Studying the Song Development Process: Rationale and Methods

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2004 Jun;1016:348-63. doi: 10.1196/annals.1298.031.


Current technology makes it possible to measure song development continuously throughout a vocal ontogeny. Here we briefly review some of the problems involved and describe experimental and analytic methods for automatic tracing of vocal changes. These techniques make it possible to characterize the specific methods the bird uses to imitate sounds: an automated song recognition procedure allows continuous song recording, followed by automated sound analysis that partition the song to syllables, extract acoustic features of each syllable, and summarize the entire song development process over time into a single database. The entire song development is then presentable in the form of images or movie clips. These Dynamic Vocal Development (DVD) maps show how each syllable type emerges, and how the bird manipulates syllable features to eventually approximate the model song. Most of the experimental and analytic methods described here have been organized into a software package, which also allows combined neural and sound recording to monitor changes in brain activity as vocal learning occurs. The software is available at

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electronic Data Processing*
  • Songbirds / growth & development
  • Songbirds / physiology*
  • Sound Spectrography*
  • Sound*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*