Sound Workshop – Continued

Note: You’ll gain most from this section if you can listen on good headphones or sound system.

So what’s going on here? – To understand, let’s look a couple more things

 1st – Instrument Frequency Chart


This Chart shows the range of sound frequencies (left/right) for a set of musical instruments (up/down).

  • Red = “fundamental” frequencies
  • Yellow = “harmonic” frequencies

As we just saw in the videos above, the instrument’s characteristic sound is created from the way these frequencies combine.

What affects this?

Material, shape, size, string/reed/brass/skin, and how it is played – plucked, hit, blown, bowed, etc.

The problem for listeners is that most instruments overlap to some extent – which means they easily conflict with or mask each other, confusing the listener, increasing their stress and discomfort…

That is, unless some thought is given to how do this tastefully, so that the listeners experience a complementary rather than a clashing result.

Note: The piano, because of its wide range – overlaps everything, hence potentially conflicts with everything; and vocals – are in the middle of the frequency range of many other instruments, and are therefore easily masked by other instrument sounds.

 2nd – Factors Affecting What We Hear


We did a live experiment, which we’ll come to in a moment…

But first, let me remind you of another basic concept:

The sound arriving at the listener in an auditorium, such as a church or school hall,  is affected by 3 key factors:

  1. sound sources – type and volume level
  2. sound desk – its functions and how it is operated
  3. hall or room – the acoustic characteristics of the type of space the listener is in

We can’t change the hall** but we can control Sound Sources (musicians) and we can control how the Sound Desk affects how we hear them.

**The church auditorium would benefit greatly from simple, low-cost baffles to reduce reflection from the walls.

Audio Basics Part 3 – Live “Notch” Experiment

Obviously we can’t re-create the live experiment here, so this is just a reminder…

Note: “EQ” is the set of Sound Desk controls which enables us to enhance or suppress some of the frequencies for each sound source. Here we used EQ to create a “notch” in the piano sound in order to open up “space” for the vocal.

Sound Source:

  • 2 Musicians:
    • Pianist or guitarist – Claire on piano
    • Vocalist – Colin
  • Familiar song – How Great is Our God

Sound Desk:

  • 1 Sound Desk operator – Ken
  • 1st time through: Mix with piano dominant (standard sound desk settings)
  • 2nd time through: Adjust EQ on Piano channel: Set FREQ = 250; Set MID = -12

(This EQ setting on the sound desk is the equivalent of the “notch” displayed in the piano video clip above.)

Compare 1st and 2nd versions:

  1. With “normal” piano EQ setting
  2. With “notched” piano EQ setting

We were able to hear the piano accompaniment “open up” to allow the vocal to come through much clearer.

Note: One way a pianist can open up a similar “space” for the vocals is by playing in what Bob Kauflin (“Worship Matters”) calls “doughnut style”. This means playing the right hand an octave higher than written, and left hand an octave lower, so opening up a “hole” in the “doughnut”.

The above test can also be repeated with different “pan” settings on the sound desk – one to the left and one to the right.

Again, listeners will perceive greater clarity from even a small spacial separation of the sound sources.

“All were…trained and skilled in music for the Lord (1 Chron 25:7 NIV)”

Arrangement & Production Matters – Example tracks

Let’s see if we can put some of that together:

Recall the basics of how we perceive sound:

  • pitch (frequency mix)
  • volume level
  • position

In the series of videos below (audio tracks really) each one uses exactly the same PERFORMANCE…
The difference in sound results from

  • differences in PRODUCTION (responsibility of the sound desk team) and
  • differing ARRANGEMENTS (responsibility of the worship leader and musicians).
Note: You’ll gain most from this section if you can listen on good headphones or sound system.

No need to listen all the way through, especially on tracks 1 & 2 – just enough to compare the differences. You can open and pause each video to compare.

But do listen through either track 3 or 4 – and observe how these are arranged.

You’ll find the greatest clarity is gained from a “layered” arrangement – more in this below.


1. Everyone playing – position centred – Frequencies Mastered (“Broadcast”)

2. Everyone playing – position “Panned” Right & Left – Frequencies Mastered (“Broadcast”)

3. Layered* Arrangement – position “Panned” Left & Right – Frequencies Mastered (“Broadcast”)

4. Layered* Arrangement – position wide “Panned” – Frequencies Mastered (“Ballad”)

*By “Layered” I mean that different parts – instruments and vocals – are introduced at different times through the song. Hopefully in a way that not only provides a clear lead to the congregation, but also one which is enjoyable to listeners and appropriate to the message of the song.

Questions for you:

1. Which track did you prefer? Why?

2. Which change did you feel made the biggest improvement between the tracks?


  • “King of Heaven Come Down” – Words & Music – Paul Balloch
  • Claire Finnie – vocals, keyboard
  • David Finnie – vocals, electric guitar
  • Ken Johnstone – Acoustic guitar, bass guitar, keyboard, drum kit programming
  • Recording & Production – Ken Johnstone
  • Chocolate cake – Isabel!



Changes in Worship Music

  • organ/piano=>band
  • instrument=>vocal lead
  • written music=>arranged together

Sound Matters

  • Volume
  • Frequency
  • Position
  • How the Sound Desk Team can help:
    • …by using faders, Eq, and Pan controls
  • How the Music Group can help
    • …by planning when NOT to play(!!)
    • …by arranging the music
“All were…trained and skilled in music for the Lord (1 Chron 25:7 NIV)”


Part 1. How has worship music changed?

  • My take on significant changes in worship music

Part 2. Sound Workshop

  • Introduce some music & sound concepts to help us understand better what we hear (recap for some of you)

Next meeting…

Part 3. So what?

  • Discuss the implications of 1 & 2

Part 4. Action plan 

  • Discuss what actions should we take?