Designing my practise studio

August 28, 2010 at 02:14 AM ·

I have a dry, even termperatured and humidity room in the basement that I am turning into a studio.  The first step is to put in a glass wall to contain the noise :)  But I would love to have ideas as to what I should and should not do. 

On main question is: for what is going to be a solo practise studio (playing with an accompanist/group will have to be upstairs), how resonant should I keep it?  Is it good to have rich feedback or better for practise and development of tone to have the opposite?

thanks for any suggestions!

Replies (33)

August 28, 2010 at 03:30 AM ·

I have a small project studio for recording small groups - and for the environment I try to make it as dry as possible. For practice - I practice my violin in a fairly resonant room in a different part of the house. It seems to make my pieces come more "to life" and also serves to lift my spirits a bit. I've practiced in my studio - and I don't like the dry sound as much for practice. It's great for recording - but not for practice.

As far as the "glass" wall - that sounds very nice - however single pane glass does not do a good job of isolating sound. If you could find some thermal pane glass wall of some sorts - that would make an outstanding wall. It would isolate the sound - and you would be able to see inside and out. Very nice!!! 

Good luck - and have fun!!!


August 28, 2010 at 03:39 AM ·

I prefer rich-resonant-feedback, I have practised in the bath room many times to achieve this.

But my ideal practise room will be wood lined with not a stick of furniture other than a chair and music stand, then I could really play the room.

August 28, 2010 at 05:01 AM ·

My teacher says that it is best to practice in a space with acoustics that are dry and muted if possible.  It will help you to maximise the potential of your tone.  You don't want to have an inflated idea of what your tone is like and then be unpleasantly surprised when you play in less-than-ideal acoustic circumstances.

August 28, 2010 at 09:24 AM ·

Thats what I was wondering about Michael.  I also have a rather large bathroom thats all glass and tile - the sound is heavenly in there.  The trouble is that when you go into a room for performance suddenly you sound tinny and empty - it threw me off last time I tried to play a recital. 

The question is how far to go and how to achieve the low-resonance.  At present the room has quite a lot ot things stored in it that are of soft materials - carpeted floor, furniture., boxes etc.  I want to clear those out but I wonder if I should actually hang a mat or two on the walls!

August 28, 2010 at 10:18 AM ·

I got my idea of an empty room from a movie I saw where a cellist goes to the outhouse to play, it's made of wood and there is no furniture inside except a chair, oh and I forgot the table for the bottle of port. I have experienced playing in an empty room before and I think the matts idea is good, as long as they have'nt been used on the floor and are clean for using on the walls. 

The matts could be hung to simulate the varoius types of venues, eg, many matts for a very dry-muted acoustic. But I would prefer to practise with  a rich-resonant  feed-back most of the time. 

August 28, 2010 at 12:18 PM ·

Thats gives me a neat crazy idea - put the mats/bamboo slats/rubber curtain etc on a giant roller on each wall.  That way you could simulate all sorts of different playing enviromenents.

However, with my performance anxiety issues I could really use the option of an audience on the rollers too - and maybe my teacher too :)

August 28, 2010 at 12:27 PM ·

 Try using a tape recorder that has a shuffle option.  Then use the shuffle option to play a random bit of your practice back to the teacher :D

August 28, 2010 at 01:16 PM ·

I just had a thought on the performance anxiety practise capability: install a microphone with speakers that are located somewhere where someone might hear you play - ideally where you do not know.  Its not essential that anyone is actually there because the anxiety will, by its nature, make you presume the worst case scenario.


August 28, 2010 at 02:43 PM ·

I usually practice in the area between my kitchen and living room the ceilings are around 14 feet tall so I get a nice full sound with nice reverb. Although I will practice and play any were any time. As long as I get to play I am happy.

August 28, 2010 at 03:29 PM ·

 I'm shortly getting builders in to enlarge my loft and to give it proper stairs access (instead of the current ladder), as well as a door, an extra window, and a radiator, the intention being that it will be a spare bedroom for the occasional visitor.  I've spent the last week clearing it out, so it is now completely empty for the few days before the builders arrive.  

Realising how resonant the room now is (wood floor, plaster board walls and ceiling, 15' x 12' x 7'3"), and no house or traffic noise , I've taken my two fiddles and a Zoom H2 on a high extendible stand up into it so that I can spend the rest of this afternoon doing sound checks on various combination of the fiddles and my three bows.  Later on, I'll analyze the recordings so as to satisfy myself what the instruments really sound like to the listener, and which fiddle/bow combination is best for sound.  Basically, for these sound checks I'll be playing open strings, three octave scales, and a few harmonics.  The mic will be high up and a few feet from where I'm playing.

Guess what - when it's not being used by visitors - it's going to be my practice room.


August 28, 2010 at 03:40 PM ·

 Acoustics can be too dry.  I once heard about a professional string quartet having a try-out in an acoustic test chamber with no resonance whatsoever.  After a minute they collapsed laughing - they found it completely impossible to play in that acoustic.   At the other end of the scale, when a TV company were filming a series in different locations a few years ago of Yo-Yo Ma playing the Bach cello suites, they experimented in one of them with various types of reverberation which were fed into Ma's headphones as he played.  The first one they tried was a 12 second reverberation .... .... ....

August 28, 2010 at 04:51 PM ·

So what is the ideal I should aim for???  Anyone found anything on this on the web?

August 28, 2010 at 05:21 PM ·

Lots of wood walls and a wood floor. Wood makes sound come alive with richness,tile, glass, etc, give you a metallic false sound.

August 28, 2010 at 05:52 PM ·

Jacuzzi, wet bar, and an attractive young masseur.  :-)

Seriously, for acoustics you can use the pretty tapestry bed spreads that are popular now days.  These types of things:

They aren't terribly expensive and are all over the place.  Curtain rods around the top perimeter of the room and a few of these on them would be very nice and good for acoustic insulation.  And I wouldn't shoot for making the acoustics either better or worse than a typical performance venue.  Any significant difference can be offputting for a performer ...  Years of playing on completely unfamiliar pianos on stage have made me gunshy on that.

August 28, 2010 at 05:53 PM ·

You should design for what you want- if you want to flatter your sound and just enjoy it, go for reflection and natural room reverb.  If you want to hear the naked violin sounds to work on your tone, etc., you can get a few pieces of the acoustic foam they use in studios that absorb sound and put some on the walls at the first reflection points. That's good for "harsh reality" work and improving technique.

August 28, 2010 at 06:32 PM ·

I can see this is going to be a vocation on its own!  First, a room with adjustable accoustics - wouldn't it be great to simulate the teaching studio, a soire, an auditorium (hey, in my dreams) or, for that matter, a church.  Though the latter might be a bit difficult, I mean fitting 20 meter ceilings and organ pipes in, for example :D.

August 28, 2010 at 09:10 PM ·

Tom, that was very well said. Don't know any better words than "harsh reality". Some time ago I went for a trip to a spa hotel and stayed there for 2 days. That was the first time I ever went out with my violin outside of my lessons and home. I asked if there is a place I could practice without disturbing anyone --

    I was given an aerobics room. It had glass walls and only later I noticed that there is a very large gap between each wall so it was as sound proof as playing in the public.
So the point is, when I played a note, it echo'd to me after 2 seconds!
             (almost like you had another violin playing every note after you)
Those 2 days were my ideal practice sessions. I pick the violin up and play perfectly every time.
What happens when I get back home? I face "harsh reality". What happens when I come back from my weekly violin lessons after playing in that awesome acoustic room? Haha..

Now I know why I used to play so awful at home and so good at lessons < Although I did get a lot better at practicing in a very non-resonant room over the time... Although, it still doesn't explain why I tend to play a bit out of tune at home.


August 28, 2010 at 10:28 PM ·

I find carpet underlay (foam rubber) very effective for damping unwanted reverb, esp when recording. Dirt cheap to buy from a carpet shop, easy to cut to size (eg 2 ft x 2ft squares), tape together and hang from a thin 1/2 round wood rod a few inches from the wall(s). Drape with coloured fabric to suit appearance. Small hooks on ceiling to hold the rod(s), so that way it's easily removable anytime. if you really get into it, you can use layer upon layer ...



August 28, 2010 at 10:50 PM ·

Thanks Jim on the underlay, an easy way to switch from resonant to non.  Is it true that its easier to play in tune in a non-resonant room but easier to get great tone in a resonant one?


August 28, 2010 at 11:17 PM ·

Is it true that its easier to play in tune in a non-resonant room but easier to get great tone in a resonant one?

Yes. If you're at all concerned about pitch, you need nothing apart from the natural sound that you make. No reverb, echo or early reflections to confuse the aural signal. A very resonant room is a double-edged sword. Your notes will sound pure and sweet and ringy, but your intonation mistakes will come back and bite you twice as hard!  

August 29, 2010 at 12:48 AM ·

Producing 'ringing' tones is the point of playing in a resonant room so that 'out-of-tune' notes will be glaringly obvious............therefore, special attention must be focused on intonation.

August 29, 2010 at 01:00 AM ·

Is that true Henry?  I thought 'resonance' is about over (and under) tones, which to my ear confuses intonation.

August 29, 2010 at 01:02 AM ·

I'm just an amateur but though I find it fun to practice in a simili "concert" resonating environment (ex: bathroom or hard wood floors or lots of wood around you) where you think you are very good, vibrating and have a powerful tone, I find it more "educative" to see how good I can play in a more hostile environment/ poor accoustic conditions as with a carpet floor, big puffy sofa or beds that absord sound, foam ceelings  etc etc.  Not to mention piles of durty clothes that perform marvels to absorb the sound if your bedroom is messy ; )  I always say to myself that if I can sound good, vibrating and with a powerful tone in these, then it really comes from me who can control (at least begin to control...) my violin in a place that has 0 advantages for me.  I would be afraid to think I'm better than I really am if I would always practice in simili "concert hall" resonating environments.

Good luck!  And don't forget the violin "mood" and inspiration/motivation items when you do a studio.  A few pictures of your favorite violinists, violin books and piles of audio music from them ready to listen does the trick very well in my opinion!  Looks childish but motivation is important...


August 29, 2010 at 03:00 AM ·

Elise, take a look here to see if it gives any ideas:

August 29, 2010 at 03:02 AM ·

One time we played at the University, gothic sytle, we played in an annexe with a dome and before we began I had to experience the acoustics under this dome. I found that the best spot for very-ringy-tones was right in the centre, and, as I just discovered, it is the same when playing in my spare room. Unfortunately there are shelfs and cabinets but free of carpets and other soft absorbing stuff. Playing under the dome brought the students from their dorm and coments where made regarding the brilliance of the acoustics.
What I say about 'resonant room' and 'intonation' 'rings' true for me, because this 'zooms-in' my focus which inspires my imagination. Visualisations of ringing tones are created and then desired to be recreated in hostile environments.
Playing the violin is like going out on a limb, so if a resonant room exposes out-of-tuness, one is compeled to focus on each note and not hide behind any cushions. One could always play out side for low resonance.
I also tuned my strings down a semi-tone to enhance these ringing tones.
My ideal practise room will have bare walls and not have any material that would distract my focus such as pictures or stuff to read.

August 29, 2010 at 05:32 AM ·

Ann-Marie: Good luck!  And don't forget the violin "mood" and inspiration/motivation items when you do a studio.  A few pictures of your favorite violinists, violin books and piles of audio music from them ready to listen does the trick very well in my opinion!  Looks childish but motivation is important...

Whatever works eh?  For me its piles of sheet music - kinda a bedlam of potential to be tried.  I'm a bit like a racoon looking at a new pile of trash, never fails I just dive in and look for something I love but have not played in a while.  The most inspiring thing of all is to work on a piece, studies etc and then go back to a piece that you tried to play before and find it suddenly easier. 

I find that if I put it away its taken out of the inspiration pile.  I supose I have to have some shelving with music on it (there's always the piano/chamber scores for example) but anything I really like has to be on the old library tablel so that it will pop up when I dig through the pile.

Yup, its going to  be my music-bedroom :D

August 29, 2010 at 05:45 AM ·

Thanks Joshua!  Thats a truly amazing link: the human side to Heifetz.

So his studio was full of books, curtained etc - no easy acoustics there!  And yes, I'm definitely going to put in a window and that view over Beverly Hills :P  So I could not resist looking up his house - and found that he lived (Jascha Heifetz House  Est. 1948
1520 Gilcrest Dr,  Beverly Hills, CA 90210) in a Frank Lloyd Wright house!


August 29, 2010 at 05:50 AM ·

Henry: I also tuned my strings down a semi-tone to enhance these ringing tones.
Thats curious.  I wonder if thats something particular to your violin.  Just out of curiousity is it an old one?

My ideal practise room will have bare walls and not have any material that would distract my focus such as pictures or stuff to read. 

I don't get distracted easily at all - you could put me in the middle of a busy market place and (but for the performance issue) I would practise perfectly happily!  Indeed, I'm only happy in clutter and noise :)

August 29, 2010 at 06:01 AM ·


Perforated hardboard, a few inches below the ceiling, with damping material in between, will make the acoustics of our practice room as dry as you could wish. It's due to the many Helmholtz (yes, him again) resonators that are formed that way.


August 29, 2010 at 06:42 AM ·

Golly, I did'nt mean to say that you are easily distracted, nor so I. Actually I have practised while trying to read and comprehend the matter just to allow my subconcious to completly take over.

I wish my practise room to be void of any material that could possibly pass on subliminal messages.

I do have a new and an old violin but it does'nt matter which is tuned down, it only matters to my ears.

August 29, 2010 at 07:27 AM ·

Bart: but how damped should it be?  If too much might it not get frustrating?  Is the right idea to get it like playing a recital in a large room?

August 29, 2010 at 06:57 PM ·


The idea I was taught is to have as dry a practice room as possible, within reason. That way, one cultivates one's sound and any other room will not disappoint.

What does your new teacher say?


August 29, 2010 at 07:04 PM ·

Not sure Bart - she's still in Turkey as far as I know :)

But there will be time to get her input...

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