Help me stop torturing the neighbours.
September 12, 2010 6:52 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend a good place to practise music that is free, and more importantly, private?

I've been practising a musical instrument in my flat for several weeks now, and I've been getting increasingly conscious of the fact that I must be bothering the neighbours. At first I was comforted by the knowledge that my neighbours aren't very considerate themselves. They often play very loud, thumping music throughout the day, and they have a dog with abandonment issues which barks constantly whenever they leave the house (actually as I write this I can hear him). Not to mention the occasional loud party late at night. I don't mind all this too much though so I no longer feel justified in inflicting my efforts on them, and knowing that they can almost certainly hear my shaky beginner's practising is starting to make me feel really self-conscious. Naturally I only practise during reasonable hours and try to be considerate, but my flat is very small so it's tricky.

I should point out that the instrument I'm learning is the blues harmonica. Unfortunately this seems to be one of those instruments which, unless you're very very good, can be truly painful to listen to. So I'd really appreciate any suggestions for where I could practise that's private and I can keep trying to improve without feeling self-conscious or bothering anyone. It can be indoors or outdoors.

p.s. I've checked out this thread which has lots of good advice, but most of the answers are geared towards playing publicly or in busy parks, which I'd rather avoid. But I live in Glasgow so there are plenty of parks for this to become an option later on.
posted by Spamfactor to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total)
The university I went to had a grossly underutilized music center attached to the theatre with several practice rooms idle all hours of the day and night. I'd go in occassionally and bang out chords on the pianos in there. The schedules for the rooms were posted on the doors so it was easy to tell when it was good to show up. I went to a tech school in a small isolated town in the united states so it might have been an oddity. Still I'd check for schools in the area that aren't known for their music programs. Alternatively you could try and find some parks near by or maybe some churches with grounds that aren't very populated. I play my harp at a nearby church when I'm running my dog on their huge lawn.
posted by grizzly at 7:26 AM on September 12, 2010

Maybe ask at the local conservatory or school to see if you can work something out? Also, what instrument is this? I'd be a lot less worried if this was a string instrument and not a brass instrument. Maybe talk to your neighbors and check to see if you're actually bothering them, rather than second-guessing yourself?
posted by Busoni at 7:28 AM on September 12, 2010

Yeah, the church isn't a bad idea either. School, church, theater, buildings that aren't really populated in the afternoons.
posted by Busoni at 7:29 AM on September 12, 2010

Well, on the high end of things there are companies that sell small sound-isolation booths, but they start at about $2700 and the smallest model has an exterior footprint of 3.5' x 2.5' so unless you had a spare bedroom or studio it might be hard to fit in a small apt. If you had a closet that you'd be willing to dedicate to the task you could try the DIY approach.

Busoni - the OP says in the question it's blues harmonica.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:39 AM on September 12, 2010

You can rent rehearsal rooms at a lot of studios - googling 'glasgow rehearsal rooms' gets a variety of levels of cost and swishness.
posted by Coobeastie at 7:39 AM on September 12, 2010

If it's the harmonica and you're practicing during the day, I'd bet that you're not bothering anyone much. If you can't find elsewhere to practice, perhaps break up your practice time into smaller chunks (30 minutes or less per sitting) so that any noise-carrying won't go on too long. (FWIW, I used to worry about something similar until a neighbor remarked how much she LOVED hearing me practice, made her feel like she was in a conservatory, so you never know. And I was playing the Horn, not the harmonica.)

Unfortunately this seems to be one of those instruments which, unless you're very very good, can be truly painful to listen to. So I'd really appreciate any suggestions for where I could practise that's private and I can keep trying to improve without feeling self-conscious or bothering anyone.

An issue you don't ask about but that I wanted to mention, is that you're feeling self-conscious about how you must sound as you learn your instrument. That to me seems the bigger issue here, and is one to counter now, as you're at the beginning stages--anxiety in practicing is one of the biggest issues I see young/beginning musicians face, and one of the most important to ameliorate. Practice should be a time of enjoyment, self-affirmation, and even meditation. The most common advice I give is that one should not be judgmental or emotional at all while practicing, that it should be much more analytical and even like a puzzle (i.e., hmm, that didn't work, why can't I make that sound? Perhaps more air will let that note speak, etc.; rather than, DAMMIT why can't I play that bit right?!).

Anxiety during practice can lead to all sorts of negative feedback loops as well as physical tension which of course inhibits development of good technique. It's a tall order that's easy to give and difficult to realize: practicing should be an enjoyable, affirming experience. But if you can get to that space, your progress will soar, I promise (I teach musicians for a living, see it happen regularly).

This book is a GREAT place to start. And also, all instruments can be painful to listen to as someone learns them, that's just how it is. Even Jascha Heifetz, Yo Yo Ma, and Charlie Parker sounded like death the first time they picked up their instruments, promise. One must take joy in the process, those creaky, wrong, tentative first sounds are to me always beautiful even when they're not pretty because they mean that someone is bringing music-making into their lives, and I know from decades of experience that this can give you joy and satisfaction for the rest of your life, and that's truly beautiful. So rock on, and maybe only worry about your neighbors if they complain about it. Which will give you an opportunity to maybe address the barking dog and too-loud music anyway.
posted by LooseFilter at 7:53 AM on September 12, 2010 [6 favorites]

Good advice from LooseFilter.

I used to HATE being overheard while practising (guitar/vocals), mostly due to self-consciousness. But neighbours, parents, wife would frequently comment they loved it.

If you run into your neighbours (is it only one flat affected?) I'd throw them an apology and say you're looking for another place to practice so you won't bother them, it's quite possible they'll encourage you not to.
posted by raider at 8:12 AM on September 12, 2010

When we were in high school a few friends rented a climate controlled self-storage unit and would have rehearsals there. I'm sure it was against SOME kind of rule but the band broke up before there was ever any issue (about 10 months).

It always seemed like a smart idea at the time, but they were always careful only to practice when the front office was closed.
posted by Saminal at 8:15 AM on September 12, 2010

I'd be surprised they can hear you at all, or at least at a bothersome volume.

If you live in a larger apartment building, is there a laundry room or a storage area where you could get down with your bluesy self without bothering anyone? Maybe even an unused or rarely-used hallway or lobby area?

I used to do the same thing as grizzly. Not an oddity at all, ime.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:18 AM on September 12, 2010

All of my friends who've been in bands have had some sort of designated "practice space" they have rented in order to practice. Usually a basement or garage in a grungy marginal part of the city. This has been a group of people playing loud electric instruments, drum kits, and the like, though - generally I'm with LooseFilter and others who say you're probably not bothering anyone.

I'm not sure exactly how these people find out where these places are, how to get access to them, and the like. You could probably also go to a local music store ("place musical instruments are sold", not "record shop") or anywhere else musicians congregate locally and ask.
posted by Sara C. at 11:14 AM on September 12, 2010

I'd second seeing if a nearby school has music practice booths. My university (in the US) had at least a dozen of them, all nicely soundproofed. While they were probably meant for music students, anyone could just walk right up and use them. In fact, I used to drop in and hack away at the Rhodes electric pianos when I was near that part of campus.

Even if they're meant for students only, maybe you could sign up for the least expensive class they offer to qualify.
posted by tomwheeler at 2:04 PM on September 12, 2010

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