There are many data visualization libraries in Python, yet Matplotlib is the most popular library out of all of them. Matplotlib’s popularity is due to its reliability and utility - it's able to create both simple and complex plots with little code. You can also customize the plots in a variety of ways.
In this tutorial, we'll cover how to plot Violin Plots in Matplotlib.
Violin plots are used to visualize data distributions, displaying the range, median, and distribution of the data.
Violin plots show the same summary statistics as box plots, but they also include Kernel Density Estimations that represent the shape/distribution of the data.
Before we can create a Violin plot, we will need some data to plot. We’ll be using the Gapminder dataset.
We’ll start by importing the libraries we need, which include Pandas and Matplotlib:
import pandas as pd import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
We’ll check to make sure that there are no missing data entries and print out the head of the dataset to ensure that the data has been loaded correctly. Be sure to set the encoding type to
dataframe = pd.read_csv("gapminder_full.csv", error_bad_lines=False, encoding="ISO-8859-1") print(dataframe.head()) print(dataframe.isnull().values.any())
country year population continent life_exp gdp_cap 0 Afghanistan 1952 8425333 Asia 28.801 779.445314 1 Afghanistan 1957 9240934 Asia 30.332 820.853030 2 Afghanistan 1962 10267083 Asia 31.997 853.100710 3 Afghanistan 1967 11537966 Asia 34.020 836.197138 4 Afghanistan 1972 13079460 Asia 36.088 739.981106
Plotting a Violin Plot in Matplotlib
To create a Violin Plot in Matplotlib, we call the
violinplot() function on either the
Axes instance, or the PyPlot instance itself:
import pandas as pd import matplotlib.pyplot as plt dataframe = pd.read_csv("gapminder_full.csv", error_bad_lines=False, encoding="ISO-8859-1") population = dataframe.population life_exp = dataframe.life_exp gdp_cap = dataframe.gdp_cap # Extract Figure and Axes instance fig, ax = plt.subplots() # Create a plot ax.violinplot([population, life_exp, gdp_cap]) # Add title ax.set_title('Violin Plot') plt.show()
When we create the first plot, we can see the distribution of our data, but we will also notice some problems. Because the scale of the features are so different, it’s practically impossible the distribution of the Life expectancy and GDP columns.
For this reason, we want to plot each column on its own subplot.
We'll do a little sorting and slicing of the dataframe to make comparing the dataset columns easier. We'll group the dataframe by "country", and select just the most recent/last entries for each of the countries.
We'll then sort by population and drop the entries with the largest populations (the large population outliers), so that the rest of the dataframe is in a more similar range and comparisons are easier:
dataframe = dataframe.groupby("country").last() dataframe = dataframe.sort_values(by=["population"], ascending=False) dataframe = dataframe.iloc[10:] print(dataframe)
Now, the dataframe looks something like:
year population continent life_exp gdp_cap country Philippines 2007 91077287 Asia 71.688 3190.481016 Vietnam 2007 85262356 Asia 74.249 2441.576404 Germany 2007 82400996 Europe 79.406 32170.374420 Egypt 2007 80264543 Africa 71.338 5581.180998 Ethiopia 2007 76511887 Africa 52.947 690.805576 ... ... ... ... ... ... Montenegro 2007 684736 Europe 74.543 9253.896111 Equatorial Guinea 2007 551201 Africa 51.579 12154.089750 Djibouti 2007 496374 Africa 54.791 2082.481567 Iceland 2007 301931 Europe 81.757 36180.789190 Sao Tome and Principe 2007 199579 Africa 65.528 1598.435089
Great! Now we can create a figure and three axes objects with the
subplots() function. Each of these axes will have a violin plot. Since we're working on a much more manageable scale now, let's also turn on the
showmedians argument by setting it to
This will strike a horizontal line in the median of our violin plots:
# Create figure with three axes fig, (ax1, ax2, ax3) = plt.subplots(nrows=1, ncols=3) # Plot violin plot on axes 1 ax1.violinplot(dataframe.population, showmedians=True) ax1.set_title('Population') # Plot violin plot on axes 2 ax2.violinplot(life_exp, showmedians=True) ax2.set_title('Life Expectancy') # Plot violin plot on axes 3 ax3.violinplot(gdp_cap, showmedians=True) ax3.set_title('GDP Per Cap') plt.show()
Running this code now yields us:
Now we can get a good idea of the distribution of our data. The central horizontal line in the Violins is where the median of our data is located, and minimum and maximum values are indicated by the line positions on the Y-axis.
Customizing Violin Plots in Matplotlib
Now, let's take a look at how we can customize Violin Plots.
Adding X and Y Ticks
As you can see, while the plots have successfully been generated, without tick labels on the X and Y-axis it can get difficult to interpret the graph. Humans interpret categorical values much more easily than numerical values.
We can customize the plot and add labels to the X-axis by using the
fig, ax = plt.subplots() ax.violinplot(gdp_cap, showmedians=True) ax.set_title('violin plot') ax.set_xticks() ax.set_xticklabels(["Country GDP",]) plt.show()
This results in:
Here, we've set the X-ticks from a range to a single one, in the middle, and added a label that's easy to interpret.
Plotting Horizontal Violin Plot in Matplotlib
If we wanted to we could also change the orientation of the plot by altering the
vert controls whether or not the plot is rendered vertically and it is set to
True by default:
fig, ax = plt.subplots() ax.violinplot(gdp_cap, showmedians=True, vert=False) ax.set_title('violin plot') ax.set_yticks() ax.set_yticklabels(["Country GDP",]) ax.tick_params(axis='y', labelrotation = 90) plt.show()
Here, we've set the Y-axis tick labels and their frequency, instead of the X-axis. We've also rotated the labels by 90 degrees
Showing Dataset Means in Violin Plots
We have some other customization parameters available to us as well. We can choose to show means, in addition to medians, by using the
Let’s try visualizing the means in addition to the medians:
fig, (ax1, ax2, ax3) = plt.subplots(nrows=1, ncols=3) ax1.violinplot(population, showmedians=True, showmeans=True, vert=False) ax1.set_title('Population') ax2.violinplot(life_exp, showmedians=True, showmeans=True, vert=False) ax2.set_title('Life Expectancy') ax3.violinplot(gdp_cap, showmedians=True, showmeans=True, vert=False) ax3.set_title('GDP Per Cap') plt.show()
Though, please note that since the medians and means essentially look the same, it may become unclear which vertical line here refers to a median, and which to a mean.
Customizing Kernel Density Estimation for Violin Plots
We can also alter how many data points the model considers when creating the Gaussian Kernel Density Estimations, by altering the
The number of points considered is 100 by default. By providing the function with fewer data points to estimate from, we may get a less representative data distribution.
Let's change this number to, say, 10:
fig, ax = plt.subplots() ax.violinplot(gdp_cap, showmedians=True, points=10) ax.set_title('violin plot') ax.set_xticks() ax.set_xticklabels(["Country GDP",]) plt.show()
Notice that the shape of the violin is less smooth since fewer points have been sampled.
Typically, you would want to increase the number of points used to get a better sense of the distribution. This might not always be the case, if 100 is simply enough. Lets plot a 10-point, 100-point and 500-point sampled Violin Plot:
fig, (ax1, ax2, ax3) = plt.subplots(nrows=1, ncols=3) ax1.violinplot(gdp_cap, showmedians=True, points=10) ax1.set_title('GDP Per Cap, 10p') ax2.violinplot(gdp_cap, showmedians=True, points=100) ax2.set_title('GDP Per Cap, 100p') ax3.violinplot(gdp_cap, showmedians=True, points=500) ax3.set_title('GDP Per Cap, 500p') plt.show()
This results in:
There isn't any obvious difference between the second and third plot, though, there's a significant one between the first and second.
In this tutorial, we've gone over several ways to plot a Violin Plot using Matplotlib and Python. We've also covered how to customize them by adding X and Y ticks, plotting horizontally, showing dataset means as well as alter the KDE point sampling.
If you're interested in Data Visualization and don't know where to start, make sure to check out our book on Data Visualization in Python.
Data Visualization in Python, a book for beginner to intermediate Python developers, will guide you through simple data manipulation with Pandas, cover core plotting libraries like Matplotlib and Seaborn, and show you how to take advantage of declarative and experimental libraries like Altair.