In [1]:
# code for loading the format for the notebook
import os

# path : store the current path to convert back to it later
path = os.getcwd()
os.chdir(os.path.join('..', '..', 'notebook_format'))

from formats import load_style
load_style(css_style='custom2.css', plot_style=False)
In [2]:

# 1. magic for inline plot
# 2. magic to print version
# 3. magic so that the notebook will reload external python modules
# 4. magic to enable retina (high resolution) plots
%matplotlib inline
%load_ext watermark
%load_ext autoreload
%autoreload 2
%config InlineBackend.figure_format='retina'

import numpy as np
import pandas as pd
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
from sklearn.model_selection import train_test_split

%watermark -a 'Ethen' -d -t -v -p numpy,pandas,sklearn,matplotlib
Ethen 2018-12-13 16:10:17 

CPython 3.6.4
IPython 6.4.0

numpy 1.14.2
pandas 0.23.0
sklearn 0.19.1
matplotlib 2.2.2

First Foray Into Discrete/Fast Fourier Transformation

In many real-world applications, signals are typically represented as a sequence of numbers that are time dependent. For example, digital audio signal would be one common example, or the hourly temperature in California would be another one. In order to extract meaningful characteristics from these kind of data, many different transformation techniques have been developed to decompose it into simpler individual pieces that are much easier and compact to reason with.

Discrete Fourier Transformation (DFT) is one of these algorithms that takes a signal as an input and breaks it down into many individual frequency components. Giving us, the end-user, easier pieces to work with. For the digital audio signal, applying DFT gives us what tones are represented in the sound and at what energies.

Some basics of digital signal processing is assumed. The following link contains an excellent primer to get people up to speed. I feverishly recommend going through all of it if the reader is not pressed with time. Blog: Seeing Circles, Sines, And Signals a Compact Primer On Digital Signal Processing


Correlation is a widely used concept in signal processing. It must be noted that the definition of correlation here is slightly different from the definition we encounter in statistics. In the context of signal processing, correlation measures how similar two signals are by computing the dot product between the two. i.e. given two signals $x$ and $y$, the correlation of the two signal can be computed using:

\begin{align} \sum_{n=0}^N x_n \cdot y_n \end{align}

The intuition behind this is that if the two signals are indeed similar, then whenever $x_n$ is positive/negative then $y_n$ should also be positive/negative. Hence when two signals' sign often matches, the resulting correlation number will also be large, indicating that the two signals are similar to one another. It is worth noting that correlation can also take on negative values, a large negative correlation means that the signal is also similar to each other, but one is inverted with respect to the other.

In [3]:
# create examples of two signals that are dissimilar
# and two that are similar to illustrate the concept

def create_signal(sample_duration, sample_freq, signal_type, signal_freq):
    Create some signals to work with, e.g. if we were to sample at 100 Hz
    (100 times per second) and collect the data for 10 seconds, resulting
    in 1000 samples in total. Then we would specify sample_duration = 10,
    sample_freq = 100.
    Apart from that, we will also give the option of generating sine or cosine
    wave and the frequencies of these signals
    raw_value = 2 * np.pi * signal_freq * np.arange(0, sample_duration, 1. / sample_freq)
    if signal_type == 'cos':
        return np.cos(raw_value)
    elif signal_type == 'sin':
        return np.sin(raw_value)
In [4]:
# change default style figure and font size
plt.rcParams['figure.figsize'] = 8, 6
plt.rcParams['font.size'] = 12'fivethirtyeight')

# dissimilar signals have low correlation
signal1 = create_signal(10, 100, 'sin', 0.1)
signal2 = create_signal(10, 100, 'cos', 0.1)
plt.plot(signal1, label='Sine')
plt.plot(signal2, label='Cosine')
plt.title('Correlation={:.1f}'.format(, signal2)))
In [5]:
# similar signals have high correlation
signal1 = create_signal(10, 100, 'sin', 0.1)
signal2 = create_signal(10, 100, 'sin', 0.1)
plt.plot(signal1, label='Sine 1')
plt.plot(signal2, label='Sine 2', linestyle='--')
plt.title('Correlation={}'.format(, signal2)))

Correlation is one of the key concept behind DFT, because as we'll soon see, in DFT, our goal is to find frequencies that gives a high correlation with the signal at hand and a high amplitude of this correlation indicates the presence of this frequency in our signal.

Fourier Transformation

Fourier Transformation takes a time-based signal as an input, measures every possible cycle and returns the overall cycle components (by cycle, we're essentially preferring to circles). Each cycle components stores information such as for each cycle:

  • Amplitude: how big is the circle?
  • Frequency: How fast is it moving? The faster the cycle component is moving, the higher the frequency of the wave.
  • Phase: Where does it start, or what angle does it start?

This cycle component is also referred to as phasor. The following gif aims to make this seemingly abstract description into a concrete process that we can visualize.

After applying DFT to our signal shown on the right, we realized that it can be decomposed into five different phasors. Here, the center of the first phasor/cycle component is placed at the origin, and the center of each subsequent phasor is "attached" to the tip of the previous phasor. Once the chain of phasors is built, we begin rotating the phasor. We can then reconstruct the time domain signal by tracing the vertical distance from the origin to the tip of the last phasor.

Let's now take a look at DFT's formula:

\begin{align} X_k = \sum_{n=0}^{N-1} x_n \cdot e^{ -\varphi \mathrm{i} } \end{align}
  • $x_n$: The signal's value at time $n$.
  • $e^{-\varphi\mathrm{i}}$: Is a compact way of describing a pair of sine and cosine waves.
  • $\varphi = \frac{n}{N} 2\pi k$: Records phase and frequency of our cycle components. Where $N$ is the number of samples we have. $n$ the current sample we're considering. $k$ the currenct frequency we're considering. The $2\pi k$ part represents the cycle component's speed measured in radians and $n / N$ measures the percentage of time that our cycle component has traveled.
  • $X_k$ Amount of cycle component with frequency $k$.

Side Note: If the readers are a bit rusty with trigonometry (related to sine and cosine) and complex numbers. e.g. There're already many excellent materials out there that covers these concepts. Blog: Trigonometry Review and Blog: Complex Numbers

From the formula, we notice that it's taking the dot product between the original signal $x_n$ and $e^{ -\varphi \mathrm{i} }$. If we expand $e^{ -\varphi \mathrm{i} }$ using the Euler's formula. $e^{ -\varphi \mathrm{i} } = cos(\varphi) - sin(\varphi)i$, we end up with the formula:

\begin{align} X_k &= \sum_{n=0}^{N-1} x_n \cdot \big( cos(\varphi) - sin(\varphi)i \big) \\ &= \sum_{n=0}^{N-1} x_n \cdot cos(\varphi) - i \sum_{n=0}^{N-1} x_n \cdot sin(\varphi) \end{align}

By breaking down the formula a little bit, we can see that underneath the hood, what fourier transformation is doing is taking the input signal and doing 2 correlation calculations, one with the sine wave (it will give us the y coordinates of the circle) and one with the cosine wave (which will give us the x coordinates or the circle). And the following succinct one-sentence colour-coded explanation is also a great reference that we can use for quick reference.

DFT In Action

To see DFT in action, we will create a dummy signal that will be composed of four sinusoidal waves of different frequencies. 0, 10, 2 and 0.5 Hz respectively.

In [6]:
# reminder:
# sample_duration means we're collecting the data for x seconds
# sample_freq means we're sampling x times per second
sample_duration = 10
sample_freq = 100
signal_type = 'sin'
num_samples = sample_freq * sample_duration
num_components = 4

components = np.zeros((num_components, num_samples))
components[0] = np.ones(num_samples)
components[1] = create_signal(sample_duration, sample_freq, signal_type, 10)
components[2] = create_signal(sample_duration, sample_freq, signal_type, 2)
components[3] = create_signal(sample_duration, sample_freq, signal_type, 0.5)

fig, ax = plt.subplots(nrows=num_components, sharex=True, figsize=(12,8))
for i in range(num_components):
    ax[i].set_ylim((-1.1, 1.1))
    ax[i].set_title('Component {}'.format(i))

ax[num_components - 1].set_xlabel('Samples')

Then we will combine these individual signals together with some weights assigned to each signal.

In [7]:
signal = -0.5 * components[0] + 0.1 * components[1] + 0.2 * components[2] - 0.6 * components[3]


By looking at the dummy signal we've created visually, we might be able to notice the presence of a signal which shows 5 periods in the sampling duration of 10 seconds. In other words, after applying DFT to our signal, we should expect the presence a signal with the frequency of 0.5 HZ.

Here, we will leverage numpy's implementation to check whether the result makes intuitive sense or not. The implementation is called fft, but let's not worry about that for the moment.

In [8]:
fft_result = np.fft.fft(signal)
print('length of fft result: ', len(fft_result))
length of fft result:  1000
array([-5.00000000e+02+0.00000000e+00j,  2.25951276e-13+8.46545056e-15j,
        1.28375093e-13+1.50003997e-13j,  5.19653030e-14+1.99840144e-15j,

The fft routine returns an array of length 1000 which is equivalent to the number of samples. If we look at each individual element in the array, we'll notice that these are the DFT coefficients. It has two components, the real number corresponds to the cosine waves and the imaginary number that comes from the sine waves. In general though, we don't really care if there's a cosine or sine wave present, as we are only concerned which frequency pattern has a higher correlation with our original signal. This can be done by considering the absolute value of these coefficients.

In [9]:
plt.xlim((-5, 120))  # notice that we limited the x-axis to 120 to focus on the interesting part
plt.ylim((-5, 520))

If we plot the absolute values of the fft result, we can clearly see a spike at K=0, 5, 20, 100 in the graph above. However, we are often times more interested in the energy of of each frequency. Frequency Resolution is the distance in Hz between two adjacent data points in DFT, which is defined as:

\begin{align} \Delta f = \frac{f_s}{N} \end{align}

Where $f_s$ is the sampling rate and $N$ is the number of data points. The denominator can be expressed in terms of sampling rate and time, $N = f_s \cdot t$. Looking closely at the formula, it is telling us the only thing that increases frequency resolution is time.

In our case, the sample_duration we've specified above was 10, thus the frequencies corresponding to these K are: 0 Hz, 0.5 Hz, 2 Hz and 10 Hz respectively (remember that these frequencies were the components that was used in the dummy signal that we've created). And based on the graph depicted below, we can see that by passing our signal to a DFT, we were able to retrieve its underlying frequency information.

In [10]:
t = np.linspace(0, sample_freq, len(fft_result))
plt.plot(t, np.abs(fft_result))
plt.xlim((-1, 15))
plt.ylim((-5, 520))

Fast Fourier Transformation (FFT)

Recall that the formula for Discrete Fourier Transformation was:

\begin{align} X_k = \sum_{n=0}^{N-1} x_n \cdot e^{ -\frac{n}{N} 2\pi k \mathrm{i} } \end{align}

Since we now know that it's computing the dot product between the original signal and a cycle component at every frequency, we can implement this ourselves.

In [12]:
def dft(x):
    """Compute the Discrete Fourier Transform of the 1d ndarray x."""
    N = x.size
    n = np.arange(N)
    k = n.reshape((N, 1))
    # complex number in python are denoted by the j symbol,
    # instead of i that we're showing in the formula
    e = np.exp(-2j * np.pi * k * n / N)
    return, x)
In [13]:
# apply dft to our original signal and confirm
# the results looks the same
dft_result = dft(signal)
print('result matches:', np.allclose(dft_result, fft_result))

plt.xlim((-5, 120))
plt.ylim((-5, 520))
result matches: True

However, if we compare the timing between our simplistic implementation versus the one from numpy, we can see a dramatic time difference.

In [14]:
%timeit dft(signal)
%timeit np.fft.fft(signal)
34.1 ms ± 898 µs per loop (mean ± std. dev. of 7 runs, 10 loops each)
24.8 µs ± 535 ns per loop (mean ± std. dev. of 7 runs, 10000 loops each)

If we leave aside the fact that one is implemented using Python's numpy and one is most likely implemented in optimized C++, the time difference actually comes from the fact that in practice, people uses a more optimized version of Fourier Transformation called Fast Fourier Transformation (how unexpected ...) to perform the calculation. The algorithm accomplish significant speedup by expl