September 27, 2010 at 11:55 PM ·

 How do you deal with difficult neighbors?  I live in a four unit apartment building where, I admit, the sound travels fairly easily.  Understanding that, I keep my practice time and my lessons between the hours of 10am-6pm (7pm at the latest if I have a make-up lesson).  I only practice 2-3 hours a day on average and never when I think people might be trying to sleep.  We also talked to our landlords before we moved, letting them know I play.  However, I have one neighbor who insists she is "sick" of hearing me play.   I wish I could just get her to understand - I'm not just playing for pure fun (although of course I enjoy it) or to annoy her.  I HAVE to practice just like she has to work!  But she doesn't let me get a word in, just complains and leaves.  Anybody dealt with this before?  How did you manage?

Replies (35)

September 28, 2010 at 12:14 AM ·

Ask your neighbour her working hours, and practise then, unless of course she works from home then you could invest in a silent violin, on which much practise can be gained.

September 28, 2010 at 12:24 AM ·

I suppose moving is not an option - even within the same unit?  Obviously you've thought about a practise room away from her side.  You could also look into getting some sound proofing.  I just built a studio in the basement for the same reason and the sound proofing material is actually not very expensive.  It wouldn't look that great without having it sunk into the wall but it sounds (excuse the pun) as if you  are beyond that point - and maybe it could be hidden in part by a wall hanging or something.  You could ask about sound proofing options at a shop that sells amps for bands....

good luck...

September 28, 2010 at 03:54 AM · Be polite in any interactions with her, but otherwise just ignore her. She's entitled to her opinion of violin music and your playing, and you're entitled to practice, especially in those hours.

September 28, 2010 at 04:18 AM ·

I'm not so sure she is entitled to run a studio or even practice at the most seemingly harmless time of the day, if the place isn't reasonably soundproof and it is bothering someone.  In many cities the standard regarding noise either contractually or legally is that people have a right to "quiet enjoyment" of their premises.

This is a very complex subject, with exceptions, people getting away with worse things in other contexts, etc.  I empathize very much with the problem from BOTH sides, and I hope you find a workable solution.

September 28, 2010 at 08:30 AM ·

There is a metal mute that you can put on the bridge that acts like a silencer. It works very well for me and even my wife has not complained. 

September 28, 2010 at 08:32 AM ·

I have exactly the same problem with my neighbours and  we agreed that I would only practise between 10-6 ad not for more than 3 hours in a day. They were fine with this but have recently started complaining again, despite the fact that i rarely practise at home, maybe only 5-6 times a month. They started complaining to me about again and I've  just started to ignore them. The other neighbours in my block have said they enjoy hearing my violin. I would carry on being discreet but dont let your neighbours ruin your practise!

September 28, 2010 at 09:32 AM ·

I realize how lucky I am.  My neighbors often tell me that they enjoy listening to me play.  Some have even said that they enjoy listening to my students.  I think these neighbors are starved for live music.

September 28, 2010 at 11:27 AM ·

One thing you might suggest to your neighbor is the use of a fan for white noise.

My situation is quite different from yours -- a neighborhood of single-family homes, with a space of about 100 feet between dwellings; and I'm on the dead-end block.  But sounds carry -- occasionally a neighbor's dog barks, a car door slams, a kid calls out to a playmate.

I use a fan at night for white noise 365 nights a year.  In cooler weather, I pivot it toward the ceiling.  The sound blocks any occasional stray noises like those mentioned above -- and it rocks me right to sleep.

You said that you talked to your landlords before you moved.  Have you also mentioned this troublesome neighbor to the landlords?  I would think that delivering this kind of pre-emptive strike would help -- so that the landlords hear your side of the case as early as possible.

September 28, 2010 at 11:52 AM ·

Check out your local noise laws.  Here in the city musicians are allowed to practice between the hours of 10am to 10pm without anyone being able to stop you.  Of course no law can stop someone from harrassing you but you do have rights and you must know what they are.  Do a search. 

September 28, 2010 at 01:03 PM ·

If you have proper ventilation in the room or air-con, play with windows shut and curtains on. Carpets helps, so do some cupboards and pillows and your usual bedroom stuffs. Try to make your room acoustically less reflective by having irregular surfaces, don't overdo it though, dead acoustic stinks.

Violin, unlike bass guitar or drums (or even pianos), is easier to manage the sound spills. Bass frequencies, especially strong ones, are the most dreaded and travel very easily.

If she would just complain and move on, I'd say she's just having a bad day and can get disturbed by any sound easily, or simply just express her anger on any person. You might buy her a pack of cookies as a gift, accompanied with a letter, begin with a simple apology and explain your situations to her.

September 28, 2010 at 01:46 PM ·

I am very lucky.  I live in a two flat.  The daugher of the neighbors downstairs is studying violin as well.  We have an arrangement that we will only play between 9am to 9pm, although I told them they can push it til 10 if they like.  I rarely head off to bed before 11 anyway.  I too use a fan for white noise and it works beautifully.  I live down the street from the local firehouse.  I don't even hear the sirens when I'm in my room asleep.


I would suggest writing this woman a letter and drop it in her mailbox, if she won't let you get a word in edgewise.  Tell her this is your livelyhood and they have to come to some arrangement.  Tell her that not playing is not an options, so she needs to offer an accommodation.  See what comes of it.


Curious to hear how this comes out.  Keep us posted.

September 28, 2010 at 05:15 PM · "quiet enjoyment" is a legal term of art that has to do with title, not noise levels, and it's the landlord's duty to a tenant, not a tenant's duty to another tenant. Tenant's activities become actionable when they constitute a nuisance, either common law or under a code. Hard to imagine practicing violin rising to a level of a "nuisance" as legally defined during these hours. Nice to find a practical, workable solution, but you can't please everyone all the time.

September 28, 2010 at 05:31 PM ·

My first teacher kept those carpeted board things in her practice/teaching room, and it dulled the noise quite a bit. Sometimes I would wait outside the room if I arrived early, and could only just barely hear the lesson inside if the door was shut. I really doubt anyone on another floor could have heard anything at all. I have no idea what the correct term for this item is, hopefully someone can clarify.

September 28, 2010 at 07:19 PM ·

 Thanks for all of the advice!  I did a quick search of the city's noise ordinance - it basically says that you can't produce noise above a certain decibel range between the hours of 11pm-8am (weekdays).  There wasn't anything specific about musical instruments.  Regarding moving - no, that wouldn't be possible and even in the unit, my neighbor who complains is downstairs and across the hall.  The other two neighbors are closer and don't care.  Also, she doesn't work during the day because she is always home - but I think if she worked third shift she would have told me by now.  Obviously I would be more sympathetic if someone was sleeping, but I don't think that is the case.  I live in Florida and I rent.  That means - very little fabric (carpet, drapes, etc.) because of the heat AND I can't do much about it in any permanent sense because I don't own... But like I said, I don't even share a wall with this neighbor!  I wish I could go in her apartment and see if it really is loud or if she is just mad at me (she gets mad about parking for no reason also) :)  Maybe I could give her music history lessons so she could appreciate the music, ha!  I guess I'll just see if she complains again and try to get a word in and explain the best I can - come to some agreement about practice hours or something.  These are the times that I miss my college music building being open 18 hours a day...

September 28, 2010 at 08:15 PM ·

I've had the opposite problem. Fortunately, wherever I've lived I've never had serious complaints about my practicing, and more than a few compliments over the years. But I'm the type who has complained about other people's noise - e.g. loud disco boom boxes, heavy foot stomping above me (fortunaely I now live in a building with some concrete between the floors, which helps a lot with that problem) parties than go into the wee hours with loud laughing, shouting, etc. Such disturbances irritate many people, and are so much more common and and so much louder than a poor violin played during normal hours. I've had limited success with my legitimate complaints.

That said, though within one's rights, it's not pleasant to have strife with a neighbor. I agree with some of the noise-reducung ideas above, and you may want to focus them where you border with that neighbor. I wouldn't recommend that heavy metal mute. It can break the bridge or go flying. Try the heavy rubber one, which is not quite as strong in its muting, but is substantial and safe. But you can't constantly practice that way either and develop  or maintain proper tone production, listening, etc. (I know Menhuin said he did, and even used the metal one - but look how often he got to perform in a hall!)

Since your neighbor won't let you get in a word edge-wise you might try putting a letter under her door, calmly explaining your situation, and telling her that you are doing your best just for her sake. If she continues to complain to you, she is harrasing you, and you'll have to talk to your landlord. Do let us know what happens!



September 28, 2010 at 08:21 PM ·

Checking the noise laws is a good idea. Here where I am at I can play between the hours of 9 am-9 pm as long as (Oh now I cannot think of how many) a certain level of decibels are mantained..... I think my playing cannot be heard over 40-50 dB in the other occupant's dwelling?

September 28, 2010 at 09:49 PM ·

You have no adjoining walls, floors or ceilings with her?  It's Florida, so windows are closed and air conditioning on?  She complains about where everyone parks?  I'm afraid the diagnosis is that she's a full-blown busybody, also known as a Gladys, who's sure that somewhere someone is having FUN, and that she must put a stop to it immediately, the sort who thinks the world would be a better place if only there were a few more RULES, with stricter enforcement.

She's probably also lonely and doesn't have anything else to do.  If she is one of the more reasonable specimins of this type, the old "kill her with kindness" routine may work.  If not, accept that she's a nut.  Talk to the landlord and explain what accomodations you have made.  He or she most likely knows all about it anyway.  Your typical Gladys will call the landlord multiple times a day!

September 29, 2010 at 03:40 AM ·

I sure feel for you. I too live in an apartment, have had neighbors make comments like "I really like it when you play the bluegrass stuff", almost like I was taking requests, or she was trying to let me know that the things I work on that I am struggling with bothers her. Lots have said "are you the one with the violin?"  I was sweeping around my door and someone upstairs came and commented, "I kept hearing this noise, couldn't figure out what it was". Meanwhile I hear their dogs, their kids, their friends stomping, people upstairs pacing in boots loud enough to wake me at 3am, so I don't care what they say. My experience is people who complain are not aware of the noise they themselves make. Keep a record of when you hear her and read it back when she comes to complain and point out, we all have to tolerate some things here.

Best of luck, keep playing, you can't make everybody happy.

September 29, 2010 at 08:55 AM ·

The white noise suggestion is brilliant - that might really do the trick.  I learned something at college which has always worked for me:  Put the tv on at a moderate volume while you do your practice.  Somehow the tv "masks" the more unique and noticeable sound of a solo violin, so people simply do not notice it so much, if at all.   

Yes, this neighbour really does sound like a "Gladys" - we have them in Britain too.   A note and a nice box of cookies might work wonders.  Always worth a try at least...

September 29, 2010 at 12:26 PM ·

Just a bit on the lighter side: I grew up in a private house. But when I used to practice Sevick as a kid, my father, who a studied violin himself, couldn't stand it, and used to call Sevick a "lease-breaker"!

September 29, 2010 at 04:33 PM ·

Here's a thought; mention to your neighbor that you are a professional musician, and practicing is required for your work. Your second instrument is the trombone; there is an opening in your orchestra for a trombone, and ask if she would prefer you change instruments?

Then, you may be able to start a communication about which times would be agreeable to both of you for your violin practice...

September 29, 2010 at 05:31 PM ·

she sounds crabby to me - ask her what sort of music she likes; what's her favorite tune, etc. and play for her ... music soothing the savage (crabby) beast and all that.  you sound like you've done a lot to accommodate her, now it's her turn.    

September 29, 2010 at 05:38 PM ·

...or ask tell her that you are planning to have a string quartet play in your flat.  And when she objects offer to meet somewhere else if she would just be accomodating to you playing alone...

Oh, sneaky...

September 29, 2010 at 06:44 PM ·

It sounds as if you might enjoy "Ill Wind", the Flanders & Swann rendition of the rondo from Mozart's Horn Concerto #4.  They put lyrics to the piece - it starts like this:

I once had a whim and I had to obey it,
To buy a French horn in a second-hand shop.
I polished it up and I started to play it,
In spite of the neighbours who begged me to stop.

September 30, 2010 at 04:57 AM ·

 I often wonder why people like this live in apartment complexes.  If they value silence so highly, live in the middle of nowhere somewhere.

I live in an 8  unit per building apartment complex.  My upstairs neighbor made it very clear to me the moment I moved in how one of the things she really likes about the neighborhood is how QUIET it was (I told the landlord of my violin teaching ahead of time, so he must of dropped the bomb).  But since then she has been quite reasonable.  She only complained about me once to the landlord and it was nothing shutting my studio window didn't fix.

Since I tend to be more of a night owl, my more productive practice hours are late at night.  If I'm practicing at such a time, I will pull out my electric violin and plug an adapter into the jack that allows me to listen to myself with headphones.

If you see yourself living in the apartment for the foreseeable future, investing in an electric instrument and a set of headphones might not be a bad idea.  Yamaha has some pretty cheap ones that will do the job.  Since you are a teacher, you can write the instrument off on your taxes.

September 30, 2010 at 06:30 AM ·

I have the most BRILLIANT idea!  It will require you to have a decent powered audio system.

First, between the hours of 8:00 AM and 11:00 PM, keep your stereo tuned to the 70's rock station (every city has at least one!). Make certain the volume is AT LEAST 10 decibels higher than the level that is prohibited after 11:00. When you want to practice, turn the stereo off. I'm certain the neighbor will appreciate the change...possibly ask you to practice more often.

September 30, 2010 at 09:09 AM ·

Ugh, all I can say is, I feel for you.  I have upstairs neighbors who are a blessing from God.  They have not once complained of my practice schedule, nor of my various technical levels of students throughout the day.  In fact, every once in a while, I join them upstairs for fiddling sessions, as one of them plays the guitar and sings.  (The other makes us tea.)  Even the dog lays his head on the floor in ardent appreciation as I practice late into the night.  Not a day goes by that I'm not thankful for their understanding.  The opposition you describe would have me silenced outright.  I only hope you have the courage to voice your rights as a musician.

September 30, 2010 at 02:53 PM ·

I always find the best solution is to send them a cake laced with cyanide.

October 1, 2010 at 09:47 PM ·

 Oh dear...I'm not looking for any solutions that will get me arrested.  She hasn't complained since I last posted, but I feel like I can't concentrate very well while practicing.  Every time I squeak or practice scales I imagine her sitting down there about to call the cops.  And of course her recent complaint HAD to come the same week my teacher decided he could give me twice the amount of repertoire and my community orchestra is preparing for a I really need to practice MORE than usual but I don't want to get told off either!  Also, I feel the same as some of you - that I really practice best at night, but I just can't do that to my neighbors (who don't complain!)  I guess I just need to ignore her and keep practicing. I think the root of the issue is that I want to get along with all my neighbors - I hate thinking people are mad at me for something I can't control.

October 1, 2010 at 11:43 PM ·

Have you spoken to the police to ask if she has a legitimate complaint? Please do so, you sound so worried about that. Honestly, this woman is causing you more stress than you could possibly be causing her. Most areas with people living in apartments have reasonable ordinances. You are in your home, you have certain rights. She truly sounds like if it wasn't your music, it would be something else.

It's not right she is making you this uncomfortable for some normal activity in your own home. The silent violin or heavy practice mute are good ideas, but you need to be able to play normally to practice. I wish you all the best with this situation, remember you have rights too.

October 3, 2010 at 04:13 AM ·

 Oh Cassandra, I wish you could be MY neighbor! I don't 'get' people who don't like the sound of the violin but they are out there. I on the other hand, could listen all day... The instrument volume honestly isn't normally much louder than most people watch TV so I sincerely doubt she has a valid complaint. Some people like to complain JUST to complain...I work with a few like that. If it weren't the violin I am sure she'd find something else to whine about. 

Just be nice to her and carry on as usual. If she persists, politely remind her this is your JOB (and you work from home), and you are not violating any noise ordinances. She has no right to make you feel timid about practicing or working, so don't give her that power over you. Is there an option to get her involved somehow? She may be more appreciative if you can sneak her some free concert tickets, or offer to do lessons? If it makes her feel 'important' to know a professional musician (something she can brag about) she may shut her trap.That's really all I can think of aside from politely ignoring her unreasonable complaints.

October 3, 2010 at 02:31 PM ·

As long as you are practicing at a reasonable hour, I would not pay attention to my neighbors' complaints.  You have every right to do whatever you want in your own apartment/house - as long as it is legal and that you are not hurting anyone.  Some of you have mentioned that you have already made prior arrangements with your neighbors, but yet your neighbors, at some point, still complain.  I wouldn't be bullied my my neighbors complaints.  Practice, enjoy, and feel good!  If your neighbors don't like it, that's their problem!  There is no need to hide from practicing!

October 3, 2010 at 03:36 PM ·

You shouldn't have to do this, but I know of someone in a similar situation who worked out a deal with the church across the street. He goes there to practice-- they even gave him a key. As far as I know they haven't asked for anything in return.

(And no, he's not a member there.)

October 3, 2010 at 04:05 PM ·

I love this Julie Wilson,

s there an option to get her involved somehow? She may be more appreciative if you can sneak her some free concert tickets, or offer to do lessons? If it makes her feel 'important' to know a professional musician (something she can brag about) she may shut her trap.That's really all I can think of aside from politely ignoring her unreasonable complaints.

If the neighbor is just an unhappy person who likes to complain for attention, then this suggestion might help her out of her crabbiness.

Or maybe you could express to her just how upsetting her complaints (outbursts? verbal attacks?) are to you, and that she is the one out of line.

Of all the things people find to complain about, this is pretty petty, and her choice of words (sick of hearing you play) is mean spirited. Again, you are in your home, teaching is a service to those desiring to learn and to the world. Music is a positive thing. You are not the one that is wrong in this situation.



October 3, 2010 at 04:31 PM ·

I had an upstairs neighbor once who was like this.  She pounded on my door while I was practicing and told me I had to stop that noise I was making.  As in  "That noise you're making?  You need to stop that."  Everyone in that building had signed a lease with the same terms on it, and one of them was that "quiet hours" went from 10pm to 8am.  (Of course I checked this before agreeing to move in, and of course I told the superintendent I was a musician, and he was fine with it.)  Since I was unable to speak to her because she was of the shout-&-leave persuasion, I left a note on her door referring to the clause in the lease agreement and informing her that she had also signed the same lease.  She never complained again, at least not in words.  Apparently she did understand the lease, though, because she banged her furniture on the floor and turned up her stereo very loud until 10pm every night after that until she moved.  (I never complained - it didn't bother me, because I was practicing! :D )

At another apartment I found out that someone in the building had complained about the flute noise, but since that person also called to complain about the noise of plumbing in the walls (don't you hate those pesky neighbors who think it's OK to flush the toilet at any time of the day or night?), the management staff ignored her.


Check your lease agreement and see if there's a specific clause about quiet hours.  If there is, and you stay within it, she has no grounds for complaint.  It's nice of you to try to work with her, but some people will not give up their sense of victimhood. If there is no such clause in the lease, then the city ordinances are on your side. 

You could try talking to the landlord.  From experience, I can recommend that you try not to do it in a "this woman is such a PITA" tone, but say something like you've tried to make her happy but simply can't, and you actually do need to practice at home, and it makes you feel bad, etc.  That will at least let him know that you are not being a jerk about it.  Probably she is on the phone to him/her several times a week anyway, complaining about people's parking, cooking smells, and fashion sense; so I am guessing s/he will be sympathetic to you.

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