Singing in the shower: One of the great joys of life, shortly before watching trashy tv but after seeing puppies being confused by their own tails. Photo courtesy of Sebastian Ortiz
Hi, my name’s Caitlin and I’m a shower singer. Well, let’s be honest, I sing a lot, and not necessarily very well, but I do enjoy it. And I’m sure that most of you, like me, have noticed that you sound a lot better in the shower than anywhere else.
Is it a psychological thing? With no-one there to judge you, do the insecurities holding you back disappear, unleashing your true singing potential? Well, sadly, no. There are three main reasons your voice sounds better in the shower, and they are all to do with the shape of your shower, and the material it’s made up of.
Most showers are made of tiles and other hard, non-absorbent surfaces, and they are usually enclosed rectangles. When we sing – or talk, shout or gargle for that matter – we create soundwaves. Different notes have different frequencies depending on whether they are high or low. High notes have faster frequencies (like the purple line in the image below) and low notes have slower frequencies (like the red line).
Sound waves of different notes have different frequencies
When we create these sound waves, they will travel out of our mouths until they hit something. In a shower, they very quickly find a nice sound-reflecting surface – your tiles. Rather than escaping, the sound waves bounce around your shower, and becomes louder as there are more sound waves hitting your ear. This is the first reason your voice sounds better in the shower – more volume = a more powerful sounding voice.
The second reason is very closely tied into the last one. Well lets be honest, in a shower, everything is pretty close to everything else. In addition to making the sound louder, all these sound waves bouncing off the walls create an affect known as reverberation or just reverb. You’ve heard it before, it’s what karaoke machines do to try and make people seem not quite so terrible.
Reverb is essentially a whole lot of echoes all very suddenly. If you were in a cave (and why wouldn’t you be?) the echoes come off the cave walls which are usually rather far away. In a shower, they’re nice and close, and you get a lot of echoes all at once. In addition to giving a nice echoey sound which you can hear here: An Example of Reverb – it also smoothes out the pitch of your singing. They noise becomes somewhat blurred, and so you even when your notes are as wobbly as jelly, they sound like they’re stable. This won’t help if you’re singing half an octave off key, but if you’re already close this makes it even better. So secret number two to shower singing – reverb!
The final trick to sounding better in the shower is resonance. Because of the distance between the walls of the shower, certain sound wave frequencies are amplified more so than others. In showers these tend to be nice low bass notes, which gives your voice a nice rich quality.
Remember, having a shower curtain instead of a solid door, or having something softer than tiles on the walls can reduce the impact of all of these. MOST importantly, reverb only applies INSIDE the shower, so anyone listening to you from outside will hear a much louder but probably rather wavering voice. In fact, because you pitch your singing off what you can hear, the reverb is actually tricking you, and you will most likely actually be singing even less in tune than normal. So beware of anyone else lurking outside when you start shower singing!
So there you have it – Volume, Reverb and Resonance, all working together to make you sound like a pro. Leave a comment and be sure to watch out for the next post on Science MIA!