Have you ever had a complaint from a neighbour about your piano playing? Have you ever thought how can my piano playing and practice become a nuisance to my neighbours? If you live in a flat, apartment or condominium type of living arrangement, it may well be a concern.
Recently, I received a Cease and Desist style letter from my property manager concerning my piano practicing and playing. The letter stated that my piano playing and practicing is a nuisance to my neighbour in the suite below me. Even though I had previously installed acoustic foam at the back of the soundboard to reduce the sound level, it was not sufficient enough to mitigate the sound from travelling downwards. Hence, the Condominium Board decided to put a ban on me from playing altogether. Upon receiving this letter, I was beyond devastation. This notice served upon me had caused me severe stress and anxiety and lead to other stress related symptoms, like sleeplessness.
In some of parts of the world there are City Bylaws that regulate certain noise activities within certain hours of the day, generally between 7:00am and 10:00pm. These City Bylaws generally govern noise typically from the operation of motorized lawn mowers, power tools, leaf blowing devices and the like. Animal owners are also responsible for supervising their pets when outside so they do not cause a nuisance by their behaviour including barking. If you violate these regulations you may be subject to fines.
Unfortunately, City Bylaws generally do not address owners and residents who play and practice their piano. If you live in a condominium or an apartment, the sound of a piano may become a nuisance even if you abide by the hours set out by the City Bylaw.
Your Condominium Bylaws may also stipulate a different set of rules and regulations that you need to abide by. An example is “the owner of a Unit shall not make or permit a noise to be made in or about any Unit, exclusive use common areas, the common property or the corporation property which in the opinion of the Board is a nuisance or unreasonably interferes with the use and enjoyment and comfort of other Units.” Your Condo Board may prohibit you from enjoying your piano playing as part of your hobby or interest in your own living space since it is regarded as interfering with others from enjoying their home.
Following this restriction served upon me, I put on every ounce of my effort to find solutions to this problem, since the piano is an important aspect of my life. What can a person do to help mitigate noise issues that could arise? First and foremost, it is recommended that you take preventative measures to soundproof your piano and your environment before you even receive any notice from your property manager. Sound travels in all directions across rooms and walls through convection, conduction and radiation. Direct transmission of vibrational energy from the piano through the legs into the floor is one of the main reasons that noise complaints come from below, and not above.
You can try the following methods to mitigate the sound for all upright (vertical) and grand pianos:
- The piano can be fitted with a wool string cover and acoustic foam baffles can be inserted between the soundboard to reduce the volume. This is effective and reversible at a low cost for both upright and grand pianos.
- Lay a piece of thick rug over a rubber mat beneath your piano.
- Close your windows when you play/practice.
- Have your piano re-voiced by a technician to mellow, soften and reduce the harsh overtone. Although one can always practice with the una corda or the ‘left’ pedal depressed but I would not really recommend it as this pedal is not intended for this purpose.
- If all the above aren’t effective, you will need to consider installing caster cups. Caster cups are designed to put an acoustic break between the piano and the structure of the building. It is designed to acoustically isolate the piano from the floor to cut down the direct transmission of sound into the room below and adjoining rooms.
- The extremity is to install acoustic panels on the wall to trap the sound and keep it from penetrating the wall.
It is impossible to exactly quantify the effectiveness of the level of reduction through the floor. A lot of it depends on the construction of the building which influences the direct transmission of vibrational energy to adjoining units/suites below. As a general guideline, for a quiet conversation the sound intensity is measured at 55 decibels, the sound intensity of 60 decibel is comparable to conversation that takes places in a public area. A vacuum cleaner or a hair dryer operate at 70 decibels and city traffic is measured at 85 decibels. Duration of the noise is also a factor that can trigger annoyance.
In Part 2 of my blog, I will post what further measures one can take to counter this undesirable problem.