See What You Hear: Using Visuals to Unlock the Meaning of Music

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Lushen Wu of bebop Gave “Animated” Talk in Pearson C

Lushen Wu

What if you could experience a tennis match as Roger Federer, see Mona Lisa through the eyes of Leonardo DaVinci, or listen to a symphony as Beethoven would? While the first two of these are squarely in the realm of science fiction, we already have ways to make music more accessible and compelling through technology.

According to Wu, during his Lunch & Discussion at the Tang Institute on January 14, music literacy is at an all-time low, due to shrinking attention spans and our addiction to easy thrills (among other things). Music is a language (it has syntax, grammar, and vocabulary). Like all languages, it has aspects of speaking, reading, writing, and listening. Listening comprehension, arguably one of the most critical aspects of language acquisition, is hard to teach. bebop uses mesmerizing visual animations to unlock the meaning and power of music, making it more engaging, accessible, and enjoyable.

The Evolution of Visual Music Animations

Wu is working with the Swiss association Music:Eyes and Stephen Malinowski, the American musician and inventor who created the first computer-generated musical animations in 1985. Malinowski’s YouTube videos have received more than 150 million views, with tens of thousands of comments attesting to the power of experiencing music visually. View his channel at

User commentary

“Honestly, my students learn more about music from these animations than from any of the six textbooks I have tried in the past,” said Dr. Casey J. Hayes, Chair of Music at Franklin College

“I found myself noticing subtleties which have enriched my listening ten-fold I keep discovering new things each time I see and listen to this These videos have the potential to make music more accessible and enjoyable for pupils, teachers, and every one alike, said a user on the YouTube Channel (+140 million views)

Visuals: The Key to Understanding What You Hear

Shortcomings of hearing

  • Abstract: Hard to perceive or describe
  • Weak form of attention
  • Sounds can be heard only when they are made
  • Hard to multi-task (listen to multiple voices)

Advantages of vision

  • Tangible: Easy to process
  • Mesmerizing (e.g. bonfires, waterfalls)
  • Sounds can be “seen” before or after they are heard
  • Easy to multi-task (track multiple shapes)

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