Building a Dedicated Music Room

When building a music room, it's best to use multiples and divisions of 3 or 5 for interior dimensions (rather than 1, 2, or multiples of 2). For example, let's say you plan to buy a Steinway model B grand, which is 6 feet 10 1/2 inches long (I'll round that off to 7 feet for purposes of discussion). Applying the principle that the total wall length should be at least 10 times the length of the piano, this gives us a minimum total wall length needed of 70 feet (10 x 7). If we take one-fifth of 70 feet (=14 feet) for each of the two short walls, that would leave 42 feet, or 21 feet each, for the two long walls. The ceiling height would be calculated as one-fifth of 21 feet (the long wall), x 2 = 8.4 feet. Therefore if your room is approximately 14 feet by 21 feet by 8.4 feet high, the piano should sound good, particularly for practice purposes. However, if you want a room in which you can perform for others on the same piano, or play chamber music with your colleagues, I suggest that your minimum total wall length be 15 times the length of the instrument. This could give you room dimensions of 21 feet by 31.5 feet by 12.6 feet high.

These specific proportions are offered only as examples. Unless you're building your room from the ground up as a dedicated piano studio, you may not be able to strictly adhere to this formula. If your chosen piano room doesn't come close to any optimal proportions (using the 3 and 5 multiply/division formula, you can come up with quite a few), all is not lost. It might take a little more time to get the sound right, with the possible addition of some acoustical treatments to absorb coincident low-frequency room modes. But the larger the room, the less critical of an issue this becomes.

If you're building your piano room from scratch, I suggest you consider making all of the interior walls nonparallel, in order to avoid the typical flutter echo often produced in small and medium-size rooms with parallel walls. Splaying the walls (sort of like a trapezoid) at angles of 5° to 10° can do a lot to prevent flutter. You'll hardly notice that the room isn't a perfect rectangle, and it will sound a lot better.

Something else to consider when building a dedicated piano studio: Don't make the inside walls of the room too stiff by using several layers of gypsum drywall or similar material. The interior walls of your music room should be able to flex a little bit to allow them to resonate—like the skins of a huge drum—and absorb the low frequencies produced by a larger piano in a smaller room. The more the walls can flex, the more excess sound energy they can absorb. For walls, use one or two layers of drywall set on 16-inch centered wood studs (or metal studs, in most high-rise and commercial construction). If you need to acoustically isolate your piano room from the rest of the house, build an additional, heavier, outer wall separated from the inner wall by at least 6 inches of air space. Suspend your music-room ceiling from the ceiling joists using "Z-channels" or a similar system, so that it, too, can flex a bit.


Lewis Lipnick is the principal contrabassoonist of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC, and an internationally-acclaimed soloist and teacher. His consulting firm, LipnickDesign, specializes in designing high-resolution audio and video systems, recording studios, and home theaters; in environmental sound control; and in the acoustical design of commercial and residential spaces. Visit his website at www.lipnickdesign.com.

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