Acoustics in Music
Through out the history of music, acoustics have played a major role. After all if it were not for acoustics the quality of sound that we know today would not exist. The word acoustics comes from the Greek word akouein, which means, “to hear”(Encarta Encyclopedia).
Since music has to be heard in most cases for enjoyment, acoustics obviously take on a very important role in the pleasure that music brings to the ear. Acoustical architecture and design are two key elements in the way music sounds. For example, an electric guitar played in a concert hall would sound very different compared to the sound produced in a small room. These differences can be explained by the acoustical design of the room and the reverb created by both the instrument and the room in which it is played. These differences signify the importance of acoustics in music.
A Roman architect named Marcus Pollio, who lived in the first century BC, was the first to study the acoustics of buildings. “He made some pertinent observations on the subject and some astute guesses concerning reverberation and interference”(Encarta).
Reverberation and interference are two of the more important aspects of acoustical architecture. Both deal with the sound waves music or instruments make. By understanding reverberation, which is the echoing of sound waves, early architects could better construct buildings and auditoriums that would produce better acoustics. An architect has two types of material he can use to modify a building to deal with reverberation and the quality of sound. In many buildings such as meeting halls and auditoriums where echoes are not wanted, absorption materials such as cork and felt are used to absorb reverberations. On the other hand, in buildings such as concert halls and opera houses where reverberation is important reflecting material is used. Materials such as metal and most stones can
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be use to reflect sound waves to the audience. With these materials an architect can modify the way sound travels in his building.
Another aspect of acoustics that architects and conductors most take into consideration are the number of people seated in the audience. The number of people in an auditorium or hall will greatly effect the reverberation of sound. Empty seats reflect sound waves back to the performers; however, when the seats are full of people, the people absorb the sound. Architects must also give attention to interference. “Interference arises from the difference in the distances traversed by the direct and reflected sound and produces so-called dead spots, in which certain ranges of frequencies are canceled out”(Encarta).
These dead spots can be caused by the difference in the densities of building materials. Dead spots can dramatically effect the total quality of sound if they are large in number. There are many aspects of acoustics that architects must address to create a satisfactory environment for listening to music or a spoken message.
Given the effects that acoustics have on the music we hear and the way we judge the musicians, it is easy to see why architects pay close attention to acoustics. An architect designing a building where the quality of sound is important must take into consideration all the things I have mentioned. If one aspect of acoustics is left out, the end result could be a bad sounding hall, auditorium, opera house or theater. Bad acoustics could bring about a negative opinion of the performers, even if their actual performance was flawless. In order to produce the highest quality sound, a building has to be acoustically sound. So the next time you attend a concert or any type of indoor-musical performance, consider the acoustics of the building before making a negative judgement of the performers. In a sense the architectural design of a building could be considered an instrument and the architect a performer, quite possibly the most important combination of all.
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