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I recently purchased a wavetable synth, and I was trying to figure out an easier way to create the sounds I have in my head. Unfortunately, most of the time I fumble around and leave it to trial and error. The only visual reference are the basic sine, saw, square, triangle waves, which has been quite helpful.

How does one go about visualizing waveforms and how they sound? (From sound to waveform, and waveform to sound.)

  • Use your ears.. It shouldn't take long to learn when you are hearing saw/sine/square/triangle.. Wavetables are virtually impossible to tell what constructs them... Without visual aid. – user16348 Sep 13 '15 at 7:34
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Practicing proper editing/cutting of audio samples improves heavily the skill you are looking for. Try for example to cut a speech (high quality, speaking your language) into its smallest parts. Try to separate the consonants from the vowels. This way you have to zoom into the waveform very deeply (see the describing shape of a particular sounding), until you get as small parts as small ones you would use in a wavetable synth.

While you are doing this, focus on the content, the sounding of a particular letter pronunced (which you are already familiar with, becaouse you speak the language), and the form it takes up. You will find out that you are getting familiar with the shapes and the corresponding soundings and after some hours of practice you will be able to tell the joining points in a particular word by eye and also recognize some letters only by seeing its form.
After cutting human speech, you can change to music or sound effects.

Another way would be to simply get a sounding similar to what you would like to achieve and have a look at it zoomed in.

I could imagine a practice like having a spectrally rich short sound and making heavy filterings on it and comparing the sounding differences with the visual differences. For example, when filtering with lowpass you can see that you loose the smaller bumps in the waveform, going the other way and doing highpass filtering will reduce bigger waves in the waveform.

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Probably not the answer you want, but I feel going about this visually isn't the best method. Trial & error by experimenting with waveform combinations will train your ears. This will ultimately give you the results/speed you are seeking.

  • I agree, it's all about the ears in the end. But something tells me that visual cues can also help. For example, when I go through various waveforms when I'm looking for something extremely gritty, I simply pass any waveforms that closely resemble a sine wave (maybe some triangle as well). But I was wondering if there are other things that waveforms can tell you about the sound. – user1164937 Sep 12 '15 at 18:12
  • @user1164937 Sharp edges in a sound wave are unnatural, so create unnatural harmonics. Like a (ideal)square wave would only have odd harmonics. An unnatural sound. – Marc W Sep 13 '15 at 21:15
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Use an oscilloscope, a waveform scope, spectral analysis etc. Of course visualizing the sound is very useful and educating.

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As you use experiment, you will learn how different sounds look. The more you mess around with it, the easier it will be for you to reproduce the sounds you have in your head.

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