An expert on archaeoacoustics believes he has found the evidence of why the Maya pyramids were built (as if there is only one reason…). David Lubman claims that the “pyramids were essentially echo machines, built to inspire spiritual feelings.” If one claps the hands in front of the Kukulcan pyramid at Chichen Itza one receives an echo that sounds like the quetzal (kuk in Maya). The tall and narrow steps of Maya pyramids “tune the noise returned through an effect called ‘Bragg scattering,’ each riser bouncing back small echoes that add together to create a distinctive chirp.” People sitting on the bottom steps of the pyramid also hear raindrop sounds created by people’s footsteps higher up on the pyramid. Rain and the quetzal bird are both sacred and important to the Maya so now there is no need to search for the one and only reason why pyramids were built.
Thus, Lubman argues that the ability to produce sounds similar to the chirp of the quetzal was the reason why pyramids were constructed all over the Maya area. He compares them to medieval cathedrals that were designed to resonate to chants. Lubman suggests that the stucco that once covered the pyramids amplified sounds since it eliminated imperfections and gaps between stones.
The pyramids allowed for acoustic phenomena to emerge but I rather see them as side effects. There are also range structures with high stairways that probably would allow this phenomenon to emerge. Low pyramids with short stairways are quite common in the Maya area and I doubt that they create this sound effect. The quetzal chirp emerging from larger pyramids was simply an expressive part of the greater pyramid assemblage.