Need A Script For Confronting Banjo Player
March 22, 2020 5:55 AM   Subscribe

My upstairs neighbour loves their banjo. They are currently practising their banjo jazz from 9am until 8pm with tiny breaks inbetween. It is the same chords over and over. I am WFH and white noise does not cancel out the banjo. I have tried wearing headphones with ambient music, but every time I take off the headphones the plonk-di-plonk is back. I need a script to confront the banjo player. I don't want to scream QUIT THE BANJO JAZZ in their face. I need to be firm, but still polite. Help me, Metafilter.
posted by kariebookish to Human Relations (22 answers total)
I think you will have to go about this by asking nicely to confine practicing to a set time or asking very nicely that they sound proof. Explain that you can hear everything they are playing and now that everyone is at home all the time it is impacting your work and you are so sorry to be an inconvenience but...

You should also add rugs and other soft things to cancel it out. I am afraid being "firm" may not work because 9 am- 8 pm are the appropriate hours for being noisy.
posted by stormygrey at 6:09 AM on March 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

What is your desired outcome, and what would you accept? Under the circumstances I don't think it's reasonable to ask them to stop entirely. Perhaps you can ask them to confine it to the morning or to the afternoon.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:17 AM on March 22, 2020

Response by poster: I'm not going to threadsit, but I'll be doing video-conferencing from home now and it's so noisy that it is going to be an issue.

The question is not whether or not people have the right to make noise. I am simply looking for a way to broach the topic with them. Could we please focus on that?
posted by kariebookish at 6:40 AM on March 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

Are your apartments large enough that you could ask them to play in another room that's not in line with your work space?
posted by Botanizer at 6:46 AM on March 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: “Hi, neighbor! I won’t shake hands, heh, but I wanted to come up and introduce myself.... I live below you and am stuck working at home for who knows how long and I’m so sorry but your music practice is filtering into my space and it’s driving me bonkers! How can we figure something out?” Then let him talk. If he’s a fan of pickin’ music then I bet he’s not an aggro kind of person. It might sound quite quiet in his apartment and I’m guessing he’d be mortified that someone was subjected to endless hours of chord practice. Since you have to work, ultimately, if he seems intent on getting some practice in, offer to text him when you’re headed out. Can you take a long walk or a break in another part of the apartment with noise canceling headphones during the day? And text him when you do. Stay away for an hour. Then communicate when you’re starting work again.
posted by amanda at 6:59 AM on March 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hi Cleatus,
Wow, Corona times are intense, huh? I hope you’re managing ok! If you ever need anything, I’m here, please don’t be shy to reach out! :)

I’m writing because I need to ask you something.

I am working from home right now.
My daily schedule is roughly:
X-y work,
Y-z sleep,
and I often take an hour-long walk in the woods in the late afternoon.

I can hear your banjo playing downstairs, and I’m writing to ask if we can figure out a solution that allows you to keep practicing ... and me to hear it less. I’ve been wearing earplugs for 4 days and that’s not really working.

Options I thought might help:

- You could try changing the location where you practice to see if there’s a less acoustically conductive spot. Maybe we could text back and forth as you try out different spots.... I’m totally open to trying this however given the size of our apartments and how clearly I can currently hear the sound, I have to say that I don’t expect much difference. But it’s an easy solution and worth a try!

- I would be so grateful if you could limit your playing to a couple of specific blocks of time, perhaps [choose 2 four hour blocks- one day, one evening] - that way you still get to play but I get some quiet time
to work and some quiet time to sleep

- When I leave the apartment I would be very willing to text you so you can play as loud as you want while I’m gone

- I’m really open to other solutions as well, please let me know if anything pops out at you.

I know playing an instrument is a great way to feel productive and relaxed and I want you to be able to enjoy it! I just need periods of quiet so that I too can feel productive and relaxed.

Please let me know what you think!

Thanks for reading this and thanks in advance for, I hope, considering how we can share our airspace. I hope you’re well and let me know if you ever need anything! Please feel free to call or text me at #.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:03 AM on March 22, 2020 [20 favorites]

Step 1: stop thinking of this as a ‘confrontation’; that makes you the unreasonable one, because he is 100% within his rights.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:22 AM on March 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

Nah, this person doesn't have the right to disrupt your quality of life. Most leases have a clause about the right to enjoy a unit and consistent, loud music, even if it ceases during quiet hours, still counts. This is what practice spaces are for.

I would let them know that it is disrupting your work. I wouldn't tell them what to do or not to do but to just let them know you can hear and that it is bothering you. If they respond with anything less than limiting their practice time or stopping entirely then you go to management. I haven't had good outcomes with trying to cooperate with people who don't have the initial thought to consider other people with their noise.
posted by Young Kullervo at 7:34 AM on March 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

Your upstairs neighbor is violating the terms of their lease by preventing your quiet enjoyment of your rental property. Call your landlord or property manager and say that Roy Clark upstairs is playing his banjo for 11 hours a day and disturbing your work.

You don't need a script, let your landlord figure out what to say.
posted by Rob Rockets at 7:37 AM on March 22, 2020 [9 favorites]

To me the video-conferencing angle sounds more effective than "It's driving me mad and I hate it". To the latter he could just recommend earplugs, the former involves your livelihood. (That said, it also leaves him room to play on the weekend.)

I agree with the suggestions to take a we're-in-this-together approach at first. You can always escalate if needed.
posted by trig at 8:01 AM on March 22, 2020 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I would contact the landlord, and let them handle it.

On the flipside, I play the trumpet. I cleared it with my landlord first, and I ALWAYS use a mute inside, and I only practice during the daytime. (I also am bad at practicing, but...). The landlord gave the initial OK, but said that if there were any neighbor complaints, my apartment trumpet career is over.

At least with a trumpet, I know it's going to be loud. I don't know if the banjo player is realizing how their sound carries or not.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:09 AM on March 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Could you offer to buy him a banjo mute? There are many models available. You might also point him at articles about muting a banjo.

Some solutions are cheap. Some may be effective and satisfying for you, but not him.

Good luck!
posted by blob at 8:21 AM on March 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The two ways to mute a banjo are with a nine pound hammer or a folded towel jammed against the back of the head. Old-time players in groups will use different folds of their towels to get their volume balance right. Your neighbor should be able to make his appropriate for apartment practice. Just ask?
posted by fritley at 8:22 AM on March 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: blob and fritley beat me to suggesting a muting solution. I know a banjo is a different beast, but I mute my acoustic guitar with a strip of soft foam I cut out of a microphone case.
posted by umbú at 8:51 AM on March 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Bluegrass banjos are weaponized to project over any venue noise without amplification. They're also surprisingly quiet for the player, so they probably don't know they are being annoying. Playing an unmuted resonator banjo in a living complex is just rude, especially when committing rolls to muscle memory.
posted by scruss at 8:54 AM on March 22, 2020 [7 favorites]

I wouldn't assume the banjo player even realizes how how the sound of their instrument carries. I once had a neighbor, visibly trying to hold themselves together, knock on my door and ask me to stop whatever it was that made a loud thump on his ceiling every morning. I'd been living there for nine months, and it never occurred to me that the way I was getting out of bed be noisy enough to to wake up the neighbors. But once he mentioned it, I was horrified and stopped right away.

In the absence of any other indications of their personality, I'd just explain the issue as "hey, your banjo playing is loud enough in my apartment to interfere with my video calls. Could you restrict it to a few hours a day, or use mute?" Just let them know there's a problem at all.
posted by serathen at 8:58 AM on March 22, 2020 [6 favorites]

Please don’t start with the landlord. That is an escalation, and you’re not there yet. Signed, someone who brought a typewriter to a writers’ conference, limited the hours of use, put it on a towel to dampen the sound, talked to everyone in the cabin, asking each person to tell me if there was a problem, and then got a complaint from the conference organizer’s office.
posted by FencingGal at 10:18 AM on March 22, 2020 [9 favorites]

I play the banjo, and there is a lot of good advice upthread about using a towel as a mute, etc, as well as talking to him about set practice times. He's probably thinking, like me, "silver lining! I can play my banjo all day and get really good!" and hasn't even considered that his neighbors can hear him so clearly. But honestly, practicing a few hours a day is actually better than practicing all day every day, and in his heart he probably knows that. You mention that headphones do block the sound out, but that it's unreasonable to wear them all day. Coordinating with him about a set practice schedule seems like the best way to deal with this.

I know you didn't suggest it, but for cripes' sakes don't go to your landlord! What an incredibly heartless and callous thing that would be to do. This is your neighbor and another human being, going through the same struggles we all are, possibly worse. Trying to undermine his access to stable housing in this time of global pandemic when countless people literally have and will lose their homes is just, well -- I have much stronger words for how distasteful it would be, but I'll refrain. While you're talking to him, why not start organizing a renters' union for a co-ordinated rent strike against your landlord instead?
posted by Krawczak at 10:23 AM on March 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

>Could you offer to buy him a banjo mute?
Thanks Blob! TIL this is a thing! I looked at those links, expecting to see pliers cutting banjo strings or wholesale banjo destruction, but no...
posted by k3ninho at 11:55 AM on March 22, 2020

Chiming in to note that, yeah, they probably don't realize how loud the banjo is in your apartment. I've talked to neighbors before when their various devices were audible through a solid concrete wall that everyone would have reasonably expected would stop the sound. I was friendly, and they were apologetic. It doesn't have to be a confrontation; it's a communication. They have information you (and we) don't--about when they can and can't practice, what their alternative setups for muting might be, and so many other things. This is a chance for the two of you to find a solution together.
posted by pykrete jungle at 5:08 PM on March 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you so much everybody. The banjo-playing is not a new occurrence. The 9am to 8pm thing has been happening for around 2 months, but it's been easier to deal with when I've not been in my house constantly. I try to let everybody lead their best life.

I'll head upstairs with some baked goods and have a calm conversation. Definitely not contacting the landlord.
posted by kariebookish at 4:31 AM on March 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

That's very thoughtful, although in current circumstances, the typical rules don't apply and it's technically not passive-aggressive to leave a note instead, if you'd prefer it.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:44 AM on March 23, 2020

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