Ten Ways to Voice a Room

by Christopher Storch


AVE YOU NOTICED that your newly purchased piano doesn't sound quite the same as when you tried it in the showroom? The difference you notice between showroom and home may stem from the acoustics of the room in which the piano is placed. Not all problems with piano tone are best solved by voicing the instrument—it may be your room that needs voicing. Some of the factors that can significantly affect the sound of your piano room are: the size of the room, including ceiling height; the sound-absorbing and -reflecting materials in the room, which give it its reverberant character; and the number and orientation of objects in the room, which affect how sound is scattered or diffused.

Making the Distinction Between the Piano and the Room

It's important to distinguish between acoustical problems caused by the piano and those caused by the room. For instance, a problem of too much loudness is often caused by a piano that is too large for the room. This can be best addressed at or close to the piano, rather than by increasing the amount of sound-absorbing materials elsewhere in the room. On the other hand, such problems as harshness of tone, excess lingering sound, and hot and dead spots, can often be attributed to the room. Many of the following suggestions for loudness control or other acoustical adjustments are easily reversible; experiment with some of these before making more permanent changes to your piano or room.

Reverberation

Reverberation refers to the persistence of sound within a space after the source of the sound has stopped. Such prolongation of sound can help give music the qualities of blending, lushness, fullness, and breadth. Too much reverberation can make the music muddy and indistinct, and the buildup of reverberant sound can make the piano sound too loud. When there is too little reverberation, the room is said to sound “dry" or even “dead"; to compensate for this, the pianist might feel the need to overplay to achieve a lush, musical sound. In general, the larger the cubic volume of the space, the longer the reverberation time; the smaller the cubic volume, the shorter the reverberation time. The more sound-absorbing materials in the space, the shorter the reverberation time; the fewer such materials, the longer the reverberation time. The length of reverberation is a matter of personal preference. Some pianists like having the room reverberation be part of the sound of their piano playing; others prefer keeping the sound of the room to a minimum, enjoying primarily the clear sound of the piano as modulated by their technique.

Hot or Dead Spots

Piano in living room Hot spots and dead spots are places in the room where certain frequencies or notes, though played with the same force, stand out more than other frequencies or notes. Problems of this type are best solved by installing sound-scattering objects: bookcases, furniture, wall hangings, and so forth. Reorienting the piano or moving it slightly can also help.

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Spring 2014    Page 101

Spring 2014    Page 101

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