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If you haven’t yet checked out the 14 sound-schemes included in Windows 7, you should. Working with the small team that produced the Windows 7 sound-schemes was one of the coolest and most fascinating projects I’ve ever been a part of. I think what the audio producer and musicians created is small but beautiful, and changes the Windows experience in a subtle but distinctive way.
A Windows sound-scheme is a set of sounds that signal certain events, like starting up and shutting down Windows or getting a new email. Here’s how you can see the sound-schemes that are available and change them.
To get to the Sounds dialog box, click Sounds in Personalization:
Click the Sound Scheme dropdown menu, and choose the sound scheme you want to try out. Click Apply or OK.
You can also try out individual sounds without applying the sound-scheme to your system, by choosing the individual sound you want to hear, and then clicking Test. (If there is no speaker symbol next to the Program Event name, there is no sound currently associated with that event.)
Something a lot of people don’t know is that there is an intentional auditory language to Windows, just as there is a visual one. If you’ve used Windows for a while, you know what the little envelope or printer icon on your Taskbar means – they’re recognizable visual symbols that indicate certain events or states. The same is true of the sounds that are associated with various events, such as a new email alert or a low battery warning. Without even thinking about it, you learn to recognize that two descending notes (E to A) mean that a device has been disconnected.
Each Windows sound has a specific, composed “melody” that is consistent across the various sound schemes. In addition to the instruments used for each sound, it is the pitches (how high or low), intervals (ascending or descending, and how far), rhythm or emphasis, and timing (slow, fast, simultaneous) between the notes that helps mark the difference between a “new mail” event and “a new device was plugged in” sound. For example, here is the notation for the Device Connect and Disconnect, Windows Log Off, and New Mail sounds:
Well, the challenge we had in developing sound-schemes based on various global musical traditions is that we had to remain true to the style and instrumentation of each of the different musical cultures while also making sure that all the sounds still spoke the Windows audio language correctly. We didn’t want users having to re-learn whether a particular sound or series of notes meant “I’ve got new mail” or “my battery is getting low.” So there was a very, very delicate balance to hit, in compromising between the expressive style and tonality of each musical form and the timing and progressions required by the Windows brand guidelines.
A few of the sound-schemes (Characters and Quirky) consist of synthetically-produced sounds and samples created using electronic music synthesizers, but the sound-schemes based on various global musical styles and traditions are really real. What I mean is that the sounds you hear were created on real instruments, played by master musicians from each musical tradition and recorded live in the studio. But it goes even further than that; we also worked with an ethnomusicologist to ensure that our mini-interpretations of each musical style (and they ARE mini… each sound in the sound-schemes is only a few notes long!) were as authentic and faithful as possible, respecting the vocabulary, instrumentation, timbres, and “language” of each musical tradition.
Here are the Windows 7 sound-schemes that are based on musical traditions:
“Here Comes the Sun” guitars, James Taylor, Beatles
12 string Taylor acoustic and 12 string Rickenbacker electric guitar
Solo instruments of eastern Asia
Gayaguem, erhu, and shakuhachi, gamelan and other bells and percussion
Smoky jazz club, slightly retro
Piano, vibes, upright bass, brushed drums and percussion
American roots music (blues, country, Dixieland jazz, etc)
Dobro, banjo, harmonica, electric slide guitar, acoustic guitar, electric bass
Mostly Samba and Mariachi influences, with Peruvian woodwinds/flutes
Mariachi trumpets, Escolas de Samba percussion/drum ensemble, tango piano/bandoneon, Andean/Peruvian flute, steel drum
Classical Spanish guitar; Andrés Segovia
Nylon-stringed acoustic guitar, played in classical Spanish style
Aaron Copland, pastoral orchestral tones
French horns, glockenspiel/bells, bassoon, viola and violin textures
Instruments of the Indian region
Sarod, sitar, tabla, tambura, bamboo flute, sarangi, Indian percussion
The musical traditions of sub-Saharan Africa, South and West
Kalimba, mbira, African percussion and large drums, kora, talking drum, djembe, balafon, woodflute
Antonio Vivaldi; solo violins, small chamber strings and orchestral sounds
Solo violin, with small group viola and cello, woodwinds, orchestral percussion
I really hope you will give them a listen. I am sure it would surprise you how much music was recorded, and how many versions of each of the sounds we went through in arriving at the final sets. My one regret about this project was the thousands of fantastic out-takes we couldn’t include! I just wish I could share with you some of the unused tracks from the various jam sessions.
To learn more about changing sound schemes, changing individual computer sounds, or renaming a sound scheme, see “Changing Windows 7 sounds.” There are also some great articles and blog entries on MSDN. Take a look at these:
Last but not least, I want to give my thanks and admiration to Steve Ball, Dave Gross, and Matthew Bennett, who made this project a reality. It was fantastic working with you!
I changed my login noise to the Windows 95 sound. mssound.wav It is beautiful. You should really have that sound in the next release of windows. It would be pretty cool.
My preference is the shorter/softer sounds that are part of the default Windows theme but I like Calligraphy theme alot too. For a Media Center PC setup, I disable most sounds including startup sounds.
Wow, I remember reading the E7 blog that touched on this a little bit, but I love this depth. Please, keep articles like this coming.
The work you have done to really polish this lates OS is Awesome! Truly Windows 7 is the best, most reliable, stable, and fun to use OS Microsoft or anyone else has ever produced. I am really pleased Microsoft decided to bring back theme packs for it's users. I have 2 gripes that would be fantastic if somone could address:
1. The ability to get new them content thorugh a feed is a GREAT idea - but I get a message when trying to dowload those Bing themes that feeds are blocked by my administrator - Work PC. But I subscribe and view to mulitple RSS feeds through both Outlook 2010 and IE9 - so why can't I get the theme to run? If this is the case, rather than just getting a blank background when running it - provide a set of static images, sounds etc. and a message stating that it's unable to make connection to the server - and provide suggestions for what the user can try - or better provide the automated assistant hook to allow Microsoft to diagnose and try to fix.
Gripe 2: I am really pleased the team worked so hard on the Windows sounds - they are very pleasing!! But when downloading a popular movie theme- it would be MUCH BETTER to have the sounds from the movie, instead of "Metro" or one of the other Windows themes. For Harry Potter, Transformers, Captain America, KungFu Panda, all have their own sounds which you expect to have in the theme. If it is a legal issue, then get the companies providing you images to package the sounds as well. It seems silly to have to download a theme directly from the movie internet site when this site provides one-stop shopping!!
Keep up the great work team - A truly exception user experience is equal parts art and technology, a truly exception Windows experience is equal parts form and function!