Practice room acoustics

There are three rooms in my home that I practice in depending on who’s home and how much I care if they hear me practice. My favorite room to practice in, my living room / music room, has been out of commission with Christmas stuff all over the place for close to a month. That meant I practiced either in my den or my bedroom. My den is my second favorite room to practice in but most of the time someone is watching TV in there.

I’d been a bit down about my playing and in particular my sound. In my previous post I mentioned how my horn teacher, Lynn, wanted me to open up my embouchure a bit because my sound was more closed that usual. At that lesson we were playing in my bedroom. Lots of rugs, pillows, stuffed animals (yup, even at age 58) and a big comforter on a king size bed. My sound really wasn’t great. I was practicing in that room most often so I had gotten used to what I sounded like.

Well, I finally got my living room cleaned up last weekend. In contrast to my bedroom, there’s only one small rug, three chairs, no sofa, a huge window and a baby grand piano. There’s also only a half wall between my living room and my kitchen. The difference in my sound is huge.  It’s hard to describe but the sound was open and ringing and I didn’t sound stifled. What a morale booster. Instead of the ‘oh gee, I have to go practice’ feeling I was back to my more normal feeling of looking forward to practicing.

I really didn’t think there was that much difference between the three rooms I practice in. I was listening more carefully this week and I think, from best to worst, it’s living room, den, bedroom. My living room clearly stands out from the other two rooms and it really makes practicing much more enjoyable. Even so, if no one is home, I usually go through my warm-up in my den while the TV is on and I don’t really listen. (I think of warm-ups as a means to an end – get loosened up and flexible. Scott Bacon, my horn teacher that I take lessons from once a month or so, wants me to think musically about everything I do. Work on phrasing and musicality no matter what exercise I’m doing.)

The difference in acoustics between my rooms makes me wonder how students learn to get a beautiful sound out of their horn when they have no choice but to practice in a dead room. Or is there a reverse of that? If a student always practices in a room that has fantastic acoustics, do they still learn how to make their horn sound good without the enhancement of the room’s acoustics? If I had my choice to practice anywhere I would pick the auditorium where my Riverhead community band rehearses. I sound incredible there. I don’t have to do anything but put air through my horn and it sounds wonderful. On the other hand, I had to work really hard to make my horn sound good in my bedroom. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe not. I had to make a subtle change to my embouchure to get the horn to sound good. (See Breakthrough?) Do students do that without realizing it if the acoustics change from practice room to practice room? I’m just a student myself so I can’t answer that but it is something to wonder about.

Distractions –>

7 thoughts on “Practice room acoustics

  1. Hi Tina:

    Just wanted to leave a comment after “lurking” for months.

    I found your blog last year when I was searching the web for horn prices and google led me to you! I’ve been following you ever since.

    My husband and I both played horn in high school and wanted to see if we had any music left in us after being away from the instrument after 33 yrs for me and 37 yrs for Steve.

    We took my old student horn to the local shop to get tuned up and restrung and I was bold (stupid?) enough to buy a horn…on ebay for $40. I lucked out and the horn is actually pretty nice, a Conn 14D that the shop said would go for a couple of grand. I should have been in Vegas that day.

    To make this long story short enough for you to read, you gave us the inspiration to play again. We have had some fun and frustrating practices to try and get our mouths in shape, but here is the real kicker…we joined our local community orchestra yesterday!

    Just being back among muscicians was spectacular! The smells, sounds and feel of the band room almost made me feel 16 again. Until I got out of breath climbing the stairs!

    So, in case you think you are writing in a void, please accept my thanks and gratitude for your blog. If I hadn’t stumbled across it Steve and I wouldn’t have even thought to look for a community orchestra…I had no idea they were even out there. This one is part of our local university and there are 125 members from age 16 to 96!

    I appreciate your honesty and love reading about your trials and triumphs!

    Best regards,
    Amy Cook

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    • Hi Amy – Thanks so much for writing and thanks for lurking too! You are right that sometimes it does seem like writing in a void so I truly appreciate your comments. Thank you. You’ve put a smile on my face. 🙂 You really lucked out with your horn from ebay. That’s an amazing deal. I was glued to ebay for months before I finally succumbed to getting a new horn. I was looking for a Holton because that’s what I played in high school but nothing that was remotely decent stayed at a lowish price. It’s great that you found a community orchestra. It is so much fun and so very rewarding to play with a group of folks who are playing for the enjoyment of making music.

      Sincerely,
      Tina

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  2. If you want to improve your sound (tone), try practicing in the low register. For instance, warm up playing your etudes one and then two octaves lower, and then when you are finished playing them as written, do a run through again one, and then two octaves lower. Doing this with air attack rather than tongue will help relax the embouchure, improve the tone, and help with flexibility..try it for a few weeks. I would be surprised if you don’t notice improvement in sound quality.

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    • If you refer to “good” acoustics as a very live room, with lots of reverberation, that is often harder for someone with good tone and lots of presence to play in as they project so well. If you can get a good sound with some nice presence and projection in a dead room, your innate sound is probably very good. The best practice room would probably be one with some moderate reverb, so you can learn how to contol the horn when there is a very “live” hall, but if you have no choice, a somewhat “dead” room is probably better, otherwise you will have an artifical sense of your projection and presence. The horn is difficult as so much of its sound depends on reflected sound off the walls, and some people in purchasing one bring someone along to get a sense of the sound of the instrument on the “audience” side of the sound.

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      • Hi Ken,
        Thanks for your comments. I will definitely try your suggestion of practicing etudes one and two octaves lower to develop better tone. You are right that I think of good acoustics as a live room and you make an excellent point about deader rooms being better practice rooms. It makes a lot of sense and is something I didn’t think about.

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