THE ACOUSTIC INTERPRETATION OF VOICES, INSTRUMENTS AND ROOMS

Acoustic relates to sound or hearing, to a musical instrument that is not made louder by electrical equipment. It’s also the way in which a structure of a building or room affects the qualities of musical or spoken sound.

Try this! When you shout in an uncompleted building, hall, an empty room, a room stuffed with furniture or without a window, etc. your voice will be projected differently – these factors that alter your voice sound is referred to as acoustic properties. There is a number of factors that can enhance or mar the sound of your performance, rehearsal space. They are ROOM ACOUSTIC, INSTRUMENT and THE VOICE.

When singing in a room, the room returns the sound of one’s voice to the ears. This acoustic feedback contributes to the impression of the room environment; which affects the difficulty or ease of singing and how the voice is projected. There are different types of rooms and the psychological and behavioural effects of these rooms acoustic on a singer vary.

Alive room is a room with a dominance of hard reflective surface: lots of exposed glass windows, hardwood floor, etc. making it seem to echo forever. These excessive echoes make it hard to distinguish between the instruments and vocals sometimes.

A dead room has little or no reverberation. You’ll hear the sound of your handclap right there in front of you.

Performance and singing styles vary in these type of atmospheres. Because of the factors that affect these acoustic variations which include size, thickness, contents, interior, etc. it is more likely to have an effect on your singing, rehearsal and performance if great care is not observed and corrected. Your rehearsal result or effectiveness in terms of sound quality, vocal smoothness and soundness in a different room will vary. This is one reason some choirs are surprised and disappointed after performance despite rehearsing so well.

Why is this? They rehearsed in a room with different acoustic properties and performed in another space with a different acoustic character. When you rehearse for instance in a dead room, you’ll hear the errors, wrong notes, the imbalance in vocal velocity and dynamics which can be corrected. This is not the case when rehearsal happens in a more open space or live room where you may not hear in detail these errors. Similarly, singing or rehearsing in a dry room with little or no reverberation will require the choir increasing vibrato and other vocal effects. When the same choir performs in a live room with such reinforcement of vibrato and vocal effects they may experience an overly of reverberation. In this case, there may need to reduce the vibrato effect from the choir; that is if the conductor or choristers discover early in the performance – hence, such performance may be affected.

HOW ROOMS INFLUENCES OUR PERFORMANCE

Since rooms vary greatly with the qualities of acoustics, understanding their influence will help singers pay attention to vocal resonance and registers when singing.

The mechanism for generating the human voice can be subdivided into three parts:

1) The lungs

2) The vocal folds within the larynx

3) The articulators

The sound of each individual’s voice is entirely unique not only because of the actual shape and size of an individual’s vocal cord but also due to size, shape and bone structure of a person’s body. The ability to project sound in certain ways so that it resonates better in the vocal tract is known as vocal resonation. Improving your vocal resonance and quality is none negotiable in the journey to improving the overall room sound when you sing.

Below are some acoustic concepts and how they affect your performance

1) Reverberation: the persistence of sound in an enclosed space affects the character and quality of music. The room size, characteristics of the interior (chairs), people, etc. play a vital role as well. Reverberation also makes clarity difficult.

2) Cubic volume: this is the floor area multiplied by the ceiling height. Adequate cubic volume helps dissipate loudness while providing an area large enough to slightly delay sound reflections off the wall, floor and ceiling. This delay allows the human ear and mind to process the sound resulting in an ability to accurately hear the entire spectrum of musical sound.

3) Absorption of sound: this is the reduction of sound energy that occurs when it contacts surface materials like concrete. This provides little absorption but with lots of reverberation. When sound energy hits thick, fibrous surfaces, it attempts to pass through the material and essentially loses energy by friction. Rooms with little or no absorption can overly be loud, making hearing difficult. Poor absorption causes acoustical anomalies such as flutter echo and a prolonged buzz caused by sound energy bouncing between parallel had surfaces.

4) Reflecting and diffusing: like shining a flashlight into a mirror, the reflection of the light on another angle is typical of reflection. Similarly, when light is flashed on a scattered mirror, it reflects at multiple places.

5) Presence and envelopment of sound: the positive acoustic attribute of space enables hearing of sound out in the room which allows being immersed or surrounded by the music.

So imagine a situation where you have been rehearsing all day in your room with little interior such that there is a measure of reverb or surround sound. You belt so well and feel so good. You then suddenly find yourself in another space with little or no reverb at all. When you belt, you will observe that you need more effort to maintain a similar sound that you heard in your room. You will most likely feel a bit tensed, surprised, etc. because you were not rehearsing with such energy you are dissipating in the new space.

Sound diagram

WHY DO I SOUND AWFUL?

A number of factors may be responsible for how you sound. Below are some to pay attention to and consider.

  1. The acoustic properties of the room
  2. Fear
  3. Perhaps the mic isn’t the right one for the characteristics of your voice
  4. Not understanding your voice (vocal texture and timbre)
  5. Not understanding your ear

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?

Correcting this starts with paying attention to your voice first and foremost. Have you ever wondered why almost everyone sounds great when singing in the bathroom? It’s simply because you are surrounded on all sides by shiny, hard reflective surfaces, plus you are free, confident and have some privacy.

  1. Improve your singing: this will help build more confidence when singing.
  2. Room types: Practice your singing repertoire in different room types with the different acoustic environment.
  3. Improve your hearing: You will always sing better when you hear better. When things are going wrong, with a good ear, you will most likely correct it quickly.
  4. Improve your singing techniques: Your singing technique will always be a handy tool when it’s required. Most people have natural vibratos. Learning to control it at the right time gives the best result.
  5. Soundcheck:  Yes I know we do soundcheck, but more often than not, we do not soundcheck with the entire team. Bodily presence, instruments are all part of a continuous feedback system.
  6. Acapella: Unfortunately, we are in an era many will not sing if there are no instruments to accompany the voice. Over-reliance on an instrument can have its drawbacks. Practice singing without an instrument or mic regularly. This enables you to know and discover your voice properly.
  7. Playback: Develop the habit of playing back your performance. It will show you where you have more work to do.
  8. Understand the mic: a good microphone technique can make a difference. The proximity effect may be all you need to have a field day.
  9. Record yourself: Your voice sounds different to other people than it does to you. When you sing, the vocal folds in your throat vibrate, which causes your skin, skull and oral cavities to also vibrate. This vibration mix with sound waves, which travel from your mouth to your eardrum. No one hears this sound but you. So hey, your voice may not really sound as good as you think.
  10. Adjust your performance: if you perhaps find yourself under a different acoustic environment, monitor it and adjust your singing to adopt to such acoustic environment.
  11. Eating habit: It is said that you are what you eat. Same applies to singers: you sing what you eat. Eating the right food, at the right time and proportion before a performance will save you from lots of embarrassment.
Lawrence Dieyi

Lawrence Dieyi

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