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Avoiding noise complaints as a practicing musician: advice from Musicians' Union

Blog by Musicians' Union under Live, Recording & Production

There were just over 80,000 noise complaints in the UK last year, according to a recent Chartered Institute of Environmental Health survey. Nearly 1,000 abatement notices were served. The majority are bona fide problems, but working and studying musicians are also being accused of creating a noisy nuisance. 

Musicians’ Union (MU) members are increasingly finding themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place – the need to practice, and stay on neighbours’ good sides. Here’s the lowdown on what the issue is and how you can protect yourself. 

Start from the beginning
Being pro-active can save you a headache later. Talk to your neighbour about whether they can hear your music and if they mind it in the background. Agreeing to specific times to practice your instrument can help keep relations friendly.  

Playing loud and late will probably create a problem, so try to keep practice limited to a few hours at a time and at reasonable hours. Unplug the amp, close the windows, and if possible practice in a sound-proofed room. 

As a rough guide, local authorities often state that if your neighbour can hear you practise above the sound of the TV then it can be considered a nuisance. Of course, this is a subjective guideline and depends on how loud your neighbour listens to the TV. What classes as ‘excessive noise’ can also depend on the time of day, how often and how long you play. 

Be warned - night hours are considered to be between 11pm and 7am, so acceptable noise levels are much lower during these hours. 

Call that music? 
Neighbours complaining about musicians practising raises issues about the definition of ‘noise’. There’s often a cultural hierarchy at play too, with classical musicians being held in higher regard than musicians playing more contemporary work.

While most reasonable people accept that the sound of someone repeatedly playing the same thing can be tiresome, we should also be celebrating new music, working musicians, and the opportunity to learn and play an instrument. 

Get in touch
If you find yourself the subject of a noise complaint because of your work or practice as a musician, and you’re an MU member, get in touch with your Regional Office for advice via theMU.org. You can also find us on Twitter @WeAreTheMU or on Facebook

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