Improve Your School Music Program with Good Acoustical Design

school music program acoustics

Improve Your School Music Program with Good Acoustical Design

Whether you are building a new school or upgrading an existing facility, properly planning the acoustics in your music rehearsal rooms and performance spaces will help lay the foundation for a successful music program. Yet with limited budgets and many options for acoustical treatments and strategies, knowing where to start can be tricky. Here is a list of five acoustical design considerations that will help your school music program sound its best:

Understand what the space will be used for now and in the future.

Offices, storage rooms, and other ancillary spaces are often later transformed into music practice rooms. With lower sound isolation requirements, these spaces are not suitable for musical activities. If there is a chance that ancillary spaces could be used for music in the future, plan for it. A few minor changes to the design (e.g., including batt insulation in walls) may not incur a large increase in cost, but can, in some situations, provide a much better acoustical performance.

If there is a chance that the use of a space will change down the road, prepare for that change during the design stages and include any feasible future-proofing measures.

Limit the number of different uses in a space

With acoustics, it’s ideal to optimize a space for one use. While having a variety of room sizes—individual practice rooms, small group rooms, ensemble rooms, etc.—is a best-case scenario for acoustics, not every school music program has this luxury. A good first step is to decide whether a space will be dedicated to one specific purpose or whether it will accommodate a variety of uses. From there, an acoustician can recommend treatments to suit each room.

For example, with small music practice rooms, less absorption provides better feedback for singers. However, if the same room is also being used for drums, it’s better to incorporate as much absorption as possible to limit the reverberant sound in the room and reduce the amount of noise transmission to adjacent spaces.

Similarly, for larger rooms and performance spaces, a room’s intended use always influences its acoustical design. This is especially important for multipurpose spaces. Using variable-absorption in multipurpose spaces is a great way to accommodate the different acoustical needs of such a room’s many uses. Examples of variable-absorption include flipping panels and curtains that can be extended or hidden behind other features.

If you install variable-absorption, make sure the end users are aware of it and know how and when to use it. Also make sure this information is passed along over the years, so new users benefit.

Leave lots of space

For music spaces, the ambient noise criteria are often very low, particularly in performance spaces. To achieve these low noise levels, air flow velocities must also be low. Choose ducts that are large enough to ensure low velocities and also provide adequate ventilation. If background noise levels exceed the criteria once a project is complete, it can be very difficult and costly to mitigate.

In addition, design music spaces with larger corridors and doorways. While this won’t directly affect acoustics, the extra room makes it easier to move large musical instruments around.

Allow for lobbies

Lobbies are effective at limiting noise transfer in and out of rooms. Most performance spaces have lobbies, but any room that generates high levels of sound (e.g., percussion rooms) could benefit from a lobby’s noise isolating abilities, as would spaces that are particularly noise sensitive (e.g., recording studios).

Sometimes, emergency exits from performance spaces open directly outside. When this occurs, a lobbied exit should be considered—as long as it complies with fire codes. This can help limit noise transfer to nearby residential areas.

Less is more

It is often thought that more acoustical absorption is better, especially in music spaces. This is not true. If there is too much absorption, the music will seem distant to audiences, and performers will suffer from a lack of feedback. (You can read more about how reflections benefit musicians in this post.)

It’s also more difficult to remove absorption than add it: It takes a lot of work to remove acoustical treatments from walls and ceilings, heavy upholstery from the seats, and carpet from the floor.

On the other hand, if a performance space is too reverberant, an acoustician can analyze the room and recommend acoustic panels and other treatments.

Contact BKL Consultants if you want to learn more about acoustical design for your school music program.

Katrina Scherebnyj is a senior consultant with BKL and co-author of Music Accommodation in Secondary Schools: A Design Guide, published by NBS.

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