Piano practice and neighbours

Several people including a lawyer have sent me a link to yesterday’s BBC news story about a pianist in Spain whose neighbour took her to court over her piano practising, alleging ‘psychological harm’ from having to listen to it. Spanish prosecutors had initially sought a jail term of over seven years, and now they are asking that the pianist be banned from professional piano playing for six months.

Every pianist’s blood must run cold at this story, for many of us have wrestled with ‘the neighbour problem’ over the years. Yet there are lots of questions I’d like to ask about this Spanish story. Did the young pianist really play for eight hours a day, five days a week as alleged? She was a music college student at the time. So how could she have been at home to practise for eight hours a day? Was she never attending classes, never practising at college? Which hours of the day did she play at home – normal hours or unsocial hours? Many cities have regulations which apply to practising an instrument in apartment buildings. In London we don’t, as far as I know, but a musician friend in Switzerland lives in an apartment block where he is officially allowed to practise between the hours of 9am-1pm and 3pm-8pm or something like that. Admittedly, for a very sensitive person, or for one confined to the house by ill health, listening to someone practising the piano even during those permitted hours could be a burden. Pianos and apartment buildings don’t go together, but for many pianists there is no alternative. Was the Spanish pianist aware of her neighbour’s distress? Did she try to negotiate or compromise?

What never seems to be mentioned in these stories is that the ‘psychological harm’ can go both ways. When I first moved to London to try to carve out a career, I bought an old Bechstein grand piano and moved it into rented accommodation. I have never been one of those ‘eight hours a day’ practisers, and I rarely practise at home in the evenings, so I’ve never considered my piano practice unduly tough for my neighbours. Nevertheless, when I started playing the piano in my first London accommodation, my next-door neighbours started banging on the wall. It was a thick Victorian wall, too, so they must have used more than a human fist to bang so loudly. It sounded as if they were using a battering-ram.

I was horrified. I tried to vary the hours when I played the piano, but whenever I started up, the banging would begin, seemingly inches away from my left ear. I found that I was tensing up before I made the first sound. I always started gingerly, waiting with dread for the banging to begin, and of course there was hardly a moment when I could relax and enjoy music-making. It was hard on my technique as well as my nerves. My neighbour graduated to banging on the front door. On the one occasion that I opened the door, he said, ‘We’ll get you out in the end.’ And indeed, it didn’t take long for me to conclude that I wasn’t up to the daily battle. I didn’t want him to think he had won, but I couldn’t see any positives in staying.  If ‘psychological harm’ was caused, I’d maintain that it was done to me at least as much as to my neighbour. It was an unfortunate start to life as a professional pianist, and since then I have always looked for houses with ‘halls adjoining’, so that there is no party wall between my music room and any room in the house next door.

Today there are digital pianos which you can practise in silence, but that’s not the reality for most classical pianists who need to play acoustic pianos at home. It’s all very well to say that we should go out and practise somewhere else, but where? After you’ve finished life as a student, you don’t have access to music colleges with practice rooms any more. Friends have neighbours too. And most classical musicians certainly can’t afford to rent a separate studio – what kind of studio would it be, anyway, that carried no risk of disturbing anyone in the building? No: for most pianists there is no alternative to playing at home, and hoping against hope that their neighbours are kind and tolerant – perhaps even that they enjoy live music.

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This entry was posted on Saturday 16th November 2013 at 1:48pm and is filed under Concerts, Daily Life, Musings. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

67 Responses to “Piano practice and neighbours”

  1. James B said on

    Eek! I got kicked out of one of my flats once for practicing from 4pm – 6pm! Some people…

    By the way, Susan, when are you going to add some “real” repertoire to your Billy Mayerl? :P

  2. Jeremy Hill said on

    I endured complaints from a (downstairs) neighbour from day one of moving into a North London flat both for “walking in the kitchen whilst wearing shoes” and accordion playing. It wasn’t long before we discovered her revenge (or perhaps the reason for her sensitivity to noise disturbance): she was a violin teacher, and we therefore had many opportunities to hear her pupils’ largely elementary level efforts. It did not presage a great friendship.

  3. Susan C said on

    As someone who has been on the other side of this I find it incredible that someone would move a piano into a flat, or a terraced house, and then be surprised that the neighbours complain! I work from home (as an illustrator and writer) and for a number of years had to endure a pianist who frequently practised for several hours a day. Every time he started up every muscle in my body tensed, I couldn’t concentrate, which meant I couldn’t work. That in itself wasn’t so much the problem. It was that I never knew when he was going to start and when he was going to finish, and worse, sometimes he would play for a couple of hours and then stop and I used to think, ‘Great, that’s it, now I can get on,’ only to find that 20 minutes later he would start up again. It was a form of torture. Eventually, I summoned up all my courage and knocked on his door. I explained that I found it difficult to work while he was practising and suggested that we might come to some agreement about time slots, that maybe he could let me know when he was going to practise and in that way I could schedule my work around his piano practise. The result was that he became very aggressive, told me that he would play when he wanted and for as long as he wanted and that by the way I walked up the stairs noisily… (yep, that’s the same as hours and hours of piano practise…). So, not a successful negotiation. Here is my suggestion for musicians to have harmonious relations with their neighbours. (A) When you move a loud musical instrument into your home please understand that it is likely to impact on the enjoyment your neighbour gets from their home, not everyone wants to listen to piano practise, because it’s just that, practise. (B) At the outset introduce yourself to your neighbour(s), explain that you are a musician and need to practise and then negotiate fixed times. At least that way your neighbours will be prepared for when they have to listen to you practise. Finally, everyone wants to get on with their neighbours, a conversation early on (possibly with a glass of wine) will go a long way to getting the neighbours onside.

  4. Susan Tomes said on

    Very valuable to hear about this situation from the other side. Your suggestions for negotiation and making friends with the ‘other side’ are welcome, and will be helpful to people thinking about this problem. I have some experience of living next to people who thought it was fine to play loud pop music in both the house and garden, so I know what you mean about ‘tensing up’ when the music begins! Clearly the whole issue takes sensitivity and flexibility – on both sides.

  5. Sandy E said on

    Like Susan C., I am also struggling with a neighbor who plays. The sound of the piano dwarfs every other type of sound that comes my way, making it impossible to work, read, watch tv, or sleep. My suggestions aid to negotiation are 1) If your neighbor is receptive, pick one day a week or every couple of weeks and offer to devote the first 15-20 minutes to playing something the neighbor likes, even if it’s out of your usual genre. 2) Find half a dozen songs your neighbor particularly likes and arrange to always end your practice with one of them. This will serve as the happy signal to your neighbor that practice is over, and there will always be something enjoyable for them in your practice. 3) In addition to negotiating the fixed times as per the above, offer some flexibility. Arrange with your neighbor for them to let you know when they’ll be away more than usual (such as on holiday or an evening out with friends) and offer to refrain from practice on those times they might come home with a raging headache or if they are otherwise ill. It will go a long way for your neighbor to understand that they can count on you for quiet when they get that occasional migraine.

  6. Susan Tomes said on

    These suggestions for negotiation are very helpful. From a pianist’s angle, it’s kind of dreadful to hear how disturbing piano practice can be. Causing migraines to nice neighbours – oh no! That’s not what any of us want.

  7. Jim C. said on

    I see no moral argument for practicing the piano when it clearly annoys neighbors. It’s a percussion instrument and the mind fixates on patterns. It can’t be tuned out like smooth white noise of a similar decibel level.

    Noise is defined as unwanted sound, be it music, loud Harley pipes or leaf-blowers. You have no right to inflict even “good music” on neighbors when they never declared themselves a willing audience. That’s what concerts are for!

    Make do with an electric piano and headphones if you must practice amid shared walls. Many of those pianos are very good at simulating the real thing.

  8. Rosie said on

    I came across this article after googling neighbour playing the piano. I understand the need to practice and not having anywhere else to practice, but for me it’s an absolute nightmare.
    I’m trying to get through a very difficult university even though I have ill health that confines me to my home most days. My neighbor plays constantly and it’s impossible to concentrate on my studies. I can’t go out to the library etc. on the days I’m too sick.
    Also to some, piano playing is not a nice noise, it’s a nuisance.
    I really don’t think it’s fair to do any activity that makes enough noise to disturb your neighbous, no matter what hour. Unless it’s a one-off. But everyday? Not kind.

  9. Susan Tomes said on

    Rosie, your comment shows what a complex issue this is. All musicians should be sensitive to neighbours in situations like yours. The problem comes, as you know, when people are seriously studying the piano and have nowhere else to practise. Practising in one’s own home seems so natural. Some neighbours don’t mind it – some even welcome it. If you decide to speak to the pianist who is disturbing you, I hope you will get a helpful response. They may not be aware that you don’t like the sound of the playing.

  10. Zark said on

    A few questions you guys might have experience with:

    What is a reasonable time in the morning to ask a neighbor to refrain from piano practice? I know this varies from person to person, but there are must be some relative consensus. Is 9AM a reasonable time, how about 10AM? As someone mentioned on another site, a polite note about it is not a doucebag move, but neither is playing piano after 8AM: they’re not doing anything wrong, even if it prevents people from sleeping as much as they’d like to. They could just say learn to got to bed earlier or stop working the night shift. I imagine their situation- its 8am, you’ve just woken up, you want to start the day by practicing your musicianship.

    Has anyone found a good type of ear protectors, earmuffs, earplugs, etc. that keep them you from getting woken up by neighbors playing music in the early mornings, or if you want to take a nap during the day. I don’t think some people realize how loud their piano playing is- even with windows closed, and wearing earplugs under earmuffs, on the same side of the apartment building its still enough to hear clearly, and distract me from falling back asleep.

  11. Susan Tomes said on

    Hi Zark. This is just one person’s blog, as you probably realised. It’s not really a forum for debating the issue of piano practice and neighbours. You are clearly sensitive to the issue of musicians feeling motivated to practise, while others in the building are more interested in sleeping. For what it’s worth, I don’t know of any country which has a ‘rule’ on this point, though I do have friends in Switzerland who had to sign up to clause in their rental agreement saying that they would only practise during normal working hours, with a break across lunchtime, ie something like 9am-1pm and 3-7pm. Of course those are still quite a lot of hours if you are a neighbour who’s at home and doesn’t like to hear piano practice.

  12. Lynne said on

    I live in a detached house but my neighbour has their piano in a conservatory which is situated below my bedroom window. Unfortunately, most of his practise takes place late at night (11pm onwards). This is a real problem for me as I have to be up early for work. We have tried negotiating a cut off time, and this works for a while, until he ‘forgets’ and starts practising late at night again. Their ‘excuse?’ – some people are creative at night! Some people need to sleep so they can function in their jobs. It is not up to the person being disturbed to wear ear plugs – some people need to learn what it means to be a considerate neighbour. Or soundproof the room you practise in.

  13. Henry said on

    My downstairs neighbour complained about my playing and I’m using an electric piano. The complain was not about the loudness (I made sure to keep it low), but that my pedalling is disturbing her tele watching. I did try to negotiate time slots but she was unwilling to compromise. Any tips on how to handle that kind of selfish people?

  14. Susan Tomes said on

    Henry, that is a new kind of problem! I have never heard of anyone complaining about the pedalling on an electric keyboard. As you have already tried to compromise with your neighbour, I cannot imagine what more you can do. Good luck!

  15. Sam said on

    I find it hard to believe that any neighbour would welcome the incessant noise of someone practicing their piano. Practicing is very different to a concert as the same bits are played over and over and over – its just plain inconsiderate to other neighbors and I think you piano players need to understand that. Rent a practice room/soundproof your apartment/use an electric piano with headphones/live in a detached house. YOU are the ones that need to make the effort instead of expecting everyone else to put up with your noise. “Soundproof headphones” – really!? How then is someone to hear the doorbell/telephone/listen to music/watch TV/have a life? Right now my mother is being driven mad by a neighbour upstairs who insists on playing at all times of the day and night, even though it is actually forbidden in the lease agreement. The management needless to say has failed to take action and the neighbour could not care less. I have now advised her to take legal action. Its pathetic that it has to come to this when he could easily have avoided this by showing some consideration.

  16. Adrian said on

    Musical instruments that can be heard by neighbours should not be played in the home. Period. I don’t practice anything in the home that would be intrusive on my neighbours and expect the same. It seems that the majority of pianists feel they have a right to make a noise that others have to endure. Wrong. If you have to practice go and do it somewhere nobody else can hear you.

  17. Susan Tomes said on

    It’s interesting that there are some new comments on this old blog post. I do find that in recent years there is less understanding of musicians and their practising of instruments in the home. It’s a very old problem, dating back hundreds of years, but perhaps the situation is perceived as being worse now that so many people live in flats or in buildings with inadequate soundproofing, as often seems to be the case with newbuild homes. I certainly agree that musicians have to co=operate and be sensitive to their neighbours. It is never acceptable to practise ‘at all times of the day and night’.

  18. Susan Tomes said on

    Thank you, Adrian. See my reply to Sam, below. You are right that we all have to be considerate about our neighbours. I would only comment that it is not so easy for pianists to ‘go and do it somewhere nobody else can hear you’. If you are still in college, you may have access to pianos in college. If not, then it is hard to find a piano ‘somewhere else’, especially on a regular basis.

  19. Tim said on

    We live in a detached house, but I do not do any loud practicing in the early morning or evening, because it may disturb neighbors. My problem is this: My wife can only endure a limited amount of piano practice, and intensely dislikes a few pieces that I play. I’m thinking about getting a digital keyboard with weighted keys to approximate my acoustic piano. That way I can engage in the more intense, technical, repetitive practice that is required to be a good pianist, saving the less intensive work for my acoustic piano practice.

  20. Susan Tomes said on

    The subject of piano practice continues to be popular on this page, though alas not in a happy way. Digital pianos are certainly a practical alternative for those wishing not to disturb other listeners. Digital piano with weighted keys can be a good approximation of a ‘real’ piano keyboard, though of course the sound is very different as there are no strings to resonate in sympathy with one another.

  21. Trump said on

    “It seems that the majority of pianists feel they have a right to make a noise that others have to endure. Wrong. If you have to practice go and do it somewhere nobody else can hear you.”

    Professional pianists have a right to make a living.

    The only place to go where no one else can hear you is Antarctica.

    Serious question for all the haters that think musicians should be banned from practicing in home: why should musicians have to make particular accommodations forYOU? If you work a night shift and a neighbor’s 10:00am practicing cuts into your sleeping schedule, you’re more than welcome to find a day job or move. Or be less sensitive.

  22. Susan Tomes said on

    ‘Trump’, thanks for your comment. I don’t completely agree with you though. In my view it’s essential, as well as practical, to be sensitive to neighbours and hope that they will be sensitive to you too. Hopefully there’s a way that professional pianists can practise and pursue their livelihood without making other people’s lives difficult.

  23. Trevor said on

    I am a retired academic and I research and write from home. A music tuition school has just rented and moved into the terraced house next door and have now started loud practices. Apparently they will have all the instruments of the orchestra, rehearsing/teaching every day bar Sunday and carrying on into the evenings!The owners or letting agents did not think to inform me or alert the new tenants to my presence.
    I am very afraid that the repetitive noise will become intolerable and it surely infringes my right to relative peace and quiet in my own home.
    Does anyone know if in fact I do have any rights in this matter? Thanks for any help/advice.

  24. Susan Tomes said on

    Trevor, I am sorry to hear of your problem, but this is not the right place to seek advice about your rights – this is just my personal blog about being a musician. It does seem unfair that you should be subjected to constant noise. Do you have a legal advice centre or a citizens’ rights bureau you could approach for information?

  25. Susan said on

    Thanks for this blog ! .. I was practicing on my new old piano, just a beginner .. and just as i was getting the jyst of my first song ‘Edelweiss’ , I googled for feedback so as to consider the impact of my practice on my good neighbours.
    While I live in a detached house I’m not sure how the sound carries so I can start again tomorrow and of course, check in with my neighbors and even factor in their work schedules, etc.
    Thanks for your advice.. So many details to consider with my new hobby. :-)

  26. Susan Tomes said on

    Hi Susan, it’s good of you to think of your neighbours, but as you live in a detached house I imagine you don’t have to worry at all!

  27. Kath said on

    We live in a mid terrace next door to a middle aged couple who both take it in turns to “practice “ playing the piano and have endured this for about four years. Their practicing is appalling and there has been no improvement in all this time. We can hear it in every room in the house including an extension which is separated by a kitchen and lounge there is simply no escape. My husband won’t agree to complain as he says this will cause problems between us. We have both recently retired and the husband is often “off sick” resulting in even more constant plonking on the keys (there is no tune playing) lasting for four or five hours at a time ….before the wife takes over. I am at the end of my tether and look for excuses to get out of the house which is difficult in a January. The other thing I don’t understand is that in the last year the noise has become even louder. Our son refuses to stay over now as the playing starts at 8.30 on a weekend morning. This is making me so miserable and spoiling my retirement.

  28. Susan Tomes said on

    Kath, you describe a very difficult situation. Obviously I am just one musician and not an expert on the subject of your rights as a neighbour. But I had a correspondence recently with someone who had a very similar problem to yours. In the end he asked his local council for their guidelines on reasonable hours for music practice, and then he went round armed with those guidelines and respectfully asked his neighbours if they could discuss the hours of piano practice with a view to limiting its impact. It had a very good result and they agreed on mutually acceptable hours for music-making. Nothing is going to change if you don’t speak to your neighbours, so be polite, stick to the facts, remain friendly and hopefully you’ll be able to improve matters. They may not realise that you can hear their playing so much.

  29. Moira said on

    I’ve just been reading all the posts on piano playing and neighbours. I live in a terraced house, and I teach piano a few hours a week. I also play for up to an hour a day, and my daughter is learning too. In January my neighbours came round and said my playing was waking their baby so we agreed I would stop playing at 8pm. A few weeks later they said couldn’t I do something about the noise as they had to turn up their TV. Last week they became quite aggressive, demanding to know what I was going to do about it as my playing was ruining their quality of life. We have moved our piano to a different wall – although we have a hall, as do they, between the houses. It is making me nervous playing at all – but I love playing the piano, and it is my way of relaxing.

  30. Morgen said on

    I couldn’t read this without posting! I have played the piano since I was 6 years old and now I am twenty and find it quite disgusting how people can’t appreciate a talent that has been worked hard for to gain a level of decent playing! I play for approx an hour each day always within the hours you are able to ‘make noise’ if habitable residents can hear! But still my neighbours complain (I live in a Victorian semi, thick walls!) Instead of pianist having to compromise how about appreciate a lot have time and effort for years have gone into learning a skill for 1hr a day, I work 12 hour shifts and find relaxation from playing the piano (for a short period not prolonged) and feel sorry for those who are rude enough to complain that it disturbs them watching tv!!

  31. SickOfGrandPianos said on

    While I admit my incapacity to grasp the importance of hearing an acoustic response from an instrument, I cannot come to consider a grand piano acceptable in an apartment (or any instrument with a large acoustic signature) and I believe you cannot convince any layman in terms of music. I can understand any student (of any major) or professional needs additional practice to be at their best, however, a home does not have to be where this practice takes place. If you are a student your school is always the best solution (libraries or practice rooms), if you are a professional then where you work is the best solution. A home is a place where you are to feel safe and rest, first (you cannot expect someone to rest somewhere else since free lodging is usually something unavailable). Then you can do anything you want as long as you are not disturbing others. Though a grand piano and music seem dignified and people involved usually carry an air of holier than thou (which is not helping to anyone), everything requires daily commitment and dedication if you are aiming for the top. For instance consider your neighbor to be a professional repairman aiming to use his electric tools perfectly and needs to study, would you be OK with it?
    If someone cannot find a professional setting for practicing, then I cannot believe that they are a professional, indeed.
    “Do not bring work to your home!” is a good motto.
    If someone is dead set on practicing at home then digital instruments and acoustic insulation (as simple as laying down couple of acoustic foam blocks) should be considered as the proper etiquette, I believe.

  32. Rob said on

    The neighbours below my apartment play their piano/electric keyboard several times a day, sometimes for several hours, from anytime in the morning to 10pm at night. When the building manager told them that it was disturbing the neighbours, the lady’s response was that that they have a right to play from 8am in the morning until 10pm at night.

    I can hear it in every room of the apartment. It dwarfs the TV in the living room. The noise keeps getting louder and more frequent.

    This disturbs me a lot and prevents me from resting and relaxing. It also distracts me from my work.

  33. Susan Tomes said on

    Hallo Rob and ‘SickOfGrandPianos’-
    Your comments continue the long line of people who are fed up with musicians, particularly pianists, practising in apartments.
    While SoGP is right that students can usually practise somewhere else, this is not an option for pianists once they are out of college years. Where are they to practise if not where they have their piano? Many considerations, financial and practical, make it unreasonable for a pianist to be required to ‘find somewhere else’ to practise on a daily basis.
    Yet you are right, of course, that a home should be a place to feel safe and rest.
    During my years of training, I don’t remember anyone ever addressing this problem of where a pianist is to practise the piano in later life. It was assumed that we would practise where we lived. I wonder if any music colleges have addressed this problem with their students? My impression is that it is a growing problem now that so many live in poorly sound-proofed apartments in cities.
    Perhaps the building trade bears some responsibility for the problem?

  34. Sigurd said on

    I came across this article when I was searching for a soundproof music room. I too have received complaints from my neighbours with regards to my flute practice. The first time when they complained, I changed my practice day. The second time, I changed my practice hour. The third time, I came to the conclusion that I just have to stop practising at home. I think we have to be in their shoes to get the picture: If someone put a headphone on a musician’s head and force to him listen to something he doesn’t like, let it be a different type of music, or baby crying, or traffic noise or whatever. I don’t think anyone will say “sure, I will listen to this for 5 hours a day everyday but only after 9am, etc”.

    Living in a city is difficult because of the density. I have heard story about a horn player practises in her car after driving away from her neighbourhood. For me, I practise outdoor far away from my neighbours at the moment. The downside is the places I practise have no heating. The last winter was long and awful, with many days the temperature was close to zero, if not sub-zero. It was too cold to take good breath and to move my fingers. The heavy winter gears kept me alive in the cold, but nothing can stop the flute from going flat. I thought it will be better when the weather is warmer. Well, this week I got about 15 mosquitos bites in the park.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have a good solution for the practice/noise issue. I think soundproof room is the way to go. However, it is a costly solution, and it is a non-starter for those who don’t own their own home. I wish there are more public music practice facility for rent. I was investigating long let on small office space (Even a small meeting room can take a grand piano. For flute, a small phone booth will work). Soundproofing seems to be quite rare in UK. I think I will experiment a bit the coming winter and see if there is a workable solution.

    In any case, I wish all of you the best of luck.

  35. Allison said on

    I personally really, really, hate the sound of pianos. I am sensitive to certain sounds and the sound of a piano and loud bass are two of the worst sounds in the world for me.

    I used to live in a condominium that was a very pleasant place to live for the last 12 years until an eccentric piano monster decided to take up tennancy in the unit next door to mine. My bedroom wall shared the same wall with this tennant’s upstairs den where he placed his loud old upright piano that he played daily for seemingly hours on end.

    The back of his piano was now facing the back of my bed’s headboard. I can’t begin to write about what utter hell it was dealing with that horrible piano racket in my own bedroom. I couldn’t sleep in my own bed anymore and I had to resort to sleeping on my couch in my living room.

    I’m not a confrontational person but I knew I had to say something to this guy about his noise, so it took all of my energy to knock on this guy’s door and explain the matter to him. This tennant was what I expected him to be: an inconsiderate, arrogant, foul mouthed, egotistical, sociopathic, middle aged single man, who hurled every kind of insult and threat at me that was possible. He slammed his front door in my face and that was it. I was in tears, shaking, feeling fearful and fearful of contacting the police on him. This guy truly frightened me.

    I mentioned this tennant to some of my other neighbors and they validated his bellicose attitude with them over parking issues, etc. Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore and when my lease was up I moved out. The disgusting piano monster got his way.

    Yes, life isn’t fair. I feel sad for the tennant who succeeded my tennancy.

  36. Susan Tomes said on

    Allison, this is a sad story. I am sorry to hear your quality of life was so badly impacted, and that the pianist himself was so insensitive when you tried to speak to him. I hope you have found a more peaceful place to live.

  37. Vili said on

    I started reading this to get an idea what could be possibly done to change the current situation.I live above a shop in the high street and recently somebody rented the the space below to move his piano school into it.
    Is there any legislation that prevents cohibiting of musical school with normal residents home.
    He does this in the evenings and over the weekend as well and I started to understand how one can hate piano…
    Any advice please?

  38. Susan Tomes said on

    I’m sorry for your predicament. My blog is just a personal blog about music – I’m not qualified to give legal advice. I’d suggest that you contact your local council to ask for their guidelines on noise in a residential setting.

  39. Alistair Simons said on

    “Today there are digital pianos which you can practise in silence, but that’s not the reality for most classical pianists who need to play acoustic pianos at home.”

    There are professional-grade digital pianos readily available and, if a pianist insists on playing only an acoustic piano, they should either play in a studio/dedicated rehearsal room or not live in an apartment building in the first place. It is utterly selfish of a pianist to obtain the benefits of apartment living and an acoustic piano at the expense of their neighbours.

  40. Susan Tomes said on

    This is still a hot topic. A lot of people would agree with you, Alistair.
    I have been fortunate – in the years in which I lived in multi-occupancy buildings, nobody ever complained about my piano practice. However, I made sure not to practice in the evenings. During student years, my neighbours were tolerant of my playing. In fact, they often claimed to like it. But now the trend certainly seems to be towards people wishing their neighbours would refrain from playing the piano. Many musicians don’t earn enough to rent a practise studio as well, so I don’t know what the answer is.

  41. Alistair Simons said on

    The answer is very simple: a digital piano with headphones.

  42. AlvC said on

    Alistair Simons, is not that simple since it is completely different thing. Unfortunately, a professional pianist needs a real strings piano because of many reasons (the touch feeling, the quality of sound, etc…)

  43. Susan Tomes said on

    Thank you AlvC for pointing this out.

  44. Jack said on

    I am going to study piano in UK. I plan to rent an apartment and put my baby grand piano there for my practice after school. In general, will landlord allow me to install soundproofing materials in the apartment? Do the soundproofing materials and thick carpets help in avoiding complaints? Any other recommendations? Thank you.

  45. Susan Tomes said on

    Hi Jack, I’m not an expert, just a pianist with my own experience of the problem. I am not sure what a landlord would say to the idea of soundproofing, but I doubt you would be allowed to put in such materials if you are only staying a short time. Best to look for an apartment where your practice has as little chance as possible of annoying your neighbours (ie ground floor, corner of building, room with no shared walls with neighbour’s room). Alternatively, many pianists find it practical to rent or buy a digital piano which can be played silently if need be.

  46. Rayna Slavova said on

    I read almost all of the comments in this blog. What really stands out to me is the lack of understanding about what it means to be a professional pianist. Most highly trained musicians are freelancers, which means that after they finish college their income relies on gigs throughout their lives. Basically, you don’t have a separate office and office hours as most people do. Our office is where our instrument is. Renting a studio is an expense that few musicians can afford, since we don’t make as much money as people with full time jobs do. I agree that we have to be considered to our neighbors and negotiate practicing hours, but exceptions will occur because of the nature of our work. I am planning to buy a baby grand and move into a concrete apartment building, hoping that the sound wouldn’t transmit as bad as in older wood and brick buildings. I plan to put a foam under the piano, a thick carpet and keep the lid closed.This is almost everything I can do. In the future I would buy one of the Yamaha disklavier pianos that can be silenced digitally. Meanwhile, I will try to negotiate with my neighbors, and if these measures are not enough, well, I am sorry, but I have to pay my rent and eat, so I need to practice.

  47. Susan Tomes said on

    Rayna, I think you are right: there is a lack of understanding about what it means to be a professional pianist.
    You are right too that the money we make as professional musicians doesn’t allow us to rent separate practice studios.
    Also, attitudes towards musicians have changed. I can remember when having a concert pianist next door would have been regarded as something rather nice, intriguing, even something to be proud of in the street. Judging from the comments under my blog post and elsewhere, this is no longer the case. It leaves professional pianists in a difficult position, especially if they wish to practise on an acoustic piano, not a digital piano that bears little resemblance to the piano they will be playing in their concerts.
    You’ll have noticed that my original post was several years ago, so this topic is probably taking a rest.

  48. Vic said on

    I personally agree with the comments that state it’s inconsiderate to infringe upon your neighbour to have quiet enjoyment of their home. Pianists themselves would be frustrated if they were subjected to an unwelcome repetitive sound that they did not enjoy.

    It prevents people working remotely from concentrating and prevents me from studying. I spoke to the neighbour and agreed on time slots that allowed him to play 12 hours or day. But every few weeks he would forget and go over this and this lasted for several months. I then decided to contact the council, who made it clear that noises such as instruments, loud music, dogs barking too loud etc… are subject to the same laws as sound in general.

    I find out that legally (according to my local authority) there is no set time that “musicians are allowed to make noise”. They made it clear that of I can hear it in my home and it affects my quiet enjoyment of my home that I could report it, have it investigated and it could lead to confiscation of the equipment or instruments causing the disruption.

    They issue noise abatement orders, then ASBO and if this persists then they have a listen and confiscate the item.

    I then tried speaking to him one more time and he agreed and then a few weeks later “forgot the times again” which I think 8am – 8pm is not that difficult to forget it’s a whole 12 hours!

    I then proceeded to contact my local authority who have now commenced stage 1 of issuing him
    With a noise abatement order.

    Though I was happy to agree to time slots to allow him to practise 12 hours per day after reading the comments in this blog from other pianists I have come to realise that they generally are inconsiderate.

    I think it’s really sad to see people insisting on their right to practise in an environment that significantly impacts their neighbour.

    You are literally forcing repetitive noise on your neighbours and that is not something that should be looked upon as an issue with the neighbour.

    I agree with someone who said professionals should practise in professional establishments but to move a piano into apartments is extremely inconsiderate as you already are aware of how loud it is

  49. Susan Tomes said on

    Vic, this topic has been quiet for a while, but your comments have reminded us all of the problems experienced by neighbours. I hope you and the musician concerned will find a solution that you can both live with.

  50. Sally Prittie said on

    I have found this very helpful. I am an erstwhile piano teacher, retired, and thinking of moving into a maisonette, upper floors with my Yamaha G3. I’m not sure we could consider buying it without meeting the neighbour below. I don’t often play more than 90 minutes a day now, but would hate to create problems. Presently we’re in a terrace next to a letting house and I don’t think anyone stays there long enough to mind, no banging on the wall ever! I dream of living in Jerusalem where on a nice afternoon little impromptu concerts spring up from first floor windows with groups gathered on pavements to enjoy their free delights!

  51. Susan Tomes said on

    Sally, it’s a great idea to check that your neighbour is happy with the prospect of you playing the piano for a short time each day. Let’s just hope that this neighbour doesn’t decide to move out and present you with a new neighbour who feels differently. Good luck with your move!

  52. Felicia said on

    Thanks for this thread, I found it when researching what to do about our new neighbour. Playing started when putting their crying baby to bed 8-9pm each night and I sympathised as have a young daughter. Although their playing is now keeping my young daughter up who goes to sleep at 8pm. They have now started playing in the day and I hear everything as though they are in my room – all the rooms in the flat are the same due to the small size and lack of sound proofing.
    I work from home on calls most of the day – even noise cancelling headphones do not help.
    We live in a small block of flats (all the same tiny 2bed size) and am surprised that anyone would move a piano into such tiny apartments, and then not choose to speak to their new neighbours before commencing playing.
    Does anyone have suggestions for me?

  53. Susan Tomes said on

    Felicia, I find this kind of thing excruciatingly difficult myself, but there’s probably no alternative to approaching your neighbour politely and asking if they are aware you can hear their playing as if it is in your own house. It’s possible that they don’t realise. They may be willing to adjust their schedule. If they do realise, but don’t feel like being helpful, that’s another matter … not sure if I have wise advice for that situation.

  54. Fee said on

    Many thanks Susan. After my email I sent a welcome cake and went to speak to him to explain how my clients and colleagues were commenting and it was disturbing my ability to concentrate as well as my daughter’s sleep. I work in a field with no room for error (we make client payments). My neighbour agreed to at least not play in the day (at that point he was playing 4-6 hours per day) when I spoke a few weeks ago. However that was short lived. When I followed up today after more of my client complaints he told me it was not possible for him to refrain as other people did not want him playing in the evening. He also shouted at me and told me he does not care about the local council rules on noise as it is my responsibility to get a measuring device to prove matters, amongst other rather intimidating statements clearly implying he knows the council do very little to act and that I will need to take him to court. I am not a confrontational person and I will be honest I felt frightened, as he seemed to be threatening. I am even afraid to now approach the council and feel my only solution is to move as soon as my lease is up. I am clearly going to stay far away and avoid him in future entirely – not raising it at all again. Sad as clearly that was his intention. Has anyone encountered something similar and how did you deal with the fear aspect?

  55. Susan Tomes said on

    Felicia, I am sorry to hear this tale. It sounds to me as if you have approached this situation very tactfully. Sadly I can’t give advice as I am just another musician hoping for tolerance from my neighbours! Maybe your own neighbours could give you some moral support?

  56. Sharon said on

    I am a piano teacher who, pre-Covid, travelled to pupils. I came across this post when lookng for information on people’s feelings about hearing the piano being played in a flat. I will be buying my own home and was thinking about teaching at my new home on an acoustic. This blog has helped me make a decision, so thank you, Susan. I’m going to keep my Kawai digital piano and buy a ground floor flat so the neighbours do not hear the sound of the keys and will continue travelling to pupils. I don’t want to be afraid to play the piano in my new home.

  57. Susan Tomes said on

    Sharon – good luck with your move! This topic seems to run and run. I have been struck by the degree of distress on both sides of the argument.
    Thinking about pianists in the past, I’m not aware that (eg) Mozart had neighbours banging on the wall, telling him to stop playing, but of course many things have changed since then.

  58. Balint V said on

    Hi fellow musicians and neighbors, I just got a complaint from both above and below my rented apartment.
    I have been playing the piano for about 4 years in this apartment, and this is the first time I get any complaints, although this time I did start at 10pm. This came as a surprise, because I have a digital yamaha piano, and I have been playing with headphones, so no actual piano sounds could be heard anywhere but in my ears. My neighbors actually thought I was drumming or something, but what they heard were the knocking sounds from the piano hammer mechanics of the keys, which I admit make more of a noise than I’d like to admit, but I didn’t know if it can be heard at all from other apartments or not.
    Although I am not a professional, sometimes I do like to play for hours even late in the evening until as late as 11pm.
    I’m all for less noise going through to the neighbors if it can be done cost effectively, but I don’t know what would help most. I’ve read some advice that the piano should be moved a bit further from the wall, and that carpets help. I also found soundproof “piano castor cup”-s.
    Anybody has experience with these cups?
    I think these are all based around the assumption that the noise goes from the piano body vibrating, onto the floor and the walls to the neighbors, but what if the noise can go just through the air directly to other walls and still be heard? I can’t do much against that.
    I guess if I can’t minimize the noise further I will have to schedule practice hours with neighbors within reason.

  59. Susan Tomes said on

    Balint, this is a worrying new variation on the problem! You already have a digital piano, and you were playing it through headphones, but the neighbours still heard it and were annoyed by the knocking noises. I wonder if others have experienced this?

    I definitely think a rug or carpet under the piano would help – or a big piece of foam, or something to absorb the mechanical sounds of the keyboard.

    Also, I wonder if you are playing the keys with more force than you need to?

    There is a public library in my city, and it has a digital keyboard that can be played (through headphones) by members of the public. I have heard students practising difficult piano pieces on it. Although I can’t hear the music, the mechanical sounds are certainly loud, and I have noticed that some people’s finger technique makes the noise considerably louder.
    The keys of digital pianos don’t generally need much weight when playing, and there may be something you could adjust in your playing technique – which you might find pleasing too.

  60. Debra Williams said on

    I was born in my house and am now 60 years old with a long history of depression and other illnesses. My next door neighbour is a musician and often practices and has his band come round its now and then so no problem neither is his teenage daughter who practices the violin and flute we put up with this as she is a kid and its his livelihood However in the last 2 years his wife plays piano constantly she doesnt work and plays all day I had to ask her to stop when i had covid 19 i was at breaking point she goes over and over the parts she gets wrong and has played only 3 different tunes in the last 2 years it grinds on me the people on the other side of them have moved and I really dont want to lose my temper so my house is up for sale . they have driven me out of the house i was born in. she says she plays because it hel;ps her arthritis how inconsiderate

  61. Susan Tomes said on

    Debra, this is a sad story. I do wonder if it would be worth talking politely to your piano-playing neighbour. For example, you could suggest that a digital keyboard could be played through headphones, allowing it still to be a therapeutic physical exercise for the pianist, but getting rid of the noise for you and other neighbours. Good luck with whatever you decide.

  62. pianist said on

    I have an 11 year old child on a musical scholarship at high school, she is a piano major. Winner of many international competitions. She needs to practise 3-4 hrs minimum during weekdays, 5-6 hours on the weekends. She can’t practise on a digital as it will create problems. She in fact needs a grand instead of an upright, as this too has limitations for her. I am a single parent so buying a detached house is not an option. We must rent. She can’t practise at school either. It is stressful, I feel bad for the neighbours, and for her. Really have no idea what the solution is. But there are how many millions of kids playing piano in China these days? 99% of them live in apartments! I asked my friend in Beijing and she said all the families make the same noise, so there is mutual tolerance. I guess if classical music wasn’t close to dead in the West, it would be similar.

  63. Susan Tomes said on

    It is very interesting to hear about different situations around the world. In the 19th century, Vienna was famous for the sound of people practising the piano all over the city, and now it seems that the same is true in Beijing.

    I respectfully disagree with your comment that classical music is ‘close to dead in the West’, though. There will always be listeners who love this music. And many classical musicians are trying extremely hard to reach out to new listeners.

  64. neighbour said on

    “It was a thick Victorian wall, too, so they must have used more than a human fist to bang so loudly. It sounded as if they were using a battering-ram”

    Susan…does it not occur to you this level of amplification works both ways?

    ie. If a human fist knocking sounds like a battering ram to you, your piano playing will sound much louder to them.

    Speaking as someone who lives downstairs from a piano player.

  65. Susan Tomes said on

    Alas, this topic continues to distress both pianists and neighbours of pianists. I think the only answer must be an instrument with a silent mode.
    Attitudes seem to vary from country to country. I have colleagues in Holland, Germany and Austria who claim that their neighbours have never minded their piano practice and sometimes even claim to like it!

  66. Fed up said on

    I live in an end terraced house. My neighbour has a piano for her children to practice. I have to turn my television sound up to drown the noise. My mum passed away last year and I’ve really struggled. The lack of empathy from my neighbour is disgraceful. Trying to speak with them just makes the situation worse. She has even told me to get better ear plugs. We are now going to move from our home of 25 years. I was brought up to respect other people, obviously she wasn’t. Sad times

  67. Susan Tomes said on

    Musicians practising at home in their apartments continues to be a hot topic here. It has been in the news that some local authorities (in London) are taking a view that any kind of noise can be a nuisance, even if it is someone playing her acoustic guitar for example. One always hopes that some sensitivity and compromise are in order on both sides, but increasingly it seems that the two sides are polarising – in this as in so much else.

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