Tips for the Considerate Musician Living in an Apartment

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Tips for the Considerate Musician Living in an Apartment

Teresa Bergen · Jan 6, 2022
Musician composing music using laptop and piano at home

When you pull up in front of your new apartment on moving day and you think your neighbors are giving you the side eye, you’re probably not imagining it. As you unload instruments, amps and, God forbid, a drum kit, you see the neighbors’ eyes take on that distinctive look of terror. Oh, no, musicians!

Apartment living, musicianship, and good relations with the neighbors may seem like too much to hope for. But with communication, faithfully sticking to agreements, and a little luck, a budding rock (or jazz, hip-hop, classical, etc.) star can make it work.

Here are a few tips for how to live out your musical dreams without getting evicted:

Be Proactive

Don’t try to smuggle your amps in. Sooner or later, neighbors will notice. Instead, introduce yourself. If you’re living in a small building, meet everybody. If you’re in a large complex, at least introduce yourself to the neighbors on each side, and above and below you. Acknowledge upfront that you’re a musician. Find out a little about their habits. Are they early risers? Night owls? Reassure them about ways you’re going to mitigate noise problems, and give them your number. Request that they text you if you’re being too disruptive. Yes, this is just asking to be told to turn it down. But better they call you directly than reporting you to the landlord, or worse, the police.

Rehearsal Schedule

Musician records a song at home using a keyboard and headphones.

Creative types are known for spontaneity and free thinking. But if you want to keep your apartment, you might have to rein that in a little. Instead, think cooperation and mutual respect. Devise a schedule. This is especially important if you’re using your apartment as a rehearsal studio with multiple band members. Remember when you met the neighbors and investigated their habits? Now it’s time to work with their schedules and find a time when your music will be least disruptive. If your neighbors are gracious enough to put up with band practice, then honor your commitment to a rehearsal time. For example, if you agree that you’ll play from 7 to 9 PM on Wednesdays, stop playing at 9 sharp. This will build trust with your neighbors, again avoiding dreaded calls to higher authorities.

Minimizing Noise

What if inspiration strikes at two o’clock in the morning? Depending on your instrument, you might be able to follow your muse. If you play an electric instrument like a guitar or bass, donning headphones when practicing at odd times (hello Monday, 5 AM) can save you from riled neighbors and even eviction. Luckily, there are tons of good guitar headphones to choose from.

Drummers are notoriously loud. But there’s some hope for minimizing drum sounds, too. If you’re rehearsing in an apartment, play with brushes instead of sticks. Brushes are often used for softer types of music, especially jazz, but they also do a lot for good neighbor relations. Fitting your drums with practice pads will make them much quieter. These are made of things like rubber, neoprene, or mesh that severely cut your sound. No, it won’t be the same as playing normally, and it may still be too loud for 2 AM, but drum pads will extend your practice hours. To quiet your bass drum, stuff pillows or a wadded blanket inside. If you’re a serious drummer who has the money and space (which could be asking a lot for an apartment dweller), you could set up a whole electronic drum kit and play through headphones.

Some instruments are more of a challenge. The plaintive sounds of a saxophone seem to cut through bone, let alone apartment walls. But if you’re a sax player, or have a similarly hard to quiet instrument, you can still do a few things to cut the noise. You could shell out some big bucks for a saxophone mute. These weird-looking apparatuses encase your saxophone. Lower-budget approaches include shoving t-shirts and socks inside the bell of the horn. This could shorten your range of low notes, but let you practice a little later into the night. If you have a walk-in closet, consider practicing in there, with your clothes for sound insulation. Some sax players even leave their apartments entirely to practice in their cars. If you don’t have a car, this approach is not recommended for Lyft or Uber, unless you give the driver a whopping tip.

Rehearsal Space

Professional music rehearsal space.

There may come a time when your musical aspirations outgrow your apartment. If you’re going to play venues bigger than your local dive bar, your band can’t always practice with drum pads and half the sax player’s wardrobe shoved in her bell. Be realistic if you wind up at that crossroads between eviction and shelling out for a rehearsal space. Think outside the expensive musician studios. Resourceful musicians find good deals on unused spaces. This could mean a local church, rooms at a school or college, a skating rink or community center. Individuals may be willing to rent you a barn, shed, basement, or garage. Some musicians have had luck with skate parks, public parks, unused factories, warehouses, rest areas, and storage units. Plenty of companies and individuals could use a little extra revenue and might be much more affordable than an official studio practice space.

Playing music with others is a huge boon to people’s lives. It helps you improve your cooperation, overcome shyness, sharpen your focus, and experience joy and camaraderie. So even though apartment-dwelling musicians may face challenges, don’t give up. Keeping up your playing skills is doable and worthwhile, wherever you live.

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