Is it reasonable to ask a serious string player to use a mute?
March 4, 2021 10:03 AM   Subscribe

The teenage daughter in the apartment below ours practices cello 14 hours a day, every day. 7am to 9pm, 7 days a week. Needless to say, this drives us round the bend. She has turned her nose up at other measures to make changes to her practice that would improve our lives. Is it unrealistic to expect her to use a mute?

We complained six months ago about the noise (put a short note through the door). The parents appeared at our door saying, "It's her whole life!" and later sent us a three-page letter explaining why she wouldn't be able to accomodate our requests to practice in a different room some of the time (the acoustics weren't as good, she would have to carry a music stand between rooms, and she didn't like the light).

However, the reason they gave for the non-stop practice was apparently that she had auditions for music college in December. Her family is not musical, and she had started learning late (aged 10), so she needed to practice so much to allow her to catch up with others. To an extent I was sympathetic to this situation. We were promised the noise would be reduced come December, and so it was... for about two weeks.

Now the sound is as bad as ever, I don't know why. We didn't hear anything from the family. By text, I requested an update a couple of days ago, and we are going to meet tomorrow. I am anticipating that they will provide a fresh reasion why she simply must fill our home with unwanted sound every waking hour. I want to make them see that she must use a mute some of the time, that this is the reasonable thing for any musician to do. But is it? I am aware that some musicians don't like them. But is it the case that even musicians who don't like them realize they still have to use one for the sake of the neighbors? Or do you simply get nowhere in music without a "fuck everyone else" attitude?
posted by cincinnatus c to Human Relations (89 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
For three years, I lived one floor below a jazz guitarist. He also practiced a lot. However, he had the good grace to adopt the habit of practicing with a set of headphones plugged into his amp so he could hear it and the rest of us couldn't. (The only incident after that came when he was away from home once and his cat jumped on his stereo at 4 am, and somehow managed to both dislodge the headphones and turn on a "teach yourself jazz" instructional CD....)

It is more than reasonable to at least request she move to another room some of the time. Her objections don't make any sense - she "doesn't like to carry her music stand"? She'll be doing a lot of that in Julliard lugging her cello from classroom to classroom. She "doesn't like the light"? Lamps exist. I admit I'm not sure how a mute for a cello would work, but negotiating her moving to another room in her house seems more than reasonable.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:21 AM on March 4, 2021 [22 favorites]

I'm not a musician but this sounds unreasonable to me. This should be the apartment management's problem not yours though. You're entitled to the quiet enjoyment of your property.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:21 AM on March 4, 2021 [22 favorites]

It is not up to you to find her a solution. They are ruining your quiet enjoyment of the apartment. Time to talk to the landlord if the meeting doesn't result in the immediate reduction of music to maybe an hour a day. Ten is not that late to start an instrument, by the way. She won't carry a music stand? She is in for a surprise if she does get into college.

They need to rent her a private space if she really needs 14 hours a day. I find that highly suspect but I wouldn't argue those issues with them. Your view is that the music needs to stop. One hour per day is the maximum time it should be allowed.
posted by soelo at 10:23 AM on March 4, 2021 [33 favorites]

I know it's uncomfortable, but no progress will come of communicating by note, letter and text. People are not at their best in this mode of communication. You have to talk about this face to face (outside for COVID safety) or at least by phone.

Be respectful but direct. Share how this is impacting you negatively. Invite their taking some responsibility for the situation and helping design a solution.

"We are hearing loud practicing 14 hours a day. This is too much for us and we need for it to change. We've shared some suggestions for how to mitigate this that haven't worked for you. But we do need for this to change. What would you propose to address this?"

You will probably not get the outcome you desire, but you may get an improvement on the current status quo.

Ultimately, it is actually on your landlord to resolve this. If they are not open to any mitigation strategy whatsoever, I would state not as a threat, but as a fact, that if they are unwilling to mitigate in any way, you are going to approach the landlord about the fact that there is 14 hours of disruptive sound a day in your apartment.
posted by latkes at 10:25 AM on March 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Not gonna threadsit, but we both own our respective apartments. There is no apartment management or landlord, and I am not in the US. It is either sort it out between us or take them to court.
posted by cincinnatus c at 10:26 AM on March 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

What are the rules for your apartment building? I think that is going to ultimately be the determining factor here. Are there quiet hours she is running afoul of, or noise nuisance rules? If there are rules you can point to that they are breaking, you should be able to force them to adjust. If not, you are to some degree at their mercy.

I'm certainly sympathetic; that is a lot of cello for you to deal with. However, asking an aspiring professional classical musician to reduce their practice to an hour a day, for example, is also pretty unreasonable. Maybe they can add some acoustic dampening to the ceiling, she could use a mute before 10 am and after 6 pm, or other such accomodations.

But ultimately, I think you need to determine what rules are in place for your apartment building around this, and use those to find a solution both sides can live with. You think she is being a nuisance, they think she is pursuing her future. You're both right, so the rules are going to matter in how this gets resolved.
posted by lhputtgrass at 10:27 AM on March 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

Amending my above comment to say you should not focus on what solutions they must find - that is their problem - but instead focus on your own boundary. Especially if they remain closed to compromise. Something like: "We have a limit of x hours a day of hearing this volume of sound." Then stick to your limit. "We want to have a positive relationship with you, but this is having a very negative impact on our lives. We are going to let the landlord know that we expect no more than x hours of these sound levels a day"
posted by latkes at 10:30 AM on March 4, 2021

Not gonna threadsit, but we both own our respective apartments. There is no apartment management or landlord, and I am not in the US. It is either sort it out between us or take them to court.
posted by cincinnatus c at 10:26 AM on March 4 [+] [!]

Ah, that sucks. This makes things a lot harder. Still - I recommend communicating face-to-face not by text and making clear boundaries and sticking with them.
posted by latkes at 10:31 AM on March 4, 2021

I saw your profile says you're in Glasgow. If that's the case, I found this:

Looks like you can get the City Council involved.
posted by zerokey at 10:33 AM on March 4, 2021 [6 favorites]

if the acoustics and light were too bad for her in the other room, i cannot imagine that you (wearing ear plugs) blaring war movies and bad death metal from your side of the wall would be conducive to her practicing. Im not always a "step 1a is scorched earth" kinda person but it seems like you have a little leverage here since they seem to need it to be a certain way for her optimal practicing, and you could theoretically affect that.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 10:34 AM on March 4, 2021 [21 favorites]

I second the thought that communicating by text is not the best route here .. if you can keep to actual conversations it might go a long way.
posted by elgee at 10:34 AM on March 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Also: I appreciate all of the answers, but my question specifically relates to whether a professional level musician would use a mute. Ideally, I would like to hear from a musician about this. I understand all of the measures I may take if this line does not work, but I want to know if the mute solution is actually a reasonable request in and of itself for a cello player who clearly takes what she does very seriously.
posted by cincinnatus c at 10:35 AM on March 4, 2021 [14 favorites]

You're entitled to the quiet enjoyment of your property.

No doubt, but I think this phrase is a legalism concerning the right to live in a rental property without landlord drop-ins, and does not have anything to do with noise problems from neighbors.
posted by thelonius at 10:38 AM on March 4, 2021 [14 favorites]

Best answer: Sorry to have misfocused my answer, then. I was a fairly serious amateur cellist in my youth, and would say a mute is a reasonable accomodation to request for some of her practice time, especially in off-hours, but she also would need some non-muted practice time, as a mute will by necessity impact tone and part of what she is practicing is developing tone. So I'd say it's a completely reasonable accomodation to request for some, even a decent chunk, of her practice time, but I don't think it would be reasonable to try to require that she only practice with a mute.
posted by lhputtgrass at 10:38 AM on March 4, 2021 [24 favorites]

Best answer: Practicing with a mute is very different than practicing without - the instrument vibrates differently, which feels different as well as sounds different, so if she's practicing for musicality, it is not a long-term solution. (Also you should know that a mute does not make an instrument silent, despite the name, just a little bit quieter. I use a mute on my violin all the time at home and my partner can still hear me even if there is a closed door and several metres between us, but I am not striving to become a professional violinist so I am ok with that.)
posted by phlox at 10:42 AM on March 4, 2021 [18 favorites]

Best answer: As a sometimes semi-pro musician who plays both acoustic and electric/electronic instruments, I’ll say that it’s quite unlikely a serious student of an acoustic instrument like a cello will agree to using a mute for most of their practice. If they were absolute beginners just learning where the notes and scales are, maybe, but at this point they’re not just learning the pieces, they’re paying attention to tone and timbre as well, and you can’t do that with a mute. On preview, mostly what lhputtgrass said, but slightly more pessimistic.
posted by outfielder at 10:42 AM on March 4, 2021 [21 favorites]

I don't think it matters if using a mute is reasonable if (a) the family has already said no to making any changes in their routine (the "I can't move the stand" thing just made me facepalm) and has no intentions of doing so, and (b) you have no leverage to make them do so, and (c) it doesn't sound like that goes into "noise ordinance" territory with the hours that she plays.

Or do you simply get nowhere in music without a "fuck everyone else" attitude?

I don't think that's the case, but that is certainly this family's attitude.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:42 AM on March 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So a “mute” for strings is a piece of heavy rubber that you put on the bridge of the instrument; it prevent the instrument from vibrating as strongly, and since the vibrations of the air inside the instrument body is what makes the sound, it reduces the sound. I am a violinist not a cellist so YMMV. It does reduce the vibrations the player feels which is a bit difficult in terms of learning and perfecting bow pressure and finger movement, it’s not super ideal to play with a mute on all the time, but it’s feasible to do it for some time.

However a string mute takes the volume from like 100% to 80%. It is not like mute for a brass instrument, that really takes the sound from 100 to 40 in my experience. So I don’t know if a mute will do much for your sound annoyance situation, and if you want to use up your limited goodwill to really push hard for a mute. Can you ask her to try the mute for a single song so you can hear any difference?
posted by holyrood at 10:49 AM on March 4, 2021 [14 favorites]

Best answer: my question specifically relates to whether a professional level musician would use a mute

No. Playing with a mute is very different in important but subtle ways and she won't be playing with a mute on her auditions so practicing with a mute doesn't help.

However, as a frame of reference, my sister is a professional cellist with a B.A. and M.A. from a world class cello college and she practiced/practices 2-4 hours/day in high school/now. 14 hours is excessive, even if you're trying to catch up, and frankly is probably decreasing her abilities through sheer exhaustion. Learning bad habits is often worse than learning good ones.

she wouldn't be able to accomodate our requests to practice in a different room some of the time (the acoustics weren't as good, she would have to carry a music stand between rooms, and she didn't like the light

Too bad. That's much less of an issue to adapt to than using a mute. Professional musicians play in lousy rooms all the time.

In the end, not being familiar with your local laws, I suspect you don't have much recourse legally. A cello doesn't generate the volume of noise typically required for police intervention, at least in the US. You could, however, develop an appreciation for the works of Merzbow after two hours of practicing each day.
posted by Candleman at 10:52 AM on March 4, 2021 [24 favorites]

Best answer: I disagree, I think a professional level musician can use a mute for some of their practice - you can use a mute while you're working out fingerings, learning new music, etc. It would definitely be unrealistic to expect a professional level musician to use a mute for all (or even most) of her practicing, but maybe for some percentage of the practice it would be OK.

But the family has already rejected remedies much less onerous than using a mute, so I doubt your cellist neighbor will agree.
posted by mskyle at 10:57 AM on March 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

Hi, former neighbour¹!

The city noise complaint line might be a start: they might be able to suggest avenues to investigate. But agreeing that the "quiet enjoyment" issue isn't really resolvable through a third party in your case. The factor for your close wouldn't be of any help: all they care about is the shared fabric, and typically, care the absolute least they can get away with.

¹: I used to live a couple of blocks away, on Nithsdale Rd at Shields Rd.
posted by scruss at 10:58 AM on March 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

But is it the case that even musicians who don't like them realize they still have to use one for the sake of the neighbors?


Or do you simply get nowhere in music without a "fuck everyone else" attitude?


(the acoustics weren't as good, she would have to carry a music stand between rooms, and she didn't like the light).

posted by soundguy99 at 10:59 AM on March 4, 2021 [39 favorites]

Best answer: I'm not musical myself but my sister has a vocal music degree and I roomed in college with a serious (though not professional-track) classical piano player, among others. Practice rooms, electronic piano with headphones, and other compromises were par for the course. Texted my sister--she never practiced in her apartment, even middle of the day on a weekday when the building have been empty.

Many a professional musician would practice with a mute occasionally because they'd be trying to make every accommodation possible so they didn't end up kicked out and homeless. But the thing is, a mute will change the sound (and probably the feel) and is objectively more of a distortion than changing rooms to the one with slightly worse acoustics. If you accept the interactions up to now as "reasonable" then the mute is not a "reasonable" offer.

But I mean, "buying a new lamp" and "picking up a music stand and walking it to another room" are also unreasonable for these people.

You didn't ask but I think they are entitled, privileged assholes who are being completely inconsiderate and am offended by proxy on behalf of the serious and talented people I saw really work at their craft.
posted by mark k at 11:00 AM on March 4, 2021 [10 favorites]

It's an unpleasantly aggressive idea, but you might consider playing music *loudly* through a speaker lying on the floor above her practice area, in the hope that that would prevent her playing being useful to her. Do it enough so that she gets the message to come to a reasonable arrangement with you.

In my youth I lived in Scotland above someone who I unfortunately upset by noise from my flat, and although they called the police, who came to discuss with me, the police were not able to change the situation in any way. We both owned our respective flats. My downstairs neighbor eventually sold their flat and moved.
posted by anadem at 11:03 AM on March 4, 2021 [14 favorites]

Best answer: Also once a serious cellist, and alas I concur that practicing with a mute is unsatisfactory, but so is living with 14 hours a day of practicing. The mute can be done, but as others say it doesn’t silence the instrument and it feels very different to play with a mute.

The other thing though is that 14 hours a day of practice is in itself is strange. In addition to being a serious musician who went to school for it, I’ve been a music professor for 25 years. The most hardcover and serious and driven student musicians I’ve known practice 8 hours a day, maybe 10 for a few days or weeks if there’s an audition or a big performance or a jury coming up. 14 is unreasonable and unsustainable for the longterm. It will cause physical pain to sit that long. Your fingers would be bloody (I used to have a teacher who said of your fingers didn’t bleed you weren’t practicing enough, and he meant 8 hours a day).

This makes me wonder what’s going on, and who is making the kid play that many hours. I don’t really believe it’s by her own choice and it’s also bad pedagogy. But any student practicing that much at a conservatory or music school would burn out fast.

And they’d do it in a practice room with acoustic insulation.

In the US, students will be hearing from music schools soon about their admission results. Although I was once a music student in the UK too, many years ago, I don’t remember the timeline for admission decisions there. But in any case if she’s really practicing that much she must have excellent chops and will likely be gone to the conservatory of her choice in a few months, putting a deadline on your nightmare.

If she’s practicing that much and she isn’t the best young cellist in Scotland, something is wrong and the practice is an obsession, not a discipline.

I consider regularly having 14 hours a day of practice to be abuse if demanded, a bad idea whether demanded or not, and simply odd for a pre-college music student. Perhaps you can tell them your music professor friend (and former prodigy cellist, the cello was my ticket) says they should be worried about their daughter, not necessarily proud of her.
posted by spitbull at 11:13 AM on March 4, 2021 [86 favorites]

Best answer: A mute would certainly change the feel and responsiveness of a cello, so if the parents are giving nonsense excuses about having to move a music stand, they probably wouldn't agree to a mute.

I can't imagining doing ANYTHING for 14 hours a day, let alone listening to it. If the family has money, they should invest in an electric cello, like a Yamaha Silent Cello. Then she can play in virtual silence and listen in headphones.
posted by jonathanhughes at 11:22 AM on March 4, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: It's more complicated because of the pandemic, but she really should be renting dedicated practice space or using existing resources at her school or wherever.

Aside from a mute (which might not be effective enough), you can request that they use sound insulation products to create a room in her apartment where she can practice without hurting the people around her. (Not just you - anyone nearby who has to work from home is liable to be affected, especially if it's loud enough to disrupt voice meetings or recordings.)
posted by trig at 11:25 AM on March 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah the silent electric cello is indeed the best technological answer here.

Just to add I can think of several young classical musicians I’ve known who developed severe back, shoulder, and other physical problems just from the expected 8 hours a day.
posted by spitbull at 11:26 AM on March 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

How to Soundproof a Room
You were patient and accommodated the December timeline, which has long passed. Her preferences are unreasonable, the noise is unreasonable. You have been incredibly accommodating, which, unfortunately, makes it harder to stop, but you should reclaim your right to live in peace.

You Are Not The Assholes.
posted by theora55 at 11:28 AM on March 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

I used to live next to a crappy but highly dedicated bassist, so I feel for you... but quite honestly, I'm more worried about the kid at this point.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 11:29 AM on March 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

I am not a musician but I have lived with a variety of them. This family sounds awful, especially this:

the acoustics weren't as good, she would have to carry a music stand between rooms, and she didn't like the light

If they see the request to carry a music stand/endure less than optimal light as untenable, they are being unreasonable. Every musician I've lived with did things like rent a practice room, use a mute part of the time, plan at least some of their practicing around other people's schedules, used sound proofing materials on their room, etc.

I'd give up trying to reason with these people (I mean, have one more meeting I guess), and contact the appropriate people in local government and/or a lawyer.
posted by coffeecat at 11:30 AM on March 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Soundproofing a room *effectively* is quite difficult and expensive for most values of “room.”

The electric cello would be cheaper.
posted by spitbull at 11:31 AM on March 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

They are being totally unreasonable and the kid is heading for a career-ending injury before they even get started.
posted by Coaticass at 11:36 AM on March 4, 2021 [26 favorites]

It's possible you may find a hypothetical ally in their cello teacher, if they aren't a hard-arsed dinosaur... (unfortunately not quite extinct).
posted by Coaticass at 11:41 AM on March 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Sounds like it's time to get the apartment manager involved.

Next step would be to get a white noise generator. ;) is free, but I doubt your computer speakers would be of much help. I was thinking some downward-facing subwoofers. :D
posted by kschang at 11:41 AM on March 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: +1 the mute is not going to do enough, check out a comparison here - it shaves off a couple decibels. Volume is logarithmic but it's not going to improve your circumstances enough.

Electric cello would, as others have said, fix it because she could practice in her headphones then.

That said, this is all insane – 14h a day is tortuous for her as well as you, I'm surprised she can even physically play for that long. She's also going to have a lot of psychological harm to work through later with the amount of perfectionism demanded of her here (very common issue amongst classically trained musicians).
posted by internet of pillows at 11:42 AM on March 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Just a small suggestion to add to your armoury, but they need to buy a second music stand so she doesn't have to carry one back and forth.
posted by penguin pie at 11:42 AM on March 4, 2021 [14 favorites]

Also maybe it’s different in Scotland but nowhere I’ve lived would the law or the cops be an effective way to mediate a noise dispute involving a teenager practicing classical music too much. In the absence of a building-based means of enforcement (people keep suggesting apartment management here!) what are you going to do, sue them? Call the cops every time she starts to play?

Sound and noise ordinances (in the US at least) tend to be written such that they specify a decibel level and a time period during which sounds above that level can’t be made. That level is typically set quite a bit higher than the loudest an unamplified cello can get. Ask me how I know this... at least in a US context. The stern replies above saying they’re assholes and you need to come at them fiercely or bring down the authorities and the law just seem counterproductive and illusory to me, especially given the evidence that the other family here has some odd dynamics going on, IMHO.

You’re going to have to convince them. One way to do that is to retaliate, passive aggressively. 8 hours a day of a disco groove played just loud enough to interrupt the practicing musician’s sense of the beat of whatever she’s playing, might get her to change rooms. It would certainly make a point. Doesn’t have to be ear-splitting, just crank up the bass a little bit.
posted by spitbull at 11:50 AM on March 4, 2021 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Just as a by the by, I might have done her a disservice by saying she just refused to remove her music stand. I looked up the original letter I got from her parents, and this is the relevant passage:

"I'm not sure if it is helpful at all to know that it is not a question of her just taking her cello to a different room. She has a very heavy specialist music stool, her music stand, a further stand for her notes and one for her cello and bow and she has to play in front of a full length mirror."
posted by cincinnatus c at 11:54 AM on March 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

The more information you provide, the weirder this gets. Are they abusing this kid by forcing her to play the cello all day? Please let me know if you would like to know where I bought the trampoline I used to jump to that conclusion, but come on. 14 hours a day? Weird.
posted by all about eevee at 11:57 AM on March 4, 2021 [13 favorites]

I was a college music major and part of the reason I dropped piano as an emphasis was that I couldn't get beyond two hours of daily practice without going out of my mind (I might manage three on a day when I had exceptional focus, but I was invariably useless before I hit the four hour mark). Even the really dedicated people who kind of scared me seemed to max out around six hours of practice between diminished returns and other classwork. Actively playing an instrument for that many hours a day truly seems counterproductive between injury, fatigue, and the sorts of bad habits that will develop because of the first two. I'm not a performing musician these days but add me to the chorus saying 14 hours is beyond unreasonable.

But also they should be renting her a practice room.
posted by fedward at 11:59 AM on March 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

"heavy specialist music stool" is incompatible with being a professional cellist, of course. You get a regular stool and a small wooden plank with a large-ish hole for one of the stool legs and a bunch of smaller holes the cello's pin drops into. Or even just a nylon strap with a d-ring, etc. You simply don't get to be fussy about anything except your instrument itself.

Also, 14 hours a day is absolutely nuts for any kind of practicing anything. You'll be losing skill if you do that for long enough. Brains don't work that way.

These people are bizarre and I suspect it's going to take unreasonable methods to get them to change their unreasonable behaviours.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:01 PM on March 4, 2021 [22 favorites]

(It might help to have them hear, from your apartment, just how loud and invasive the music is; sometimes neighbors vastly underestimate how much sound travels, and thus they take complaints less seriously.)
posted by Charity Garfein at 12:10 PM on March 4, 2021 [9 favorites]

Best answer: This is definitely time for your neighbor to pay for a practice space. That's why they exist. They can play there without a mute as long as they want. They can leave their stuff there so they don't have to move it back and forth. If they're unwilling to pay for a practice space and unwilling to change their habits then look into filing a noise complaint but you've been completely reasonable so far. No one should have to hear their neighbors all day long every day.
posted by downtohisturtles at 12:25 PM on March 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Given the circumstances and attitudes you describe it is unrealistic to expect her to use a mute. The answer is yes.
(it would also be unreasonable to ask her to use a mute, if that's what you meant; it is however not unreasonable to expect her to use the mute at certain times, for example for some technical agility exercises).

But there's really more to it than the question of when to use a mute:

If she practices actual 14 hours and this is not your exasperated exaggeration, that's far beyond what needs to be accepted by you. Check with the musicians' union or some similar organization. They should have access to some music noise complaint court cases and the rulings. Usually the discussion in such disagreements gets reduced to the question of whether musical practice is acceptable in private living areas at all, and if yes, how much of it is reasonable. Perhaps there's also something about noise levels and muting when it comes to certain instruments like the tuba, a saxophone, or a grand piano. Knowing more about rules and customs would give you a sense of what to expect or ask from these people.

Now if we look at the study needs that ambitious young musicians might think they have, this is of course individual but...
For really driven professional musicians with soloistic ambitions, the limit is usually someplace around 7 to 8 hours per day with occasional days off. Beyond that any brain simply gets fried (not to talk about the physical strain. The cello isn't a physically easy instrument to play). More normally, one should expect something around 5 or max 6 hours, and then one really needs the rest of the day off. At 14 hours a day I predict that your ordeal is soon over because she'll break down sooner rather than later.

A resourceful teacher should be able to provide some guidance here and to show this poor girl how to learn to practice effectively without her risking sanity and health, along with telling her how to build up a solid technique. These things aren't mutually exclusive. Learning how to work efficiently without wasting time is what ultimately creates the difference in the achievements between music students and young music professionals (why do I know this? Because I supervise orchestral Masters students in writing research papers that address exactly this topic).

When it comes to the decorating arguments these people are serving you, things are a little less straightforward, however.

"It's her whole life!"
Sure thing, but that doesn't say anything about how to manage that life in detail.

"She wouldn't be able to accommodate our requests to practice in a different room some of the time."
Well, if you were talking about reasonable amounts of hours ("reasonable" as outlined above; it's a matter of negotiation and usual [even local perhaps] practice, but likely negotiable within certain boundaries, using a given set of standards as guidance), the room would likely not be negotiable. But for this amount of practicing every day, one might want to look at the explanations:

"...the acoustics weren't as good."
Understandable from a musician's perspective, perhaps, but irrelevant. It's practicing, not performing we're addressing here (some people even prefer bad acoustics for practicing; it helps develop a better tone, because one has to work harder for it).

"she would have to carry a music stand between rooms."
Unless there's something about their daughter we don't know, we're totally in Boo-Hoo land at this juncture. If her choice would be between not being allowed to practice at all or having to carry her music stand between rooms, what would her solution be? Stop playing? This is total bogus. Musicians carry music stands all the time, that's what we get paid for (among rather frustratingly few other things).

"and she didn't like the light".
I've played my instrument for 56 of my 61 years and let me tell you, I never liked the light. Also bogus.

Finally the issue of having to catch up with others, while seeming to be a legitimate concern, is also nonsense in this particular context. Here we're back at practicing hours. Learning how to play music isn't like painting windows (if you lag behind, you can catch up by making more hours the next day).

In short don't listen to that chatter but find out what will be reasonable to request from these people, and negotiate for actual compromises.
posted by Namlit at 12:29 PM on March 4, 2021 [9 favorites]

Best answer: String player here, have been quasi-pro. Yes, it's unreasonable. That's why they make things like the practice cello linked above, entire buildings filled with practice rooms, and more importantly, a practice mute. Which you should buy as a gift for her. I own one. I've used it. Can confirm it's a common thing amongst professionals.

She'll need to play without it every now & then, say an hour a day, but -most- practice is actually better when you have to work to make sound. You're not performing for yourself, after all, you're doing work.

And yeah, she needs to get used to practicing with one, and to carrying stuff she needs from place to place but it sounds like she may need to escape her parents first.
posted by Dashy at 12:39 PM on March 4, 2021 [8 favorites]

To just add to the pile on I guess, I did practice piano and organ (organ with headphones) like this for one summer, and the reasons were 1. I was overdoing it for a competition, which I lost in the last round and didn't get to go to Japan, over 30 years later I am still upset with my obsessed 16-year-old heart, and 2. I was suffering what I now know was PTSD among other things so I was hyperfocused in a very bad way.

Also I was diagnosed with JIA 4 months later and did not pursue a musical career. I guess if the practicing hastened it it was a blessing, but.

Anyways, from also having worked in a conservatory no, she can't use a mute all the time, yes the professional solution is the instrument linked to above, yes, this amount of practice is not good and yes, generally this is exactly what the practice spaces at conservatories are for.

I wonder what else is going on with this family and this child - not that that is your problem. I think in the Ideal Warriorqueen Universe, you would be able to share this font of information with them and they would help to rebalance her experience. I'd suggest that her listening to recordings, with headphones, possibly with scores, some of the time would be just as key to her development as an artist.

Despite my hopes, I'm not sure any of that is going to help you a whole lot when you go to speak with them. It's a very unreasonable number of hours and really should be half that.

I do wonder if they would be willing to invest in some soundproofing, and whether you have anything you can do at your end - I have a friend who had trouble with noise from a downstairs neighbour and she put those interlocking gym floor-type mats down and it helped...maybe they would reimburse you for the cost? I know the look of them is annoying.

I hope she's off to her school soon and the whole issue just goes away.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:48 PM on March 4, 2021

This kid is on a fast track to repetitive strain injuries, and/or back injury (maybe that’s what the specialist chair is about). Either she’ll get in to the college (and will hopefully be physically at that college), or she’ll end up spending most of her days doing physiotherapy. It might be a self-resolving problem.

They want their daughter to succeed, and simply don’t know how to go about it in a safe and productive way. I suppose you could present various arguments (from the POV of a music professor, or physiotherapist :/ ), but that’ll all come across as concern trolling because they know you’re annoyed about the noise, ie you’re not the person to inform them about this stuff.

I think your best bet is to report it (CAB?) and document the noise, and go the court route. Film it at random times of the day for a couple of weeks, and get a decibel measure (there are apps), too (show the dB while filming obviously).

(This might actually save this kid if she is being abused.)

Either the courts will end it, or college acceptance or RSI/low back pain will. Start the legal process anyway, it is there to resolve disputes between people who can’t do it between themselves.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:56 PM on March 4, 2021

Best answer: I am a strings teacher. A practice mute (metal, heavy) will absolutely make some difference. Yes, professionals use them (so they don't get evicted, because they, too, live in a society). It's not ideal, and it won't fix things entirely, but it is better than not practicing at all. She shouldn't play with it all the time because you can't work on tone with one on, but there are PLENTY of things you can work on. Honestly even two hours a day of unmuted practice sounds less bad than what you are dealing with.

If it would genuinely make it better to play in a different spot in the apartment, it is not unreasonable to move a music stand or a stool. At all. What matters for cellists is that the chair is the right *height* and there are plenty of lighter-weight adjustable stools available if it is truly a problem. Light is a problem they should fix and for practicing it is w i l d that they are being this picky about acoustics; this part (and the moving a music stand stuff) honestly does make them sound kind of unhinged.

14 hours a day is eventually going to give her the kind of overuse injury that is tough to come back from and makes people never play their instruments again (and probably pretty quickly- I have seen it happen in high schoolers who play for 3-4 hours a day), but they probably don't want to hear that from you.
posted by charmedimsure at 1:14 PM on March 4, 2021 [9 favorites]

The electric cello would be cheaper.

Really even a high-end one like the ones from NS Designs must be cheaper than even a serious student cello, which I am guessing can run to 4 figures. But I would be surprised if they will consider this, because surely there must be differences in technique and it would probably be vetoed by teachers.
posted by thelonius at 2:11 PM on March 4, 2021

eh I mean 5 figures, $10,000 USD
posted by thelonius at 2:24 PM on March 4, 2021

Response by poster: So many interesting answers, and I'm especially interested in those who've pointed out that 14 hours is way too much practice. A bit of extra information for anyone curious about the situation:

- The 14 hours a day is no exaggeration. She must go to the toilet and eat in this time, though you'd never know it, but this is offset by the fact that she goes beyond the 7am-9pm schedule frequently.
- The parents actually seem like nice people. They are not the stereotypical pushy parents. They seem somewhat bewildered by the situation. I doubt they are forcing her to work these hours.
- Likewise, while the electric cello idea is very interesting, I don't think they could afford it. As I understand, the cello she uses is on loan to them.
- Similarly, this is a Glasgow tenement building. Soundproofing, I think, would be unbelievably expensive were it even possible.

I will update the thread after I meet the parents tomorrow for anyone who is interested.
posted by cincinnatus c at 2:34 PM on March 4, 2021 [22 favorites]

"She has a very heavy specialist music stool, her music stand, a further stand for her notes and one for her cello and bow and she has to play in front of a full length mirror."

This can be replicated in a different room in their flat. Outfitting a second practice space will also come in handy when she goes to college: she'll be able to bring her preferred equipment with her while keeping the first set-up at home. (She'll also have to cope with different acoustics and lighting at school.)

14 hours a day, for months and months? Are any other neighbors (in the same building, or nearby buildings) suffering, too? An instrument mute isn't the issue; please know it's reasonable to ask your downstairs neighbors to be considerate about noise pollution.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:37 PM on March 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

This sounds completely unreasonable to me (and as others have pointed out, excessive practicing will probably damage her body at a certain point, but that's not really your problem.) I think she should rent a rehearsal space/music studio. Here are a couple of options I found, but I bet with the pandemic there are also dozens of empty office buildings in the city that someone would be happy to rent to her.
posted by music for skeletons at 2:43 PM on March 4, 2021

One thing to remember is: do not go into the meeting as an adversary. You have a problem in common, and you want to work together with them to solve it. "Let's come up with a solution together that helps her get the practice she wants and reduces the sound bleed-through for everyone in the building. Whether that's finding some sound proofing, an instrument mute, an different room in your apartment, or a different room in the building, or a practice space somewhere else, or some combination -- we can all work together to make this better."
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:45 PM on March 4, 2021 [9 favorites]

This is a last resort and only when nothing else has worked. But. These guys are assholes. You have tried already to come to a reasonable agreement about this and have accommodated them more than enough. Well, two can play at this. So. Heavy metal music played directly above the room where she is. For 14 hours, every day. According to them, everyone is allowed to play their choice of music for as long as they want so I’m sure they will be perfectly fine with that. If she wants to get into music school and needs a quiet place to practise, it’s no longer her own home so she’ll be forced to do it elsewhere. What a shame.
posted by Jubey at 2:52 PM on March 4, 2021 [4 favorites]

I think you really need to find a solution - by which I mean don't just hope it will get fixed when she's away at college. There is a strong possibility that she's planning on studying at RSAMD and living at home. Continuing to practice at home excessively rather than using the practice rooms sounds like an option.

Another person who thinks that 14 hours is excessive even for a serious student. Pros and music students I have known have all topped out at 8 hours a day.
posted by plonkee at 2:56 PM on March 4, 2021 you simply get nowhere in music without a "fuck everyone else" attitude?
It's quite the opposite. Serious pursuits invariably require compromises to be made by the person who's pursuing the dream.

When you meet with the family tomorrow I'd emphasize the broken promise of reduced noise post-audition. If the parents are nice people, as you say, this might be one small bit of leverage in your favor.
posted by theory at 3:16 PM on March 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

If it isn't her parents pushing her, it seems like there may be something else going on beyond her desire to practice. I say this as a former strings player who knew someone who practiced similar hours, and I remember teachers being concerned about it. If you'd asked the person at the time, they'd have said similar things to this girl, but based on later reveals, I strongly suspect the practice was an escape from other stressors in their life.

Reiterating everyone above who's said that practicing for 14 hours a day, every day, is not normal. From a musical practice standpoint, it is well into counterproductive territory.

Re: mutes: it may be worth clarifying that there are generally two sorts of mutes for strings. The first is rubber and is used in performances from time to time. It will reduce the sound by maybe 20%. The second is a practice mute, which is much heavier and mutes the sound by more like 50-80%. You want her to use a practice mute. It's cheap and effective and yes, real string players really use it, because strings are loud. There's a reason why practice mutes exist!

Re: the mirror: look, it's cello, not ballet. Playing in front of a mirror is useful as a practice technique but it's not something you have to do every time you play.

Anyone who's chosen to play the cello should be used to schlepping heavy things around. I agree with others that "can't move music stool, so heavy" is a BS excuse even if it's actually two music stands and a stool.

There must be other neighbors who are being affected by this. If your meeting tomorrow isn't productive, I think looking into others being affected may be the way to go.
posted by pie ninja at 3:21 PM on March 4, 2021 [13 favorites]

Upon reading your updates, as well as the original post, I have some suspicions that the cellist may be obsessing to a very unhealthy degree, given that she goes over the 14 hour practice period frequently and the parents seem bewildered. Not liking the light or acoustics in the other room and not wanting to move the special heavy stool also reads like she may have some sensory issues or something else going on. None of that is your problem, of course, but I will add my voice to the chorus of "not normal".

If a further conversation with the parents does not eventually lead to a reduction in noise, you can make noise complaints to your local council (as linked upthread), which doesn't sound like it would involve actual police.
posted by bedhead at 3:26 PM on March 4, 2021 [7 favorites]

Perhaps she could borrow an electric cello from the same place as she got the acoustic one?
posted by kate4914 at 4:08 PM on March 4, 2021

The parents actually seem like nice people. They are not the stereotypical pushy parents. They seem somewhat bewildered by the situation. I doubt they are forcing her to work these hours.

Yeah, for all my wise-assery above, 14 hours a day is just Not Right. Counterproductive in daily musical ability terms, probably physically damaging in the medium or long term.

If the parents are genuinely confused by this, that may be your best approach - you've talked to musician friends, practicing this much is actually a bad idea, you're not just looking to make your life quieter but to cooperate with her parents in improving their daughter's practice habits and practice/life balance.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:16 PM on March 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

The parents actually seem like nice people. They are not the stereotypical pushy parents. They seem somewhat bewildered by the situation. I doubt they are forcing her to work these hours.

Nthing bedhead's point, it sounds like there's Something Else going on here. Some of the details suggest that this could be an autistic special interest sort of scenario, which may complicate matters.
posted by blerghamot at 4:55 PM on March 4, 2021

Look, here's the very most profound thing I can share about practicing 14h a day: the most important practice happens outside of the practice room.

In my present context as a professional brain specialist I can say with great certainty that even fully formed adults cannot pay close, focused, productive attention for more than, really, a, scant few hours a day.

Beyond physical injury, 14h a day is just ingraining inattentive, bad habits. I'll show that as both a musician and a neuroscientist. Not that this advice has any prayer of reaching her, but here it is anyway, universe.
posted by Dashy at 5:27 PM on March 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

You really need to get the council involved. This is not the same as calling the police, or taking the neighbours to court. The council have a team specifically for noise complaints. They will come to your house and listen to confirm what's happening. They can issue statutory notices requiring the neighbours to stop, and fine them if they don't. They can confiscate the cello if they really have to.

The best time to call them would have been months ago, and regularly since, so that by now they would already have a lengthy file documenting that this has been going on every day since then.

The second best time is now.
posted by automatronic at 7:07 PM on March 4, 2021 [9 favorites]

Something others have raised but doesn't appear to be answered/confirmed: are there other neighbors in the building? If so, how could they also not be going crazy from 14 hour daily cello music (in what appears to be described as a not very well soundproofed tenement building). Even if you get it the worst by proximity, there is no way others are not affected.

So I do not have a solution for you, but if the meeting does not produce a useful outcome you have to reach out to other neighbors and see if they are also bothered. And find a way to make it clear just how inconsiderate, how bothersome it is to everyone around them; and as tough as it may be for them to hear, they are bringing down everyone else's quality of life by allowing this behavior to continue.
posted by kittysockpuppet at 7:20 PM on March 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Once upon a time I was a serious high school string musician, went off to a summer music camp where the expectation was 4-5 hours/day of practice (some other camps were more in the 5-7 range, but this one believed in balance), and after 3 weeks came home with repetitive stress injuries that made it clear being a professional musician wasn’t in the cards for me. Echoing the many, many musicians above that 14 hours/day of practice is unhealthy and obsessive for a musician at any point in their career.
posted by A Blue Moon at 8:00 PM on March 4, 2021 [4 favorites]

Just nthing that more than 3-5 hours a practice a day is a fast track to repetitive stress injuries and a prematurely short end to her career in music. The best brain research now is that rest is necessary both to physical and mental learning - what she is doing is absolutely counterproductive. It's not about practicing more, it's about practicing smarter and more effectively. Presenting your concerns for her health and well-being might be a better approach than complaining.
posted by epanalepsis at 6:51 AM on March 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Something that no one has brought up, and I'm surprised--if she is really practicing 14 hours a day (and I do believe you), how the hell is she doing any other school work? Is this a disparity between the British/Scottish school system and the American system (i.e., if she's far along enough in school that she's auditioning for college, does she not have any other coursework to complete?) or is it something that might need referral to truancy/school administration for a check-in?
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:22 AM on March 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would so not be calling school authorities or the council or whatever. This is a kid obsessed with classical music. I was in fact trying to hint above, as later folks said explicitly, that there’s a possibility this is OCD or spectrum behavior. And even if it is, that’s not your problem or really your business and plenty of great musicians have been on the spectrum and leveraged it as a sort of advantage for intensely focused practicing.

It’s a teenage girl, playing classical music, with nice but bewildered parents. Unless you do think she’s being abused, and it sounds like you are pretty sure they aren’t making her practice that much, a gentle touch is the only way forward here that doesn’t make you an asshole. Negotiate in good faith and call attention to prior assurances of course, enlist any neighbors who might also be bothered, but don’t create An Incident. If you can’t get anywhere with another round of good faith discussion, then go passive aggressive as I described above. White noise is generally quite good at blocking an acoustic instrument in another room, as would be your favorite bass-heavy pop music, which if you can hear her, she can hear from your apartment for sure even at a modest volume, and that would interfere with my practice discipline quite a bit so it might force her to make the effort to change rooms. (A thought, perhaps the other room bothers a different neighbor?)

Otherwise I’ll remain contrarian here and suggest everyone has pandemic stress from living on top of each other, teenagers have had a particularly hard time through the pandemic with reduced social interaction, this kid’s time in her parent’s flat appears to be coming to an end, she may be disabled in ways that make her music more important to her than for most, and there are technical solutions that get you partway there, which could also include you taking steps to provide white noise or wear noise-canceling headphones.

I get the impulse to be angry and assertive. Constant noise pollution is really stressful even if it’s beautiful music. Practicing classical music involves endless repetition of short sections so that can be especially irritating to an unwilling auditor. You have every right to peace and quiet within the norms of your community and at times when most people expect their neighbors to be quiet.

But she’s a teenage girl passionately devoted to her music. Maybe too passionately but that isn’t your business if it’s her decision. You sound like a kind person who’s been pretty tolerant and 14 hours a day of cello practice surely must make you a little nuts sometimes. Don’t let it block out your impulse to kindness here.
posted by spitbull at 10:28 AM on March 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Answering some questions:

• There are two other apartments that would be affected by this. The first, below the cello, must get it worse than us, but I don't really speak to them much since I was the one who discovered (by standing on it in the dark, in fact) their cat dead a couple of winters ago (for real!). I may have a word with them if I see them on the stairs, but it's awkward. With the other flat, it would be the spare room taking the brunt of it, and one of the students living there plays piano extremely loudly (at not much beyond beginner level and for just an hour or two at a time), so is probably glad of the distraction.

• As for her schooling, we're in lockdown here still, so there is no school. During September to December, she did go to school for a couple of hours a day, so during these months it was only 12-13 hours a day of practice. I don't really know how it works. The mum is a local councillor and I am sure that whatever they are doing is 100% according to those kinds of rules.

• Despite everything, I am mindful that, as Spitbull says, this is a teenage girl. I can't realistically see myself as a 47-year-old man hammering on the ceiling of a girl like that or blasting heavy metal music. I'm going to have to live with these people, who in every other way seem perfectly lovely, for a long time after their daughter leaves (which please God could be soon). I'm not ruling out making a noise complaint, but that's as crazy as I'm probably going to get.

• And as bad as it sounds, these people aren't complete monsters. Even though they refused to make any changes to the everyday routine back in the autumn, they did agree that she would move on occasions where it was essential to us. So about once a month, she does actually move her stool, her mirror, etc so my partner can record her podcast in peace. I get the feeling once a month is about their limit, though.

• I don't know anything about the OCD/spectrum angle. Could be.

• We didn't end up meeting today. The mum was busy at work so asked for my email address to send an email. We can meet in person after if needed, she says. I am just gonna try to stay chill.
posted by cincinnatus c at 11:50 AM on March 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

When you meet to talk, try to be prepared to propose rather fewer, better-phrased, solutions, and also listen a lot. Hear them out as to whether they're being held hostage by an obsessive teenager or what else might be going on there. Ask them about the medium- and long-term perspective of it all. Take notes but try not to get excited at that moment. Make your decision about how to act, what type of complaint avenues to pursue, after the discussion.

[[Also don't even consider considering having to tell yourself, or random mefites, that you're not considering banging on the wall or playing heavy metal music as a retribution. It's really not an option, certainly not if you are interested in an actual solution here.]]
posted by Namlit at 12:15 PM on March 5, 2021

cincinnatus c, you and your partner are the lovely people: "[...] they did agree that she would move on occasions where it was essential to us. So about once a month, she does actually move her stool, her mirror, etc so my partner can record her podcast in peace." I mean -- why not leave the equipment in the new spot for a week, or even two, to give your extraordinarily accommodating neighbors a break?!

"I get the feeling once a month is about their limit, though." You can have limits, too, OP. Best wishes for a fair resolution to this situation.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:24 PM on March 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

Take up the bagpipes.
posted by Vortisaur at 3:09 PM on March 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Former violin and upright bass player here. I think you're about to get an earful from the parents, which is understandable, but you have to decide how much of it is your problem.

It's all very well to sympathize with someone, but it doesn't resolve the issue: they are making your life a living hell by indulging their daughter's constant music practice. I believe you need to take a stance of, this is making my life horrible, what are you going to do about it? Rather than listen to their pleas. Because that's what you did in the past, and it didn't work. Shame on you once, but not again.

Perhaps a stern wording of "this is unacceptable and cannot continue" will help. I am sure I had a lot of issues with my siblings when I was practicing violin (and even worse, my brother on the trumpet), but we lived in a single family home. I am trying to imagine practicing that many hours per day, and I cannot. My fingers were sore, my back and arm would ache, I couldn't get the music or the tone right, but I would never have done it for 14 hours. That's just bizarre, and I hope you can convey that to her parents, how highly unusual this is, and I was first string violin and I never practiced beyond 2-3 hours a day (for my small school).

I would ask how they are allowing a child to sit at a cello that long, and say they are nice people. How are they letting a child drive this whole noise machine? If it were my child, I would in no way allow them to do that and blame the child for it, saying it's their whole life. It's just not normal, in any circumstance, no matter what spin you put on it, for any human being to sit at a musical instrument and play it for 14 hours a day. Let alone a teenager. I can't even sit at a computer for 14 hours a day, let alone think of playing the violin or bass that long.

There's something really off here, it's not right. Not just the noise, but the whole several hours per day thing. Why are they allowing her to do this in the first place? I don't think it's the council you should be calling, but the social services. It's not right.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:54 PM on March 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

All school-age kids still have to do school even during lockdown. Teachers are still working full-time and pupils have to participate online. Thus it’s still odd that she doesn’t have time for this. I guess she must have dropped out to play cello full time, literally, or is over 18.

I’ll post back if I find the conservatoire audition schedules. I’m sorry you’re in this odd situation and hope there’s a resolution.
posted by lokta at 4:14 AM on March 6, 2021

Quick note - (some?) auditions are virtual now, so that explains needing the good lighting, for filming. This will all be for one single-take short video though.
posted by lokta at 4:17 AM on March 6, 2021

Pretty sure auditions are Oct/Nov.
posted by lokta at 4:20 AM on March 6, 2021

RCS BMus auditions are via recording, and had a submission deadline of 16 October, unless she's going for BEd, which is 31 March. Could be the latter, though that seems even stranger that she should be rehearsing for so long.

As someone else has commented, I'd say there's a fair likelihood of her staying at home while she studies at RCS though, so it might be a longer-term issue.
posted by penguin pie at 4:44 AM on March 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

I’m so sorry you’re going through this. It sounds like you’re a lovely person, and you’re giving these people all the benefit of the doubt, which is very kind. But I do hope you’ll also remember that you are deserving of kindness. You deserve to have some waking hours that are quiet and peaceful.

The accomodations you are asking for - using a mute, reducing practice hours, changing rooms - are extremely reasonable. Doing these things will not destroy her dreams of being a musician. (If anything will, it’ll be her triggering RSI by practicing this damn much.)

The detail that she was able to move to another room, but only for one day a month, is fascinating to me. As I said above - she’s chosen to play the cello! Carrying heavy items on a regular basis is part of the deal! I have to wonder if the real reason is that the neighbors who are closer to the alternate practice room have made more noise about this than you have, and they’ve choosing to affect you more because you’re the easier target.

The standard advice in these sorts of situations is to have the neighbor turn on the noise and come to your apartment to see what it’s like on your end, because in many cases they just don’t understand how bad it is. That isn’t possible here, since (a) Covid and (b) the source of the noise is the person who needs to understand.

But I wonder if you could make a video? Just a short day-in-the-life thing. Take a short recording when the noise starts (showing the time on a clock), each time the noise interrupts you or stops you from doing something you want or need to do, and when the noise finally ends (again, showing the time). Give a short description to the camera of how it’s affecting you. “I need to be on a conference call now, but my coworkers will have trouble understanding me.” “I want to sit on the porch and read, but the noise is too loud for me to concentrate on my book.” “I am wearing earplugs and I can still hear this.” Include any particularly annoying bits where she’s practicing scales, or one run of the same notes endlessly. (I assume she does this. If not, she’s getting even less out of those 14 hours daily than we thought.)

And then send the video to her mother, so they and their daughter can see what it looks like from your end. Perhaps they’re just sociopaths, and they won’t care, but there’s at least a chance that they’re good people in a bad situation who don’t understand what it sounds like from your end.
posted by pie ninja at 5:39 AM on March 6, 2021 [4 favorites]

You have handled this situation so far with grace and tact. It's time to take the gloves off.

You have a right to quiet enjoyment (it's called other things in other countries). Tell the young 'cello player to rent a practice studio.
posted by james33 at 9:15 AM on March 6, 2021

In the US$4000-$6000 range you can get a portable practice room that you can set up inside another room or apartment and just practice away.

- Unlike the mute idea, this will actually dampen the sound a lot. In the apartment above or below you still might be able to hear the instrument, just barely. But this would be the max.

- This is the exact type of practice room every music school student will be practicing in, so might as well get used to it now.

- You could easily mount a mirror inside it.

Sounds like they won't have the $$$ for such a thing, but it is still a reasonable option you could put out there.
posted by flug at 10:11 AM on March 6, 2021

Best answer: As a working musician (violin and even occasionally bagpipe) I can tell you that all of the working musicians I know care about how their home playing (practice, rehearsal, composing) affects their neighbors. We know it when we choose to move into a new place. You won't find many good drummers or conga players actually playing inside their apartments. (Urban bagpipers have to find a practice space outside: park islands inside loud city traffic circles work best.) This cellist is a student supported by her parents. If they won't take steps for the sake of neighborliness, I suggest either blasting a selection of loud Serbian brass band recordings played at full volume (works for me!) or buying yourself some inexpensive conga drums.

As for muting cello... when practicing fiddle at night in my flat with thin walls I use a rubber or metal fiddle bridge mute plus a scarf wrapped around the body of the instrument (beneath the strings). It really does cut the sound by 70%.
posted by zaelic at 11:08 AM on March 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Final update...

Her parents sent me an email about the situation. This excerpt is a good example of why I've found their attitude so frustrating:

"We did encourage [their daughter] to step down her practice and playing in February when she was finally able to take a breather. We had intended going away on holiday within Scotland and she should have been away for a three week residency over this period. Unfortunately, with the new lockdown, these and all the other things she might normally have otherwise done over this time, not least some kind of normal teenage social existence with her friends, have not been not possible. Rather than dwell on this she has continued to focus on her playing and we are hard pressed to argue against this given that as well as being her work, it is really what has got her through this period. We are very aware of how difficult it has been for so many young people and we find the fact she has remained positive, engaged and motivated all this time incredible given everything she has missed and how drawn out and complicated the whole college process was. We do appreciate the huge frustration this must be causing you. Unfortunately, given the ongoing restrictions, we are not in position to do very much about it."

As I said, they're not monsters, but they put on this weirdly passive helplessness when it comes to their daughter.

HOWEVER, the big news is that the daughter was successful in all of her music college applications, and will be moving to London in August. The parents have also said she will move to a different room, at last, for 2.5 days a week from now on. Given the fruitlessness of previous negotiation, I'm happy with this outcome.
posted by cincinnatus c at 9:46 AM on March 8, 2021 [10 favorites]

2.5 days? Now Daughter's willing to move that terribly heavy specialist music stool (and the two stands, etc.) twice in a single day? OP, the email excerpt is infuriating and insulting; everyone has been stuck at home more because of the lockdowns, for months, and their family's self-centeredness has been making it harder on their neighbors, for months. These people don't "appreciate the huge frustration" this bizarre situation "must be" causing you and others. Also, speculation is unnecessary! They certainly know the frustration: even if they lacked all common sense, or personally adored 14 hours of cello practice every. single. day, their slipperiness and inaction means you've been forced to very politely broach the subject multiple times.

Possible reply to email: What wonderful news for your family! Send a copy of the acceptance letter from the college Daughter has chosen from the crowded field. Partner and I will have it professionally framed, a gift celebrating her success after so much hard work under such trying circumstances. To think, someday we'll be able to say we knew her when!
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:21 AM on March 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

If they end up backsliding on their 2.5 (!) day/week promise, I'd bring up your own mental health, and how they could apply the savings from the canceled trip and residency toward buying, or renting, an electric instrument

we are not in position to do very much about it

...and the fact that if she's old enough that her parents aren't in a position to do anything about her behavior, then she's old enough to have this conversation with you herself and find out first-hand what she's been doing to her neighbors.

Anyway, you're very nice, and I hope the new arrangement works for you.
posted by trig at 11:28 AM on March 8, 2021 [5 favorites]

If the parents are unable/afraid to set boundaries for their daughter - especially if her behaviour is affecting other people - then they’re storing up problems for her in the future. I think you’re way too nice; I would have had the Council round months ago.
posted by veebs at 11:34 AM on March 10, 2021

DOW, that's a bunch of shite! In my opinion. You need to push back more. Yes, she's doing blah blah but that doesn't concern you and they need to address that immediately.

Don't give in and be so nice. It's your house and your home they are invading, after all. Stick up for yourself.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:02 PM on March 10, 2021

I said it several times above, but your best solution is passive-aggressive. Bass heavy pop music with a driving beat, played at a moderate volume from whenever her practice time exceeds two or three hours straight. If you can hear her, she will hear that. And it will disrupt and distract her practice if the beat is audible. Which it will be. Having an audible beat that isn’t the one you’re playing to is super frustrating for a practicing musician. The message will be quite clear.

I bet it takes less than a week to make a point of mutually assured annoyance leading to compromise. What will they do, complain about your love of EDM grooves? Hey, it’s a pandemic. The dance clubs are all closed.

Again, you don’t need to blast it. Just turn up the bass.

Agree their response is bizarre and concerning. Something is not right about these people.

I feel sorry for this child. She is headed for a bad fall. But I’m sorry for you too.

Yea you could always take up bagpipes or heavy metal bass.
posted by spitbull at 4:53 AM on April 8, 2021

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