythm.


Here are some thoughts on how to get started in your teaching studio or practice room:

Reading Your Own Darn Waveforms:

Using Audacity and GarageBand to Provide Visual Feedback for Instrumentalists

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What is Audacity?

  • Audacity® is free, open source software for recording and editing sound. It is available for Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, GNU/Linux, and other operating systems
  • http://audacity.sourceforge.net/

What is GarageBand?

Mac OS only – not available for Windows

What do you need to get started

  1. Computer with microphone input or extra USB port
  2. Good Quality Microphone
  3. Plenty of RAM
  4. Playback System
    What to Listen and Watch For

    • Attack/Clarity of Articulation
    • Note Shapes (look prior to missed notes)
    • Rhythmic Spacing -1 subdivision of beat
    • Connection and consistency of airstream, bow etc
    • Resonance/width/shape versus shape of uncentered notes
    • Releases
    • Pitch stability
    • Timing and Rhythmic issues

    The Process

    • On First Playback – focus on one element (usually Time) I have my students conduct
    • Guide students to listen for elements so that they might discover for themselves what you are already hearing
    • Record a model track emphasizing the musical or technical point you wish to communicate – this may need to be an exaggerated version

    Consistent repetitions over weeks often result in the student being more readily able to self-analyze.



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