Three Cs: Practicing without annoying the neighbors

The following post was written by Sally Writes.

When my daughter got her first guitar a little over two years ago, she could not have been more enthusiastic. At the risk of sounding like the typical mother living vicariously through her daughter, I was certain that she would progress beyond the “just about able to play something as long as there are only three chords” level that I had reached, and go on to be the next Chrissie Hynde.

She certainly seemed to pick it up quicker and better than I ever did, too. However, our shared joy of her burgeoning skills soon became a stomach-turning dread. Our condo in the university area of Burlington, VT was built in the 1960s, and the internal walls are not the thickest. Within minutes of my daughter picking up her guitar, the neighbor’s television would be cranked up to a tooth-rattling volume. All the pleasure was at that moment sucked out of her guitar playing for both of us.

I was determined that she would get the chance to continue – it felt like there was too much riding on this for both of us – so I set about investigating how I could create a guitar practice setup that would allow her to develop her skills without causing a war with the neighbors. Here are my top three tips which can be used for any music practice.

  1. Communication – The simplest thing to do is also the hardest. We bit the bullet and spoke to our neighbors, a couple in their 60s. Initially it was immensely awkward on both sides, I explained about my daughter’s passion and how she was desperate to practice but did not want to cause annoyance. We put the boot on their foot by asking how we could do this, and they ended up suggesting practice times to us.
  2. Consideration – Not every neighbor is going to be so cooperative, but by putting yourself in their shoes, there is less chance of causing friction. Avoid practicing early in the morning or late at night, and try to keep the sessions to 30 minutes at a time.
  3. Confinement – The final C is for confining the sound, not the musician! My daughter now has an electric guitar and amp, and the most important piece of her kit for domestic tranquility is a set of headphones. These allow her to practice as long and as hard as she wants. She plays in our basement where we’ve set aside some space specifically for her practice. She can let loose knowing that she won’t be disturbed, and better still won’t be disturbing anyone else. The only downside is that I haven’t worked out how to plug in a set of my own yet as I want to listen in!

It is only too easy to get into huge disputes with the neighbors, that can have a real impact on everyone’s quality of life. The trick is to nip problems in the bud before they escalate – nine times out of ten, all it takes is a bit of common sense and flexibility on both sides. And, of course, adherence to the three Cs!

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