For background, I am not a musician, but I know a few things from physics. Physics tells us that we should perhaps expect that if your room changes, then you might need to tune your instruments differently - is this something that you can experience in real life? For instance, in a larger room, are notes more 'flat' than usual? (or the other way around perhaps?)

As another consideration, the characteristic wavelengths of some notes will be on the order of human scales (for instance, in usual conditions you can expect middle C to have a wavelength of around a meter and a half). In this situation, it seems that you might even have a phenomena where if people in the audience are all seated approximately this far apart from each other, you would hear a boost at this wavelength(?) Is this something that is ever observed? Do noise-cancelling materials pasted onto the walls largely mitigate both of these effects?

  • 1
    Perhaps you're considering the 'Doppler' effect. That does alter pitch, but only by virtue of fairly swift movement. That of course won't happen in any room.
    – Tim
    May 25 at 6:10
  • 2
    Could you explain the physics principles that led you to these ideas?
    – ojs
    May 25 at 8:01
  • 3
    Physics does not tell us these things.
    – Strawberry
    May 25 at 10:51
  • In large concert halls and cathedrals sound might achieve harmonic resonance with the room. In this case the frequencies can reverberate sometimes making the noise or tones dramatically louder. As it relates to an orchestra or band, the conductor should direct players to play softer or louder to accommodate room acoustics. As it relates to a rock band, sound engineers should level instruments and equipment to conform to audio room physics.
    – Stereomac
    May 25 at 15:08
  • 1
    Noise-canceling and sound dampening material have been used in performance arenas and studios for years. Auditorium designed specifically for sound have been engineered for many millennia. Sound dampening foam, panels, and curtains are used when designed room physics are incapable of controlling sound.
    – Stereomac
    May 25 at 15:08

Room layouts don't affect the pitch of notes (unless the walls are moving).

There could theoretically be some strange beating effects if the room had a very narrow resonance near a note, or perhaps you are thinking about avoiding a room mode by tuning so that the room mode lands in between notes instead of on a note. In reality, room resonances are not that narrow and precise, so there is no practical reason to consider the room when tuning your instrument.

  • 3
    Room temperature on the other hand... I've played few cold, empty rehearsal venues only to have to reconsider my tuning when the warm audience shows up and heats the room. More to do with the temperature than the layout, though.
    – Pam
    May 25 at 12:32
  • 3
    @Pam That's more to do with the instrument though isn't it?
    – Neil
    May 25 at 13:46
  • 1
    @CamilB Depending on the instrument, the effects of temperature go in opposite directions. Wind instruments get sharper as the temperature rises, string instruments get flatter (the strings expand and loosen).
    – PiedPiper
    May 25 at 14:50
  • 1
    Temperature may change the frequency of the sound produced by the instrument but it won't change sound frequency as it propagates in the room. Temperature (or temperature gradient) may change sound propagation direction, and thus range of the sound. It matters for setting up PA for outdoor concerts, but not for the sound frequency. May 25 at 15:21
  • 2
    @Pam The impact of temperature on wind instruments is not so much on the dimensions of the instrument, but on the speed of sound inside the instrument.
    – Rob
    May 25 at 15:21

Sound waves reflect from walls; they may form resonances or standing waves, which is perceived by certain notes being louder than others. This is a very important factor in design of rooms meant for listening music (in particular recording and mixing rooms in a studio). Large resonances should be avoided, and frequencies of the resonances should be uniformly distributed. This is achieved by choosing room geometry as well as placing acoustic treatment devices such as diffusion panels or bass traps.

In larger rooms, like concert halls, standing waves are less of a problem, while the concern is making sure the sound from the stage is delivered uniformly to the audience, and the reverberation amount is appropriate. Concert halls often feature fanciful shapes and structures on the walls and the ceiling; they are exactly for this purpose.


Different frequencies are affected by room dimensions and content. Rows of seats (especially if hardback) then each row reflects a different frequency. People and clothing an curtains and upholstery can absorb a lot of sound energy. However, as instruments (like pianos, accordions, etc.) are difficult to retune for various venues, the rooms are generally set up to work well. Some venues are "live" and sound bounces back loudly and others are "dead" and you cannot hear the music from the other side of the room.


  • 5
    Different frequencies are affected differently yes, but only attenuated or boosted differently. There is no frequency change so even when it is easy why would you need to retune ?
    – Tom
    May 25 at 5:38
  • If you retune, you will be playing different frequencies. The only things I have noticed that works nicely are slight tempo changes,
    – ttw
    May 25 at 6:35
  • 1
    I don't understand your last comment. Do you think there would be a percentage correlation between say, tuning up and playing faster? Sounds bizarre to me.
    – Tim
    May 25 at 10:18
  • If one plays an A at 440, reflection will occur at some multiple of the wavelength of the 440 sound. An A at 435 will reflect at slightly different spots leading to a different sounding reverb. I have heard this (in a bowling alley that was converted to a dance hall) in that there were "muddy" spots in the hall where the music sounded blurry. These spots moved a bit (a few inches) depending on the pitch being played. It's more important in concert halls with rows of seats.
    – ttw
    May 25 at 13:19
  • Playing softer or louder to meet a balanced sound requirement may also be considered tuning, however, changing an instruments pitch will only sound out of tune.
    – Stereomac
    May 25 at 15:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.