When learning an instrument, everyone has to begin somewhere. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time before you reach “ace” status, and others may not be quite as appreciative of your talent (or lack thereof). Even if you are the master of your instrument or a vocal virtuoso, playing music in confined spaces can be loud, and you will likely get complaints from neighbors, no matter your skill level.
This problem is especially troublesome when you live in an apartment complex where your neighbors may live just beyond the nearest wall. A few blasts from a trumpet, cymbal crashes, or well-placed power chords can result in hammering on the wall or a terse in-person visit from local music critics (or volume haters).
However, other solutions such as sound dampening tiles are available outside of giving up your music aspirations. Here are some tips for practicing music in your apartment without provoking your neighbors:
Meet Your Neighbors
Before you take drastic action, it’s better to get a read on the situation. The best way to do this is by investigating who your neighbors are and their living situations and preferences. While it may take a bit of courage if you are not an extrovert, many neighbors will appreciate you coming to them in advance to let them know that you are a musician and wish to find a solution for practice that will not cause discomfort.
The fewer neighbors you have, the greater chance that you can work something out so that everyone is happy. You may discover that some of your neighbors are at work or out of their apartments regularly at certain times on specific days of the week, so those may be good days for you to practice. Others may accept a certain volume level, and you can work with them to find out what that is. If your instrument’s lowest volume is not going to work, other possibilities on this list may be acceptable.
Use Headphones if Appropriate
If you have an instrument that plugs in, such as a guitar, bass guitar, keyboard, or even electronic drum set, you can likely get as much solo practice as you want if you’re willing to plug your instrument into headphones. You can usually find headphone jack adaptors that will allow you to plug headphones into an amplifier, so any instrument you can plug into it will feed through your earpieces so that neighbors or roommates are not disturbed.
Use Specialized Tools or Alternatives to Reduce Volume
While many instruments do not produce output through amplifiers, other ways exist to reduce the volume. Many brass instruments have mutes that fit inside the bells, and while this does change the sound somewhat, the output is not as significant. This may help you keep your sound at an acceptable level.
Pianos, guitars, and select other instruments have acoustic versions which play at lower volumes and are far less disturbing than when the walls are rattling from a bass guitar amp, for example. Other than dampening the noise, another advantage is that you do not need headphones, so you can play with other acoustic musicians. Even drum sets have practice pads or wire brushes that lower the volume. Electronic drum sets even have volume levels that you can adjust.
Soundproof Your Space
Changing your instrument’s sound is not the only way to manage sound; you can also customize your room to prevent as much sound from escaping. This method is excellent, especially if you have a roommate that is not a fan of your music sessions.
You can buy acoustic panels or blankets to dampen the sound, or you can use cheaper alternatives such as felt tiles. The purpose is to prevent sound from reflecting off hard surfaces, so you can also hang your own blankets or sheets to help with this. Rooms with rugs are a plus, but you can put down rugs, mats, or other soft materials on the floor to reduce sound reflection.
Bass frequencies are some of the hardest to contain, and they tend to bounce around in corners, building up in intensity. You can purchase bass traps to put in the corners or place objects or furniture in these areas to dampen the sound. Within the room itself, furniture made from soft materials provides a solid density that can help in your quest for sound dampening.
One of the most vital points when soundproofing is to prevent sound from escaping your room. You will need thick curtains or drapes to cover any windows and need to block gaps under and around doors. This can be as simple as stuffing a towel underneath, but you can also get door sweeps or blankets that you can hang over the entire door.
Find an Alternate Venue
If all else fails, you can seek a better place to practice, especially if you have a band, since more instruments equal exponentially more sound. Family members or friends may have a home away from neighbors where you can work out practice times on certain days.
Some schools or colleges have spaces you might be able to use, but make sure to get permission and discuss appropriate times. Community centers and churches may have extra space available as well. If anyone in the neighborhood has a detached garage, that is also an excellent choice – especially if there are no other close neighbors.
A unique possibility is to check with local storage facilities. You might be able to arrange a deal to rent space by the hour or even rent a monthly unit that you can use for practice, which serves as a safe place to store your gear so you won’t have to transport it to practice. Again, you should get permission to use the unit for this purpose and ensure that you have electricity and climate control.
The Bottom Line
Living in an apartment can make it challenging to practice your instrument, but there are plenty of alternatives if you are willing to put forth a little time and effort. Check with your neighbors to see if you have any time that will work first, but if not, you can use headphones or find quieter instrument solutions, soundproof your space so that most of your sound remains in the room, or find another place where you can play without disturbing anyone.