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Enhancing Digital Signal Processing Education With Audio Signal Processing And Music Synthesis

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Laboratory Development in ECE Education

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.538.1 - 13.538.16



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Paper Authors


Ed Doering Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Edward Doering received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Iowa State University in 1992, and has been a member the ECE faculty at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology since 1994. He teaches courses in digital systems, circuits, image processing, and electronic music synthesis, and his research interests include technology-enabled education, image processing, and FPGA-based signal processing.

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Sam Shearman National Instruments

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Sam Shearman is a Senior Product Manager for Signal Processing and Communications at National Instruments (Austin, TX). Working for the firm since 2000, he has served in roles involving product management and R&D related to signal processing, communications, and measurement. Prior to working with NI, he worked as a technical trade press editor and as a research engineer. As a trade press editor for "Personal Engineering & Instrumentation News," he covered PC-based test and analysis markets. His research engineering work involved embedding microstructures in high-volume plastic coatings for non-imaging optics applications. He received a BS (1993) in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA).

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Erik Luther National Instruments

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Enhancing Digital Signal Processing Education with Audio Signal Processing and Music Synthesis


Audio signal processing and music synthesis are familiar, accessible and engaging motivators for students to study digital signal processing (DSP). Hands-on project activities encourage deeper understanding of DSP concepts, and are used regularly in ECE481, a course that covers music synthesis for engineering majors at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Students implement and experiment with music synthesis algorithms on a computer to gain a better appreciation for relationships between theory, sound, and visual representation of signals (time series, spectrum, and spectrogram). The LabVIEW graphical programming platform provides extensive support for DSP programming and soundcard operations, enabling students to quickly implement algorithms using graphical dataflow programming. The interactive user interface elements (controls and indicators) appear automatically while creating the graphical program, so the result is inherently interactive. ECE481 was recently revised to use LabVIEW, and students reported a high degree of satisfaction with the new approach.


Music synthesis and audio signal processing offer students exciting applications of DSP concepts. As students implement synthesis and filtering algorithms, they develop a deeper understanding of the inter-relationships between the physical sound, its visual representations such as time-domain waveform and spectrogram, and its mathematical model. ECE481, Electronic Music Synthesis, an elective course in music synthesis for electrical and computer engineering majors initially offered in 1998, helps students tie together numerous conceptual threads from the required curriculum and strengthens their DSP programming skills with a series of mini-projects1.

The choice of computational platform for mini-projects and in-class demonstrations is a key design decision for the course. Richard Hamming once said “the purpose of computing is insight, not numbers,” and students gain manifold insights when they interact with a signal processing system of their own creation. The choice of a development environment for optimum student learning revolves around two critical issues: (1) the total time required to transform a concept into a working system, and (2) the degree to which the system is interactive. Frustration results when the development process takes too long or is too complicated. In addition, the finished system should be as real-time and interactive as possible in order for the benefits of “computing for insight” to be fully realized. Text-based programming using m-scripts and the MATLAB program have traditionally enabled ECE481 students to implement a computer music algorithm as an m-script to produce an audible waveform. However, the additional development effort required to transform that script into a user-friendly, GUI-based, and interactive “musical instrument” is prohibitive for most student projects.

LabVIEW by National Instruments offers a unique graphical dataflow programming environment in which an interactive user interface automatically emerges during the

Doering, E., & Shearman, S., & Luther, E. (2008, June), Enhancing Digital Signal Processing Education With Audio Signal Processing And Music Synthesis Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3951

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