Soundscaping Your Outdoor Space

Updated: Mar 19

Spring has sprung! As thoughts turn to enjoying the landscaping around you, consider how much soundscaping can make a difference in your state of well-being. Soundscaping is the art of consciously designing the sound in your space. Whether you live in a house with a yard, or an apartment with a patio or balcony, there are tools you can use to improve your outdoor soundscape, which will benefit your mental health.


A study published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America noted that when traffic noise is present, adding birdsongs to the soundscape resulted in more listeners rating a space as "pleasant." Another study published in Environmental Management found that when presented with pictures of hikers in a park, accompanied by varying soundscapes, an interesting result occurred: Bird sounds decreased perceptions of crowding, and increased tolerance for seeing other people on the trail. Conversely, airplane or truck sounds had the opposite effect. (Psychology Today, 7/4/2011, by Linda W. Andrews)


As these studies suggest, hearing birdsongs (even just a recording of them) will help your mind ease itself and rise above the clamor of traffic and voices. It's tempting to just flip on some music while relaxing outdoors, but often what the human brain really needs is to simplify and hear less complex sounds like those offered by nature's own sound therapists, the birds. If you have the space, do some research on what will attract songbirds to your location. Hanging bird houses and feeders is well worth the effort if you're looking to bring some peace and beauty into your life. Bird baths are also very inviting... but if you have outdoor cats, you might have a major obstacle. How do you balance a love of cats with a love of songbirds?


Mittens, captured in mid-yawn.

I live in a rural area, so my cats are indoor/outdoor. The youngest, Mittens, is a prolific hunter. I struggle with loving my feline daughter so much, while also bearing witness to the endless parade of disembodied heads she leaves on my porch. Her favorite prey are mice and moles, but she does occasionally kill birds and it makes me sad. If you are in the same situation, I suggest sticking with safely placed birdfeeders. Birdbaths are too low to the ground, and birdhouses result in vulnerable fledglings on your property.


Wind chimes are a beneficial addition to any soundscape, and perfect for small spaces. If you want to create a relaxing, meditative soundscape, seek out large, deep-toned chimes. Those tuned below middle C are especially calming to the mind. Some are very expensive, but it's possible to find them for a reasonable price, especially if you buy used. If you enjoy the tinkling sound of smaller, high-pitched chimes (which tend to be less expensive), combining the two types has a nice effect. I recommend shopping around on a website like Whimsical Winds, which denotes the musical key each set is tuned to, and provides sound samples.


For the crafty and/or budget-minded, there are many DIY wind chimes that make pleasant sounds, such as glass bottle chimes:



... and how about silverware chimes?



Lastly, consider adding a water fountain to your soundscape. Human beings are creatures of nature whether we remember that or not; the sound of a babbling brook appeals to our ancient sensibilities as much as the sound of birdsongs. I purchased two tabletop fountains at Michael's for less than $30 each; for such a low price, I've been pleasantly surprised that they have lasted for years!


Most of us have experienced this frustrating moment: you've spent many hours being shut indoors at work while it was beautiful outside. You finally get home and can spend some time relaxing in your outdoor space. You sit down, put your feet up, take a deep breath, and... whirrrrrrr... that's the moment your neighbor decides to fire up the weedwacker. Even the best soundscaping may not help much when loud machines are used in close proximity, but the effect of most ambient noise on your state of peaceful well-being can be greatly softened.


We are rarely in total control of the environment outside ourselves, but we can control the environment within ourselves... if you are practicing meditation and feel ready to take it up to the next level, try meditating outdoors more often. This will help you learn to go deeper within yourself, no matter what the circumstances are around you. Check out How to Quiet a Busy Mind for more tips on outdoor meditation, and consider putting some effort into your personal soundscape this spring. You'll be glad you did. Happy listening!


Wishing you sound spirit, sound mind, sound body.


Mary


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