How do I avoid annoying the neighbors while I practice a musical instrument?
February 15, 2009 2:00 AM   Subscribe

How do I avoid annoying the neighbors while I practice a musical instrument?

I've decided that I want to take up a musical instrument as an adult who lives in an apartment and will presumably be living in a similar higher density arrangement for probably many years. How do I manage to not annoy the neighbors?

As a child playing an instrument, I lived in a suburban home, so bothering the neighbors was not a problem.

I would most likely be practicing in the later part of the evening after work, and if I were a neighbor, I think this would be the time I would be most irritated by.
posted by realpseudonym to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
pick a quiet one.
posted by tumult at 2:08 AM on February 15, 2009

Don't choose the violin. Unless you want your neighbors to think you're torturing cats, that is.
posted by amelioration at 7:33 AM on February 15, 2009

Select an electronic instrument (e.g. synth / keyboard) and practise with headphones.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:41 AM on February 15, 2009

it depends on what you choose. If you go with anything electric, headphones are an option. Guitar, keyboards, bass (choose bass. It's the best. Really), you can always plug the headphones in. The strings on their own make less noise, though they aren't silent. Drums are probably out, though you might consider taking lessons that allow a space for practice, and when you get good enough, renting practice space is doable.

Or, like the guy I see sometimes out buy Costco and giant parking lots along a highway, parked under the overpass, practice outside, in the middle of nowhere in your free time.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:41 AM on February 15, 2009

Don't play something with a lower pitch- lower sounds travel better than higher ones. A flute would be better than a clarinet, for example.
posted by sunshinesky at 7:41 AM on February 15, 2009

I think the options here are if you have to be on premises, play in a laundry room or recreation room, or chat with each of your neighbors about it in advance to gain their support or at least their tolerance. I wish more people had as much conscience as you, so I salute your efforts.
posted by crapmatic at 7:42 AM on February 15, 2009

As for this: I would most likely be practicing in the later part of the evening after work, and if I were a neighbor, I think this would be the time I would be most irritated by.

I suggest you pick another time to practice as it is. Chances are very high that even if you warn your neigbours and gain their support, this time will inevitably become inconvenient for them at one time or another. Don't be the annoying neighbour that they don't want to approach simply because they said they'd be "ok" with this hour. Practice before work.
posted by sunshinesky at 7:47 AM on February 15, 2009

I recently asked a related question. Hopefully the answers I got will help you too.
posted by metaBugs at 7:47 AM on February 15, 2009

You live in a city and noise is party of living in a city. Check my answer in the linked post to figure out how to time your practice and playing to be considerate. After that, there are a number of techniques mentioned there that can help reduce the sound you make so as to prevent it from bothering other people.


sunshinesky, practicing before work is a terrible idea. It is a highly inappropriate time to play if you are trying to be considerate of others who live nearby. While you may interrupt a neighbor's dinner or Wheel of Fortune if you play in the evening, waking someone up at 5 am with scales and arpeggios is the height of rude.

Choosing a high pitched instrument is a similarly bad idea.

Yes, lower frequencies travel farther, but are harder to detect with the human ear from great distances. Higher pitches - like the flute OR the clarinet (the range of these two instrument is actually only a handful of notes) are easier to pick up and are usually more annoying than low frequency instruments. Ever hear of anyone "screeching away at the cello?" Didn't think so.
posted by greekphilosophy at 7:58 AM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Play the clavichord.
(I do, in fact. But seriously)
All this depends a little on where you live. My following remarks reflect my experience from being a musician in Holland. I'm giving here the elaborate way - just strip it of the items that don't apply.
An evening routine is indeed most likely to disturb neighbors. So you'll want to find out about your rights and obligations, you might want to arrange for some noise isolation in your home and you will likely have to communicate with your neighbors.
1. Find out which instrument(s) you'd like to play.
2. Look at the noise policy of your house company/landlord. There might be something right in your contract.
3. Go to the website of the musician's union of your country and find out about accepted practices about playing at home. There should be someone there to contact who knows about these things. Professional musicians practice around 4 hours a day or more, and most of them can't afford living in their own house. It is a huge problem - everywhere.
4. If you're studying your instrument with a teacher, you should ask her/him for further practical advice, especially regarding noise reduction.
5. Go to the neighbors and tell them what you plan to do. On the basis of your personal time schedule and your rights, try working out a deal/compromise and stick to it.

(In spite of all sorts of precautions, we once had a neighbor who habitually banged on the walls at the slightest sound and tried via the house owner to get us out of the flat. Unsuccessfully, because of our friend the union... Though as an amateur with, say, 1 or 1 1/2 hours of playing per day, you really ought to be fine, unless you play the tuba with open windows after eleven or something).
posted by Namlit at 8:05 AM on February 15, 2009

Find practice space somewhere. This will probably require spending some money.
posted by box at 8:10 AM on February 15, 2009

Look into finding a practice space that's not in your apt?

Rent warehouse space with some other artists, musicians, etc.

Be as loud as you like there.

I'm guessing some high schools or Universities would have adult education classes and might have space like this as well.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:11 AM on February 15, 2009

Nowadays, thanks to headphones and electronic instruments, you can practice as loudly as your ears can tolerate. You'll have many instrument choices available to you -- even drums (I'd recommend Roland's electronic drum kit).

A costlier practice option is to convert a walk-in closet into a relatively soundproof practice room. Here's an article about soundproofing basics. Keep in mind, though, that professional-quality, full soundproofing is extremely expensive (up to several thousand dollars).
posted by terranova at 8:15 AM on February 15, 2009

2 options - one you soundproof a room and the other is you rent a separate space away from neighbors - because sooner or later - even and in spite of all attempts at completely soundproofing a room - some noise is going to filter out and has the potential of pissing a neighbor off.
posted by watercarrier at 8:21 AM on February 15, 2009

How coincidental! As we speak my neighbors are playing incredibly loud, incredibly bad and annoying the heck out of me.
I would suggest that you never play before 10 am on a weekday. Most people don't sleep past then anyway and a lot of them will be at work/school, etc. Less people to bother and people don't expect you to tiptoe around during the day. In my opinion the best time to practice would be on a weekend afternoon, no later than 7.
Also: the ceiling and floor aren't usually as well insulated as the walls. IIf you can hear it in the next room, chances are you can hear it upstairs/downstairs. Unless you have a high-end apartment. To play it safe, assume that they can hear you.

I'm glad that you're asking the question- it gives me some hope for aspiring musicians. And if someone complains, please be considerate and listen to them. I just had to call the police on my neighbors because every time I knocked on the door to try and reason with them they just played louder. But I don't think you'd be that rude.
posted by shesaysgo at 8:29 AM on February 15, 2009

Nthing the idea of headphones/practice instruments. I used to live across the hall in a vintage building from a guy who had a piano that he played that way. I literally had no idea that he had one until we both were in the hall one day and I saw it through his open door. We had a conversation about it and apparently he pretty much played it all evening long.

Also, I ride a commuter train a couple of days a week with a guy who has a modified guitar that works along the same lines -- he has a pair of headphones that he wears, but the only sound I can hear is a very light strumming of the strings. I googled practice silent guitar and didn't see the model he has but some similar ones.
posted by sugarfish at 8:39 AM on February 15, 2009

2. Look at the noise policy of your house company/landlord. There might be something right in your contract.

I'm in New York City. It's pretty universal for buildings here to have rules about music hours. No guarantee you won't annoy anyone, but if you're within the rules, any complaints will fall on deaf ears.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:48 AM on February 15, 2009

greekphilosophy I figured before work would not be as early as 5am if after work meant late evening. I was thinking 9-10am as a reasonable hour for practicing. As a neighbour I'd prefer that to 9-10pm, based on the fact that the city is bustling with noise by then. I suppose flute vs clarinet was a bad comparison, but perhaps flute vs. tuba would make you feel better? There's also the sheer volume difference, let's not forget.
posted by sunshinesky at 8:58 AM on February 15, 2009

Best answer: read this post, where an extremely similar question was posted just 11 days ago.
posted by firei at 8:59 AM on February 15, 2009

I second crapmatic's idea. Ask your neighbors for their schedule and try to practice when they're away from home. I had a neighbor at my last apartment who played a powered/electric guitar and after an initial disagreement, she asked me for my schedule, and from then on, only played when I was away at work. Worked out beautifully. She got her lesbian folk record finished and I didn't hear any of it.
posted by wastelands at 9:06 AM on February 15, 2009

Take up the harp. No one will care what hour of the day you play it.
posted by K.P. at 9:48 AM on February 15, 2009

There are mutes that work well for stringed instruments like violin or violas.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:24 AM on February 15, 2009

If you're interested in playing drums electronic ones are fine, but keep in mind the vibration from the bass pedal travels through the floor to the apartment below you. I visited my downstairs and left/right neighbors when I first moved in and gave them my cell number. I padded the floor under the bass pedal and so far no complaints. Seconding limiting practice time on weekdays 10am- 8pm ish.
posted by kinakomochi at 12:02 PM on February 15, 2009

I live in an apartment and practice my viola, sometimes with a mute. I never play before 11:00 am or after 9:00 pm. I've only received complaints from my viola teacher, who says I need to stop being afraid of dynamics. Ha.

As a side note, one bonus about the viola is that it plays a lower set of notes than the violin, so I'm potentially less annoying and awful to listen to. I also have a digital piano which is very apartment friendly (both for playing and moving).
posted by Maarika at 12:07 PM on February 15, 2009

I live in an apartment and practice my viola, sometimes with a mute. I never play before 11:00 am or after 9:00 pm. I've only received complaints from my viola teacher, who says I need to stop being afraid of dynamics. Ha.

This is exactly me if you substitute "cello" for "viola". "It goes louder than that, you know."
posted by mendel at 11:46 AM on February 16, 2009

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