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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Have you ever received a noise complaint from a neighbor?

July 14, 2013 at 4:42 AM

"Excuse me, you've been playing that fiddle all day and night, would you STOP?"

None of us wants to hear those words. Personally, I'm lucky enough to have thick walls and tolerant neighbors, knock on wood. But the stories I've heard! One friend, in answer to a lawsuit, had to take measurements of the decibels surrounding her dwelling, to prove that her viola playing didn't exceed city noise ordinances.

Just last week, the New York Post reported on an off-Broadway composer who is facing a $30,000 lawsuit from his neighbor in Central Park West, due to his persistent piano playing.

On the other side of it, the Civil Liberties Union won a lawsuit on behalf of a violinist whose playing exceeded noise limits for Ocean City, Maryland's Boardwalk. A judge ruled that the city could not enforce its noise ordinance, which said that music on the Boardwalk was not permitted if it was be audible beyond a 30-foot range.

Nonetheless, it's a problem we all face: how to be considerate but yet practice the amount we need to practice. Have you ever received a complaint, from a neighbor, roommate, hotel neighbor, etc.? Tell us your story!

From David Beck
Posted on July 14, 2013 at 6:15 AM
For most of my life I have been lucky, with mostly thick neighbors and tolerant walls. But back in my bed-sit days folk have sometimes been irritated to the point of asking me to shut up. Tunes are tolerated; repetitive technical work is not, IMHO.
The Ocean City case surprised me. It's not that they wanted to silence an honest fiddler engaging in domestic practice; as I understand the case, this was about someone playing in a public area accompanied by a boom-box.
Was this man accompanied by a pathetic-looking scruffy dog ? Did he have a collection box ? Did he have a placard round his neck that read "HOMELESS" ??
Had the City Authorities framed their local regulations differently they could have easily silenced this violinist. The 30-foot audibility rule is a joke - that's no distance at all for the sound of a half-decently-played fiddle to carry since most concert halls are longer than that.
Back to the drawing board, City Fathers.

From Brian Kelly
Posted on July 14, 2013 at 8:29 AM
When I first began learning the violin my next door neighbour asked me to close the windows as she did not like the violin so I complied.

When I travel and stay in hotels I always practise with a large rubber mute on the bridge. This seems to reduce the volume by about half.

I am currently having an electric violin (skeleton body/silent type) set up so that I can practise anytime and anywhere with headphones on. Being more robust it may become my travelling violin so it will not matter if it goes as checked baggage either.

Posted on July 14, 2013 at 9:55 AM
Funny you should bring this subject up. I started relearning my violin after almost 4 decades. I was inspired by a friend with a silent electric guitar. I acquired a cheap silent electric violin of the type mentioned by Brian Kelly in the previous post. I valued my neighbour’s friendship and knew how bad I would sound after all this time. I eventually worked my way backwards to an acoustic. Also found an interesting instrument called a quiet violin which is still acoustic but rather thin. I saw some old drawings of practice instruments and have seen a Manby Practice Violin which was the strings on a solid body. Manby advertised this in the early 1900’s as a necessity to ensure the peace and tranquillity of a home and the neighbourhood. Mustn’t be too bad though. Neighbour don’t mind when I crank up the amp as long as it’s not too late at night.

From Dimitri Musafia
Posted on July 14, 2013 at 10:15 AM
My daughter had this problem when she was studying the piano (I can say this on, can't I?) :-)

As do many people in Europe, we live in a condo where the walls seem to amplify sound rather than snuff it out. Our neighbor on the other side of the wall compained continuously about the piano so we tried to soundproof the wall and mute the piano, even by filling it with beach towels. Of course any practising was within regular hours.

One afternoon my daughter was practising her Debussy and the neighbor lady was heard uttering obcenities directed at my daughter. That was the final straw.

I called the lady's landlord (she was renting) and lodged a complaint of my own for the foul langauge directed to a minor. The landlord sided with us and kicked the lady out. We made an offer for the property on the other side of the wall and bought it, uniting the two condos and now we have the whole floor of the building to ourselves.

Haha! He who laughs last...

From Nicky Paxton
Posted on July 14, 2013 at 10:23 AM
I can identify with Dimitri. It's a condition of the flats in which I live is that musical instruments are not to be played between 11 pm and 9 am. My previous neighbours in the flat above mine banged on the floor on (I think)four occasions if I was playing forte and unwittingly exceeded the time limit. The first two times this happened I thought it was an accident, but they never verbally complained. Nowadays, if practising after about 10.30 pm I use a mute - like Brian, I find that this cuts down the volume to about half - and keep an eye on the time.

Edit: As to David's post about a street violinist perhaps having "a pathetic-looking scruffy dog", I have never had the enterprise to go up to a beggar accompanied by such and say "I say, old chap; if you're begging, how do you afford a dog?"

From Zlata Brouwer
Posted on July 14, 2013 at 10:39 AM
I've got Neanderthals as neighbors... I haven't once seen them smile or say a full sentence (instead of just screaming nasty words to each other... or to me if I play violin).

The have even called the police about my violin play and they have reduced it to two hours on four days a week within fixed hours...

I now teach all my students in their houses (which costs me a lot more hours traveling, but the advantage is that they make coffee for me :D).

I practice in my violin shop in the evenings and weekends.

Now I have a Volkswagen van which I have isolated and I drive to a place where not much people pass by, so I can also study in office hours.

It's absolutely not ideal and costs me a lot of effort carrying around my violin everywhere, but at least I can play somewhere whenever I want.

My (big?) dream is to have a music room, where I can play and teach day and night... of course with a nice antique bookcase for my sheet music and a grand piano (I don't know exactly why, maybe to put a glass of wine on during quartet rehearsals...)

I wish you all good luck with finding solutions to this problem and I wish for all musicians in the world that they can practice whenever they like... learning to play music is already hard enough as it is, isn't it?

Don't let anyone ruin your musical dreams, no matter on which level you play.

Have a nice Sunday!

From Eric Brahinsky
Posted on July 14, 2013 at 12:14 PM
I recall having had a string quartet rehearsal in my Florida apartment interrupted by the doorbell ringing; I opened the door to find an armed police officer standing there. That was the end of that rehearsal! (It's not like it was some ungodly hour, either: I think it was about 8 pm.)
From J Ray
Posted on July 14, 2013 at 12:39 PM
I'm in a condo with well-designed structure for sound insulation. The sound carries well into the hallway, but not as much into the other units. I can address that by playing farther away from the front door or by closing the gap under the door.

My neighbors inside our unit (also known as family) are another matter entirely. It has been mentioned that continuous playing is a violation of the Geneva Convention for torture or something like that.

I do what I can to minimize the aggravation by playing with a heavy practice mute practically all the time, and with a mute on an electric violin when the former is still too loud or when I'm playing for longer periods.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on July 14, 2013 at 12:38 PM
My condo has very little noise bleed to the unit downstairs. My current neighbor is very tolerant of whatever little violin playing she can hear. I am most fortunate!

I also practice scales and exercises p or pp until she leaves for work in the morning. This has the added benefits of extra bow control work, and saving wear and tear on my own ears.

When I first moved here, the original owner downstairs, now departed, was on older lady that was deaf as a post. Her unhappy loss was my gain.

From Ellie Withnall
Posted on July 14, 2013 at 1:40 PM
When I first started playing I would close all the doors and windows in my apartment, go into the bathroom, roll a towel up along the crack between the floor and the door and turn the extractor fan on to drown the noise. That gold old fast!

When I moved to my new condo I specifically introduced myself to the neighbours and said that if my playing bothered them they should let me know before it got to the point of being a problem. (Pre-empting!) But actually the downstairs neighbours have a 13 yr old learning to pay violin and the upstairs neighbours have actually said they'd like it if I played more as they love fiddle music :-) I am very lucky and I know it.

From Zlata Brouwer
Posted on July 14, 2013 at 1:44 PM
Question: Is there anybody here who isolated a room and could give some advice on that?
From Angelica Cantu
Posted on July 14, 2013 at 2:03 PM
No my neighbors never complain but my EVERYONE in my family does... A LOT. I think the violin is their worst nightmare haha.
From Mendy Smith
Posted on July 14, 2013 at 2:46 PM
No, but yesterday my neighbor noticed my piano in the entryway when he was walking by (it is there temporarily while the floors are going in)and said that his wife plays piano. He heard me practice before many times and wants to set up a "play date" once the remodel is done.
From Jayanthi Joseph
Posted on July 14, 2013 at 2:54 PM
Yeah, my family complains way more than anybody else! :)
From Zlata Brouwer
Posted on July 14, 2013 at 3:32 PM
Fortunately my family loved my violin play even in the days that it sounded more like a cate being tortured. :P
From Annabelle C
Posted on July 14, 2013 at 4:22 PM
We live in a single family home, so if I can play beyond my walls and into my neighbors home, then I must be playing my violin REAL loud... :) For those that have gotten complaints, if you're good, tell them to stop complaining and enjoy the music.
From David Stern
Posted on July 14, 2013 at 5:25 PM
I've had no problems with neighbors, but when I first started learning violin, our cat was a harsh critic. We had finally discovered the one sound she hated even more than the vacuum cleaner!
From Carla Dumonte
Posted on July 14, 2013 at 7:12 PM
I'm lucky enough to have neighbours that do not complain, nor show any dislike towards the violin. We live in geminated houses, and the walls between neighbours are thin, so either they like, don't care or are extremely good actors. My family, especially my mother, is far more intolerant to any violin sound (or even classical music) than them. But, she has a valid excuse for four days in a week, since in those four days she works at night and sleeps by day. That's when I have to leave home to an outbuilding in our backyard. It has its little problems and disadvantages, but is better than nothing.

But once in a camping park (me and my parents camp on summer, and I just can't leave the violin for two whole weeks) one of our caravan neighbours got so mad he called the manager to make me stop (because, he said, when I was playing he couldn't concentrate at his computer... days later I found him happily scrolling down Facebook and I understood his need of total attention...) but the manager didn't care. As long as I keep in mind the time we are allowed to make noise, 9 am to 11 pm, no problems.

From David Wilson
Posted on July 14, 2013 at 8:04 PM
8 years in Beverly Hills, I played violin at a restaurant with outdoor patios. The clientele were very sophisticated - from vice prez Bush to Placido Domingo. Many regulars openly expressed there appreciation of the music I played. Even the closest neighbors enjoyed it. But two neighbors(not the closest ones) Hated the "easy listening" intrusion. It took them eight years of complaints - right up to the city council eventually - before they won restrictions. By then, I was well ready to move on.
From Doreen Gordon
Posted on July 14, 2013 at 9:12 PM
I have just recently started relearning the violin after 5 decades. After a couple of weeks of practicing, I realized that at this stage I do not want to be heard anymore than my neighbors probably want to hear me. So I started doing most of my practicing with a rubber mute and that uninhibited my practice enough that I actually noticed a marked improvement in my tone and intonation. So far no complaints. I also try to practice mostly on weekdays during hours most people are at work.
From Helen Lawrence
Posted on July 14, 2013 at 9:50 PM
I've been fortunate to never have neighbours complain about me playing the violin (or piano). The violin does set my next door neighbour's dog barking. Any way there are a couple of musicians in my area but we have not meet each other. Someone up the street plays the bagpipes in his backyard, while my next door neighbour's son just started violin. I have had neighbours say, "do you play the violin/piano? I sometimes hear it when I'm outside." However where I live most the walls are doubled brick, and all the houses are detached.

This subject reminds me of the story that the pianist Lang Lang told. He was living in an apartment with his father, and his practice really upset the man downstairs. He still continued playing. However after a fight with his dad, Lang Lang stopped practising the piano. One day the neighbour visited Lang Lang and asked him why he had stopped playing the piano. The neighbour had found that the music was helping him overcome some illness. (It is a while since I read the book, it could have been depression.)

Really our music which we take for granted could be actually helping a neighbour.

From Paul Deck
Posted on July 15, 2013 at 1:10 AM
I think if I had this problem and needed to practice several hours per day to develop or maintain a professional career, I would build myself a free-standing practice booth, inside one of the bedrooms of my apartment. Framed walls, sound insulation, lighting, mirror, some wall files for music, shelf for a beverage and a boom box, etc., would all be pretty easy. The hardest part would be ventilation (and making that quiet so that it does not interfere with your practice) but my guess is this is manageable through flexible tubing, baffles, and a blower. I'd probably plan to spend about $1000 because the latter will be expensive to get right. Cheaper than a lawsuit though. Not exactly sure what I would do with a piano.

Might also be possible to line one's bedroom walls and ceiling with thick styrofoam or other insulating panels. A 4'x8' panel of rigid blown-foam insulation in 2" thickness will run about $30.

From Timothy Lessler
Posted on July 15, 2013 at 1:29 AM
When I lived in Nashville all my neighbors either didn't mind or enjoyed my practicing (usually done with a rubber mute)....except one. The young couple downstairs wrote some nasty letters and posted them on my door. Soon, when I'd practice, I'd hear the most god-awful music being blasted from their bedroom to drown out my practice. Oh the irony...
From Emma Otto
Posted on July 15, 2013 at 2:43 AM
Yeah, I don't live very close to my neighbors, but my family has complained a lot in the past. In fact, I've skipped many days of practice just because there were people in every room of the house who were trying to focus on something and couldn't hear scales, etudes, or even nice concertos. That's pretty annoying when I have to skip practice for such a crazy reason. But we recently added an addition to our house, so now I have a bedroom which I share with my sisters, who have no problem with me playing up a storm in the room since they're usually outside catching bugs (for pets) anyway. No problems there!
From Laurie Niles
Posted on July 15, 2013 at 4:30 AM
I confess, I didn't really think about family members, but that can be a real problem. I can remember hiding in the basement to practice!
From Helen Lawrence
Posted on July 15, 2013 at 8:11 AM
Family members complain the most. "You are making too much noise, go and play in another room!"
From Margaret Mehl
Posted on July 15, 2013 at 12:33 PM
When I moved into student lodgings for the first time, two small rooms in an old house in Bonn, I started to play in the room furthest from the staircase to the lower 2 floors where my landlady lived. But this was also the room closest to the house next door (I suppose we shared the wall), and I had hardly begun when I heard a loud knock on that wall. I stopped in surprise. When I started again, I heard another knock. I don't know how often I stopped and started, but I soon moved to the other of the two rooms. I then thought I'd better tell the landlady that I played the fiddle - student accommodation being scarce in Bonn, I had not wanted to jeopardize my chance of getting the room by being too honest too soon. Fortunately, she did not mind and her daughter said, as long as I didn't play during her afternoon nap it was ok. So I continued to play in the room furthest from the neighbour's wall and never heard any more knocks.

I've usually been lucky, but I have a heavy duty rubber mute just in case. My main concern is that because I play the violin I feel I am in a bad position to complain to neighbours who play their stereos at top volume with throbbing bases that make my floor vibrate, and for much longer than I ever practice or in the middle of the night!

In Japan, in the 1970s, there was a case where someone actually committed murder because he was fed up with the neighbour's children's piano practice. Can't remember the details, but I think they are mentioned in Mari Yoshihara, Musicians from a Different Shore. Perhaps for this reason Yamaha has an extensive range of soundproof booths complete with air conditioning etc, for setting up in small Japanese houses. Don't know whether they sell them abroad as well.

From Bill White
Posted on July 15, 2013 at 2:57 PM
My neighbors once complained when I played the flute too much. I now have new neighbors. My wife and children complain when I play the banjo at all, but most people think that's completely understandable. I have never had any complaining about my violin playing, though I would expect it.

From Royce Faina
Posted on July 15, 2013 at 2:55 PM
I never had someone scream obscenities at me and feel for Mustafa's daughter! Back in 2009 my elderly neighbor ,loved hearing what I was practicing and didn't mind the cacophony of practicing new technique methods, etc. Sadly she had to move down stairs due to a heart ailment and a doc student moved in and she could hear, smell the slightest of anything! I even put a rubber mute on and still she could hear it... the manager told her that as long as it is between 8am and 9pm [Royce] can practice as long as he wants whenever he wants. In time she defended her thesis and moved on to greener pastures.
In the past cops were called on me/us rehearsing for metal gigs but never when playing my violin.
From Dimitri Musafia
Posted on July 15, 2013 at 3:24 PM
For us people who live in condos, sometimes perceived noise is greater than actual.

Many years ago, in a different building, there was a cute girl who lived one floor below me, and she would play the stereo loud in the early mornings, like 6.30 AM. That was before I got married, and yes she was cute, but the situation got old in a hurry.

I didn't want to make an issue, but sleep was a coveted commodity even back then, so one day I finally went downstairs and knocked on her door to politely make my point.

She answered, "But I don't have a stereo".

It turned out that in her bedroom (right below mine) she had a cheap clock radio which - maybe - had a 3W output. Thanks to the sound propagation qualities of those acoustically-calibrated bricks in my floor it sounded like a deluxe Bose in my own bedroom! Not kidding.

From Mark Roberts
Posted on July 16, 2013 at 12:31 AM
I have had some sort of problem most places that I have lived. Latest is that the boy next door jumps up and down on a trampoline and simulatneously gives me instructions on how to play paganini caprices, I found that the way out of this one was to practise sevcik for half an hour - then audience goes.
From Joanna Ng
Posted on July 17, 2013 at 2:36 AM
My family were not very receptive towards me practicing the violin. I picked up the violin at age 21 when I started working. However stopped at Grade 6 as my brother was doing his Degree course and had to study all the time. Now that I'm married and have moved out, it's finally time for me to resume lessons so I can block out the thumping sounds made by my neighbour's little elephant upstairs! :-)

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