V.com weekend vote: Can you practice with other people around?

September 10, 2023, 1:22 PM · Practicing is not the same as performing. Instead, it is a process of learning, improving, correcting, risking and making mistakes.

So when you go to practice your violin, viola, cello, piano or other instrument, it's not going to sound like a polished performance. There will be stops, starts, mis-steps, corrections, repetitions, and technical things like scales.

practice room

I mentioned there is risk - because when you are trying something new or something especially difficult, it takes courage to even get started, to face the difficulties, to do the work. It's hard to do, if you feel "judged."

There is a reason we call it "wood-shedding": when you have to go practice and get your act together to learn a part, you go out in the wood shed, where no one can hear you!

The thing is, I don't have a wood shed - I don't know a lot of people who do. I live in a pretty tight urban environment, where my family and neighbors can definitely hear me if I practice. I can't even close the door to my studio, the way my house is set up! This definitely limits the time of day when I can practice - and really get lost in practice.

Students certainly have this issue; I can remember going from being at home, where I could practice in the basement, to going to college, where one had to go to the "practice rooms." And those practice rooms were not sound-proof, you could definitely hear the people around you. If I'm thinking, "Ah, there are Sally's thirds in the last movement of the Bruch," then definitely other people could hear me, too. Not a comforting thought.

Having the family around can also be limiting, unless you just have completely non-judgmental family members who simply love to hear any sound you make. (In college I used to practice in the basement of my dorm when I didn't want to go to the practice rooms - I learned years later that one of my dear non-music-major friends used to go listen!) But, sometimes you have a family member who finds it annoying, or who wants to correct you, etc.

Some people enjoy having a little audience!

What is your practice situation? Do you have a nice, private room where you can close the door? Are you able to concentrate on practicing when other people are in the next room, whether they are friends, relatives or neighbors? Please participate in the vote and then share.

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September 10, 2023 at 08:38 PM · Being in my mid 70's I live in a house with my wife and a cat. While I'm technically alone in my "studio" I don't like others when I am "practicing" or just playing for my own enjoyment.

I don't like distractions because maintaining focus is essential for me.

I still have a heavy practice mute in my case that I needed when we lived in an apartment.

September 10, 2023 at 08:56 PM · I mostly use an electric Yamaha violin with out using the amp, instead using just the sound of the strings under my ear. It is quite suitable and I don't disturb anyone nearby.

September 10, 2023 at 09:37 PM · I didn't vote, since none of the responses really matches my situation. I can practice with anyone around, so long as they don't actively interrupt me or have conversations. If someone is sitting nearby minding their own business on the computer or there's food being made in the kitchen nearby or other background noise, I don't mind.

September 10, 2023 at 09:37 PM · “I actually enjoy practicing with people nearby.” This is partly because I also like to perform; and I break up practice sessions to do what one of my teachers told me: “Now, give a performance of it.”

Still, for hard-core practice, I prefer to be alone in whatever practice room I’m using, though I’m happy to have my audiences nearby outside the room where they can hear but not see me. When I started piano at 7 y/o, I couldn’t isolate myself from the rest of the family during practice; but when I switched to violin not long afterward, I could take this portable instrument to my own room, where I could really dig in and concentrate.

As I’ve said before, I practice and play late afternoon/early evening sessions in the garage about 8 months each year. The garage has acoustics I really like, and it’s warm enough here about 8 months of a typical year to do this. Practicing and playing in the garage gives me added incentive to make a practice session as musical and listenable as I can - tone production, intonation, bow control, phrasing - right from the first notes.

The teenage kids next door play a lot of basketball in their driveway, about 150 feet away from my garage. I’m aware of them, and they’re aware of me, although my foam earplugs muffle distant sounds and help my concentration - in addition to giving good ear protection when playing this instrument that sits about 3 inches from the left ear.

A neighbor on the other side of me told me that their 18-y/o son, the classic school jock type, would sit in his car and listen for a spell before starting the motor and heading out to wherever he was going.

A neighbor across the street, a retired police officer, told me: “You’ve got an audience for your violin.” He and his wife have sometimes sat out on their porch or in their own garage to listen.

I have more firsthand examples like these; but the few given above have convinced me that more people than we might suspect will sit and listen to string players playing classical music.

September 10, 2023 at 10:06 PM · I can practice anywhere. It doesn’t matter if I’m alone or not. Just use a metal barrel shaped practice mute. Focus on the Music, After a while you won’t notice anything, just what you are doing. And always use a metronome or a recording and accompaniment to play with.

September 11, 2023 at 04:34 AM · No problem, I don't care who hears me. But I do use come kind of mute most of the time to not interfere with what the others in the family are doing and protect what is left of my hearing.

The practicing that I must do alone is vocal/singing, especially those weird sounding warmup exercises that singers do. I will even close the windows so that the neighbors or people walking by can't hear me. Perhaps someone on the panel has some insight into that apparent contradiction. Or, maybe someone can invent a practice mute for singers.

September 11, 2023 at 04:48 AM · You don't have my answer, which is yes, I can if I have to, but I'd rather not. I have gotten used to it, and it doesn't affect the quality of my practice anymore, but I don't enjoy it.

September 11, 2023 at 11:54 AM · Some days I can find myself very self-conscience. Fortunately, I have a Dead Mute for my violin and as for the electric bass guitars I have a pocket amp that I connect to the bass, and headphones. When I need to play along to a recording, I use the Bluetooth feature on the headphones and whatever device is playing the recorded music whether my phone, laptop, etc.

When my nervous/anxiety disorder is not affecting me, or I am rehearsing my part for an up-and-coming gig I will play openly. My neighbors don't mind, and it whets the appetite for our show!

September 11, 2023 at 12:04 PM · it's really not pleasant to have to hear someone really practicing (as opposed to playing through a piece they are going to perform soon and can already play well). but really practicing, you have to do alone, both for your own concentration as for the well-being of the others!

September 11, 2023 at 03:48 PM · Something I read a long time ago; A reporter asked Heifetz' next-door neighbor what it was like living there. The reply was something like " I like coffee, but I wouldn't like living next to a coffee factory."

September 11, 2023 at 09:44 PM · I have very kind neighbours. Those who have spoken to me about my practice say they like it. Mind you, I do limit hard core practice, when I am trying to learn something, to rather short periods within my practice time, and then I do tend to use a mute.

September 12, 2023 at 01:29 PM · This is an interesting topic. As young children we probably did not go to concerts. We also likely practiced alone and did not yet perform. In this way, this early music is not social. It can be isolating and introspective. Listening to music and practicing.

It is interesting how such beginnings play out. Some people change and adapt to other circumstances. Others do not.

For me, I do not practice as effectively when I am not alone. I try to block other things out. I am not integrated into the environment. I am in a mental cocoon. I am not giving a concert.

September 12, 2023 at 09:02 PM · Whether you like it or not, if you get used to practicing (imperfectly and worse) when others are present you are effectively playing in public even when your sound is awful and you are making mistakes - you are are well on your way to bullet-proofing yourself against performance anxiety. Indeed, only being heard when you think you are near perfection is a terrific way to make it worse.

September 13, 2023 at 11:36 AM · What Elise Stanley said. Very good point! and I might add, just smile, shrug, and carry on. If at all possible don't give mistakes away, just go back and work through it. That's what I need to learn to do.

September 14, 2023 at 11:35 AM · Elise makes a very wise point!

September 17, 2023 at 06:49 AM · Sausage making is never pretty. I don't like exposing anyone to the repetitive, meticulous torture of my practicing.

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