This is the first posting in a 6-part series on doing and understanding Fourier Transforms – specifically with respect to audio signals in the digital domain. However, before we dive into DFT’s (more commonly knowns as “FFT’s”, as we’ll talk about in the next posting) we need to get some basic concepts out of the way first.
When a normal person says “frequency” they mean “how often something happens”. I go to the dentist with a frequency of two times per year. I eat dinner with a frequency of one time per day.
When someone who works in audio says “frequency” they mean something like “the number of times per second this particular portion of the audio waveform repeats – even if it doesn’t last for a whole second…”. And, if we’re being a little more specific, then we are a bit more effuse than saying “this particular portion”… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s take a wheel with an axel, and a handle sticking out of it on its edge, like this:
We’ll turn the wheel clockwise, at a constant speed, or “frequency of rotation” – with some number of revolutions per second. If we look at the wheel from the “front” – its face – then we’ll see something like this:
When we look at the front of the wheel, we can tell its diameter (the “size” of the wheel), the frequency at which it’s rotating (in revolutions or cycles per second), and the direction (clockwise or anti-clockwise).
One way to look at the rotation is to consider the position of the handle – the red circle above – as an angle. If it started at the “3 o’clock” position, and it’s rotating clockwise, then it rotated 90 degrees when it’s at the “6 o’clock” position, for example.
However, another way to think about the movement of the handle is to see it as simultaneously moving up and down as it moves side-to-side. Again, if it moves from the 3 o’clock position to the 6 o’clock position, then it moved downwards and to the left.
We can focus on the vertical movement only if we look at the side of the wheel instead of its face, as shown in the right-hand side of the animation below.
The side-view of the wheel in that animation tells us two of the three things we know from the front-view. We can tell the size of the wheel and the frequency of its rotation. However, we don’t know whether the wheel is turning clockwise or anti-clockwise. For example, if you look at the animation below, the two side views (on the right) are identical – but the two wheels that they represent are rotating in opposite directions.
So, if you’re looking only at the side of the wheel, you cannot know the direction of rotation. However, there is one possibility – if we can look at the wheel from the side and from above at the same time, then we can use those two pieces of information to know everything. This is represented in the animation below.
Although I haven’t shown it here, if the wheel was rotating in the opposite direction, the side view would look the same, but the top view would show the opposite…
If we were to make a plot of the vertical position of the handle as a function of time, starting at the 3 o’clock position, and rotating clockwise, then the result would look like the plot below. It would start at the mid-point, start moving downwards until the handle had rotated with a “phase shift” of 90 degrees, then start coming back upwards.
If we graph the horizontal position instead, then the plot would look like the one below. The handle starts on the right (indicated as the top of the plot), moves towards the mid-point until it gets all the way to the left (the bottom of this plot) when then wheel has a phase shift (a rotation) of 180 degrees.
If we were to put these two plots together to make a three dimensional plot, showing the side view (the vertical position) and the top view (the horizontal position), and the time (or the angular rotation of the wheel), then we wind up with the plot shown below.
Time to name names… The plot shown in Figure 6 is a “sine wave”, plotted upside down. (The word sine coming from the same root as words like “sinuous” and “sinus” (as in “could you hand me a tissue, please… my sinuses are all blocked up…”) – from the Latin word “sinus” meaning “a bay” – as in “sittin’ by the dock of the bay, watchin’ the tide roll in…”.) Note that, if the wheel were turning anti-clockwise, then it would not be upside down.
If you look at the plot in Figure 7, you may notice that it looks the same as a sine wave would look, if it started 90 degrees of rotation later. This is because, when you’re looking at the wheel from the top, instead of the side, then you have rotated your viewing position by 90 degrees. This is called a “cosine wave” (because it’s the complement of the sine wave).
Notice how, whenever the sine wave is at a maximum or a minimum, the cosine wave is at 0 – in the middle of its movement. The opposite is also true – whenever the cosine is at a maximum or a minimum, the sine wave is at 0.
Remember that if we only knew the cosine, we still wouldn’t know the direction of rotation of the wheel – we need to know the simultaneous values of the sine and the cosine to know whether the wheel is going clockwise or counterclockwise.
The important thing to know so far is that a sine wave (or a cosine wave) is just a two-dimensional view of a three-dimensional thing. The wheel is rotating with a frequency of some angle per second (one full revolution per second = 360º/sec. 10 revolutions per second = 3600º/sec) and this causes a point on its circumference (the handle in the graphics above) to move back and forth (along the x-axis, which we see in the “top” view) and up and down (along the y-axis, which we see in the side view).
Let’s say that I asked you to make a sine wave generator – and I would like the wave to start at some arbitrary phase. For example, I might ask you to give me a sine wave that starts at 0º. That would look like this:
But, since I’m whimsical, I might say “actually, can you start the sine wave at 45º instead please?” which would look like this:
One way for you do do this is to make a sine wave generator with a very carefully timed gain control after it. So, you start the sine wave generator with its output turned completely down (a gain of 0), and you wait the amount of time it takes for 45º of rotation (of the wheel) to elapse – and then you set the output gain suddenly to 1.
However, there’s an easier way to do it – at least one that doesn’t require a fancy timer…
If you add the values of two sinusoidal waves of the same frequency, the result will be a sinusoidal waveform with the same frequency. (There is one exception to this statement, which is when the two sinusoids are 180º apart and identical in level – then if you add them, the result is nothing – but we’ll forget about that exception for now…)
This also means that if we add a sine and a cosine of the same frequency together (remember that a cosine wave is just a sine wave that starts 90º later) then the result will be a sinusoidal waveform of the same frequency. However, the amplitude and the phase of that resulting waveform will be dependent on the amplitudes of the sine and the cosine that you started with…
Let’s look at a couple of examples of this.
Figure 11, above shows that if you take a cosine wave with a maximum amplitude of 0.7 (in blue) and a sine wave of the same frequency and amplitude, starting at a phase of 180º (or -1 * the sine wave starting at 0º), and you add them together (just add their “y” values, for each point on the x axis – I’ve shown this for an X value of 270º in the figure), then the result is a cosine wave with an amplitude of 1 and a phase delay of 45º (or a sine wave with a phase delay of 135º (45+90 = 135) – it’s the same thing…)
Here’s another example:
In Figure 12 we see that if we add a a cosine wave * -0.5 and add it to a sine wave * -0.866, then the result is a cosine wave with an amplitude of 1, starting at 120º.
I can keep doing this for different gains applied to the cosine and sine wave, but at this point, I’ll stop giving examples and just say that you’ll have to trust me when I say:
If I want to make a sinusoidal waveform that starts at any phase, I just need to add a cosine and a sine wave with carefully-chosen gains…
Pythagoreas gets involved…
You may be wondering how I found the weird gains in Figures 11 and 12, above. In order to understand that, we need to grab a frame from the animation in Figure 5. If we do that, then you can see that there’s a “hidden” right triangle formed by the radius of the wheel, and the vertical and the horizontal displacement of the handle.
Pythagoras taught us that the square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the two other sides. Or, expressed as an equation:
a2 + b2 = c2
where “c” is the length of the hypotenuse, and “a” and “b” are the lengths of the other two sides.
This means that, looking at Figure 13:
cos2(a) + sin2(a) = R2
I’ve set “R” (the radius of the wheel ) to equal 1. This is the same as the amplitude of the sum of the cosine and the sine in Figures 11 and 12… and since 1*1 = 1, then I can re-write the equation like this:
sine_gain = sqrt ( 1 – cosine_gain2)
So, for example, in Figure 12, I said that the gain on the cosine is -0.5, and then I calculated sqrt(1 – -0.52) = 0.86603 which is the gain that I applied to the upside-down sine wave.
Three ways to say the same thing…
I can say “a sine wave with an amplitude of 1 and a phase delay of 135º” and you should now know what I mean.
I could also express this mathematically like this:
which means the value of y at a given value of α is equal to A multiplied by the sine of the sum of the values α and ϕ. In other words, the amplitude y at angle α equals the sine of the angle α added to a constant value ϕ and the peak value will be A. In the above example, y(α) would be equal to 1*sin(α +135∘) where α can be any value depending on the time (because it’s the angle of rotation of the wheel).
But, now we know that there is another way to express this. If we scale the sine and cosine components correctly and add them together, the result will be a sinusoidal wave at any phase and amplitude we want. Take a look at the equation below:
where A is the amplitude
ϕ is the phase angle
α is any angle of rotation of the wheel
a = Acos(ϕ)
b = Asin(ϕ)
What does this mean? Well, all it means is that we can now specify values for a and b and, using this equation, wind up with a sinusoidal waveform of any amplitude and phase that we want. Essentially, we just have an alternate way of describing the waveform.