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4.3 – the room, the bathroom, and the square


What difference do you feel between playing inside a concert room with good acoustic and playing at a square, for instance?


Well, in this aspect, the guitar is a very complex instrument because it has a serious problem about sound volume.

Segovia has never used any kind of amplification [i],

but nowadays it is difficult to play without providing some comfort to the audience.

The world has become so noisy that the low sound potential of the guitar sometimes causes a certain discomfort.

One cannot turn in the seat, cannot cough,

in order not to bother who wants to listen.

Those typical things that happen in a concert room.

One of the greatest problems is how to make your instrument versatile

so that it can be heard in different situations.


Amplifying, right?


Yes, amplifying.

To have a pickup, a special microphone.

You see that every year new pieces of equipment pop up.

It is endless.

Because the guitar is a very difficult instrument to amplify,

its problems with frequencies are complex.

As it has a low sound potential,

inside an acoustic ambience those frequencies do not disturb,

but when you amplify, they start coming up and disturbing.

Technology has advanced to such extent that it has made it possible nowadays to solve this issue with a good sound system.


Unlike instrumental formations that equilibrate at a volume baseline achieved by means of a greater sound projection, such as the “piano-trio” (piano, bass and drums) or the “regional” (mandolin, flute, 7-string guitar – with fingerstall), the guitar is effective at a lower volume. At least if we consider that the guitar feeds on its “orchestral” feature, achieved by “timbre variations” only got by assuming the volume of a “concert” performance. [i]

The “electric guitar” that uses a pickup generally installed under the saddle has been since the 1960s the standard instrument used in popular songs, to a great extent because it equates volume to other instruments normally used in popular music accompaniment. Among the “acoustic” guitar sound properties – concert – and the “electric guitar” there is still another polarity that is faced daily by the instrumentalist in the intersection field herein studied. Many times, the instrumentalist feels like searching for “another way” to “get to the public” which is not dependent on “sound purity”.



But without any doubt, it is very good when you can hear the guitar in a small room,

with a good natural reverberation,

and the people relatively close by,

listening to the natural sound of the instrument.

When you go to a square, the musical communication has to be carried out in another level,

it cannot lean on this aspect of sound purity.

You’ve got to reach the public and deliver your musical message in another way.

The sound dimension in which João Gilberto plays, based on the guitar volume, has granted him the condition of an eccentric figure in the popular song realm. That to a large extent occurs due to the fact that he has never given up the natural sonority of the instrument in live presentations — a position that has placed him among the erudite guitar-players in general.


 00:00 the distance between João Gilberto’s chamber volume and Caymmi’s volume


00:27 the square

01:52 the room as a dimension of the composer and the playing-composing, in the guitar and in the song

03:16 the ideal would be to take your room around the world

00:00 João Gilberto in the bathroom

00:38 when you go to a square to play with the band


The association between those shades of the guitaristic performance and the “square” and “room” spaces, which achieves a crucial sonority for the Brazilian music in the “bathroom”, of João Gilberto’s aunt, comes up spontaneously in the interview with João Bosco that took place just  before that of Marco Pereira.



When the sound passes through the cable, it is another sound.


And when we are at the square, we don’t want to hear the room sound either,

we want to hear the sound that is there!

At the square!


Another search.


Because we are carried away by that ambience, by that energy.


Due to the different musical contexts investigated in this study it is worth mentioning that, generally speaking, the kind of music that is performed at a “square” is more easily transposed to the demands of a “room” than the necessary adequacy in reverse. That fact is demonstrated by the so called difficulty of João Gilberto to perform his music on stages that do not present a minimum acoustic solution, in contrast with the naturalness with which João Bosco performs his just like they came to life – using the voice and the guitar –, doing without or softening the sound presence of a band in his performances in concert rooms.

  1. LINK with the idea “Spain’s most notable luthiers had to be encouraged to search for means of increasing the volume of the guitar without electrical or artificial devices” presented in –  4.6 – resurgences: the Meira school and the greater airs  – in the quotation in Andrés Segóvia’s statement.

  2. LINK with the idea “you can get so many different timbres. This thing of being kind of an orchestral instrument” presented in –  4.1 – guitar-piano – in the statement of Sérgio Assad.