How to practise at home without annoying your neighbours


Practice is part of life for all musicians, and string players are no exception. But what do you do if those around you think your music is just a nuisance? Vicky Hancock finds out

When Noise Annoys

It can be a test of tolerance for some, living next door to a musician – or sharing a hotel with one. The sounds of practising can be as unwanted as a TV or radio on too loudly. Most of the time, musicians and neighbours happily coexist side by side, but when disputes occur, there’s a chance things will turn nasty, as violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky discovered in a hotel in Novorossiysk, Russia. ‘After I’d practised for five hours, a massive, tall guy knocked at my door. He told me in broken Russian that if I didn’t stop immediately he would break my violin in half and then snap each of my fingers.’ And what did Sitkovetsky do? ‘I said, “Thank you for letting me know” and quickly closed the door.’ 

Sitkovetsky’s experience was extreme, but musicians often face conflict. Back in 2007, one such dispute caught the attention of the national press in the UK. Two young freelance violinists living in a block of flats in Manchester, Hazel Ross and Oliver Morris, were sent a letter from their local council telling them that their instruments could be seized if they continued to practise. The cause of the letter: just one unhappy neighbour who’d lodged a complaint.

The pair had been aware of his unhappiness, but the action came as a surprise. ‘We did everything we could to avoid practising at home,’ says Ross. ‘We practised at college and at friends’ houses, and if we did practise at home, we always stopped if he asked.’ Despite support from their other neighbours, in the end the couple moved. They decided they had to be able to practise at home, plus the relationship with their unhappy neighbour had deteriorated further because of the publicity.

Practising at home also caused problems for violinist Ilya Gringolts while living in New York. ‘Our neighbours below…

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