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Violinist James Ehnes on Practicing Without Annoying the Neighbors

"How does one practice at home without annoying your neighbors." We threw the question over to Canadian violinist James Ehnes to get his exclusive advice.

No matter where you live, practicing at home can be a common problem facing countless musicians. Neighbors often complain about the noise, causing tension, arguments, or even legal issues. Like many others, VC reader Benjamin wanted to know what he could do to mitigate the situation.

How do you deal with neighbors that don't like you practicing? Do you leave and go somewhere else or try to find a compromise? Please let us know in the comments below. We’re all keen to learn more from you.


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Real Advice from James Ehnes for Avoiding Upset Neighbors

Hi Benjamin,

Great question, and I’m afraid I don’t have any easy answers!

I assume you are asking about a situation in an apartment, as practicing in a detached house is rarely going to be a problem (unless you play trombone and like practicing with the windows open).

If one has options, choose your neighbors carefully. Are there other musicians in the building? Are there people in the building who are likely to be working from home? Will your neighbors mainly be young and working, or older and retired? Are there young children in the building?

Life is, of course, often about compromise. As musicians, sometimes our lives and schedules are a bit more flexible than people working in other industries. If your neighbor works nights but you like to practice in the morning, maybe you can think about adjusting your habits, since changing your practice routine is probably easier that your neighbor changing their job! Get to know your neighbors. If they like you, they’ll be more likely to be understanding of your situation. Invite them to a performance. Let them know when you have something particularly important coming up.

"Get to know your neighbors. If they like you, they’ll be more likely to be understanding of your situation."

Be considerate. If you’re desperately cramming for a performance and you absolutely need to put in an hour of work at some crazy hour of the night, by all means use a practice mute! But also be aware of your rights. In some places, there are laws that protect the rights of musicians to practice in their homes between certain hours.

I guess ultimately the best advice I could give is to suggest you put yourself in your neighbors’ shoes, and try to empathize with what might be an occasionally difficult situation for them. If you treat your neighbors with understanding and respect, they are much more likely to reciprocate.

Oh – and be sure to play really, really, really well – that will make everyone happy. 




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Bio: One of the foremost violinists of our time, James Ehnes has performed in more than thirty-five countries on five continents. In addition to his solo work, he is the first violinist of the Ehnes Quartet and the artistic director of the Seattle Chamber Music Society. He is the honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in London, and a fellow to the Royal Society of Canada. Along with the 2017 Royal Philharmonic Society Award in the Instrumentalist category, he has garnered a Grammy, a Gramophone, and 11 Juno awards.

James Ehnes, (born January 27, 1976) is a Canadian concert violinist and violist. Ehnes performs on the 1715 "ex-Marsick" Stradivarius. His commercial recordings have won numerous awards and prizes, including 11 Junos, two Grammies, and a Gramophone Award. Ehnes is Artistic Director of the Seattle Chamber Music Society. He and violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti, violist Richard O'Neill, and cellist Edward Arron perform as the Ehnes Quartet. Ehnes lives in Ellenton, Florida with his wife and two children.

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