Playing unamplified (acoustically)
An acoustic instrument is one that can make its sound without amplification, like a violin, saxophone or human voice. Most string quartets play acoustically (without amplification) on acoustic instruments, but pop and jazz bands do not usually play without amplification, even if they include acoustic instruments. Classical singers will sing without amplification, but jazz, folk or pop singers will always use a microphone and amplification.
Misunderstandings arise when a band terms itself 'an acoustic band' (perhaps a folk or pop band). Often this means that they play acoustic instrument (e.g. an acoustic guitar capable of being played unamplified, compared with an electric guitar which makes no sound without amplification), BUT the band always performs with amplification. (the guitar has a built in microphone, the flute is played into a microphone etc). Furthermore, many bands that include acoustic instrument also include instruments that make no sound at all without amplification e.g. electric bass guitar, electric piano etc.
Find the kind of band that is relevant to you, below:
PLAYING WITHOUT AMPLIFICATION
MOST CLASSICAL ENSEMBLES e.g. string quartet, harp etc.
The vast majority of classical ensembles play without amplification. This is fine in a church or venue where people aren't making a lot of noise, but needs planning when playing in a noisy environment, such as during a meal or drinks reception.
In a dining room put the ensemble as central as possible to the guests, so all can hear equally well. The ensemble can then regulate their sound level to be audible and comfortable for all. Don't stick the ensemble at the far end of a room. The sound will then be too loud for some guests and too soft for others.
In a marquee, or acoustically dead room of a modern hotel, place the ensemble on a hard dance floor or against a reflective hard wall, to radiate the sound. In a marquee, which deadens sound, it is particularly important to have the ensemble close to and central to the guests.
When playing outdoors, the sound volume is finite, so place the ensemble against the wall of a building, on a hard patio, anywhere that sound is reflected towards the guests. Don't stick them at the far end of the garden under trees, with bushes behind them; you won't hear them well.
We sometimes get asked to have a Ceilidh without amplification. Forget it. It won't work and most bands won't even attempt it. Being in a small room doesn't help either, it is probably even worse as people's bodies absorb the sound and the noise of their feet thumping, laughter and shouting drowns everything out.
In the olden days, before amplification, Ceilidh bands were small orchestras, 10 or 15 strong. Remember, amplified music doesn't have to be loud, just enough to be heard comfortably and for the sound quality to be good rather than weak and strained. If the band is too loud, ask them to turn it down a bit.
Such bands, provided they don't have any all electric instruments in them, can sometime play acoustically if the environment is suitable, (small enough room, quiet enough audience). Vocalists usually insist on amplification. As the venue size increases or when playing outdoors, the limit is soon reached where the band needs to be amplified. Also, some bands play amplified because of the different tonal quality produced.
Remember, amplified music doesn't have to be loud, just enough to be heard comfortably and for the sound quality to be good rather than weak and strained. If the band is too loud, ask them to turn it down a bit.
Other than the bigger Trad Bands, most jazz bands play amplified at most times. Exception may be a small pub room, or other similar small venue. Vocalists are always amplified. Also, some bands play amplified because of the different tonal quality produced.
Always are amplified of some kind, often function and similar bands have very large setupa
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