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Playing acoustic guitar is a fun and rewarding experience but it can be a challenge for someone living in an apartment. I’ve had my share of apartment dwelling throughout my life and have had to deal with this exact problem since I have been a guitar player for the majority of my life.
I have lived in apartments, military barracks, and Navy ships and have had to come up with ways to play my guitar without bothering others. Apartment walls are often thin and easy to hear through. Someone who has no courtesy for their neighbors could be very disturbing by playing a loud instrument.
I have always tried to be courteous to others and make sure I am treating them the way I want to be treated. I don’t like to hear loud neighbors so I certainly don’t want to be loud to others. Depending on the type of guitar you have, strings and your style of playing, it could be a potential problem if you live in an apartment and try to play regularly.
An acoustic guitar can project a loud sound. It can often be heard through apartment walls so you may have a problem playing loudly on an acoustic guitar if you live in an apartment. However, there are a few ways that you can play more quietly and be respectful to your neighbors.
This will all depend upon the type of music that you play. For example, someone who plays fingerstyle guitar will have an easier time being quiet on the guitar than someone who plays bluegrass music where loud strumming is often required.
I play using the fingerstyle method most of the time so I have not had a problem with being too loud for my neighbors when living in apartments. When you play guitar in this way, you can easily play softer by plucking the strings more quietly.
This may not be as easy to do if you use a pick and strum the guitar. This creates a much louder sound that will carry further and be heard from a further distance. You may have to change your style of playing so that you can remain quiet and avoid any problems that may arise from being the noisy neighbor.
No one wants to be that noisy neighbor that others don’t want to live next to. You will likely get complaints and have a lot of unhappy neighbors if you do not take into consideration the level of noise you are creating.
One thing that you might consider doing is befriending your neighbor and talking to them about it. Your neighbor may be totally fine with it as long as you aren’t loud at certain times and are courteous about it.
Of course, it won’t be just one neighbor that you will have to speak with but you will likely need to speak to any neighbor that is in ear range of your guitar playing.
How Many Decibels Is An Acoustic Guitar?
According to my tests, the average decibel rating of an acoustic guitar is around 60 – 80 dB. There are many variables at play though when you try to pinpoint the exact decibels. It will differ depending on the type of guitar body that you have. A small parlor guitar will not produce the same decibels as a large dreadnought body.
There might also be a difference in decibels between guitars that use steel strings and guitars that use nylon strings such as classical guitars. Classical guitars will not be as loud since they are often played using a fingerstyle method. You will have more control over keeping a classical guitar quiet than what you will with a steel-string guitar.
I have tested my acoustic guitar playing using various methods and the results I got are listed below.
The levels that I got were taken from my Gibson J-15 jumbo-sized guitar using light strings. I used the Decibel: dB sound level meter app on my iPad and positioned it about a foot in front of my guitar.
|Strumming heavily on my guitar with a light gauge pick
|Strumming lightly on my guitar with a light gauge pick
|Strumming lightly with the soft part of my thumb
|Playing fingerstyle using only the skin of my fingers
As you can see, the dB level can be controlled somewhat by the style of playing that you are doing.
How To Play An Acoustic Guitar Quietly
If you are having trouble being able to play your guitar quietly, rest assured that there are ways that you can decrease the noise that your acoustic guitar makes. It will probably involve changing the way you normally play but at least you’ll be able to play your guitar without bothering your next-door neighbor.
Play Without A Pick
One simple way that you can decrease the amount of noise that comes from your acoustic guitar is to play it without using a pick. Depending on the type of music you play, this may or not be an issue. If you put the pick aside and strum quieter using the skin on your thumb, you will produce much less sound than you would with a pick.
You can also control the sound that is projected by strumming softer. Using the skin of your thumb allows you to feel the strings better and allows you to put greater or less pressure, creating the sound that you want.
This is a great way to continue playing the guitar while being quiet about it. I have used this technique in situations where I need it to be quiet so that I would not disturb others.
This has always been my go-to method for playing my guitar without disturbing neighbors in apartments, hotels or other places where others may be disturbed by my music.
Use Lighter Strings
Another great way is to use lighter strings on your guitar. If you are used to using medium or heavy strings, you can choose to change your strings to light gauge. These strings are easier to play on but they do not project sound as loud as heavier strings would.
If you are living in an apartment, it only makes sense that you should be using the lightest strings possible that will allow you to continue to play the type of music that you are used to.
I grew up playing bluegrass music and always had medium gauge strings on my acoustic guitars. However, after growing up and living in places that required me to keep the noise levels down, I switched to light gauge strings and have been using those ever since.
I find it easier to play with light strings since my preferred way to play the guitar now is by using a fingerpicking method. I sometimes use a light gauge pick to play with but enjoy playing more with my fingers than any other way.
Playing with your fingers like this allows you to control the sound better. I can play my guitar in the same room as my wife and she can barely hear what I’m playing if I want it to be that way.
Mute The Strings
Another technique that you can use while playing the guitar is to mute the strings with your palm. This can be done with the hand that you are strumming the guitar with. Simply press down on the strings with your palm as you are playing and the sound will be muted.
This may not be the best way to hear the music that you are playing but it is a great way to continue to play the guitar and work on your techniques and speed skills etc. while still maintaining a sense of quietness. You can control how muted the sound is by how hard you press down with your palm.
Cover The Sound Hole On Your Guitar
Although covering the soundhole is mainly a method to help reduce feedback, it can also help lower the sound a little bit. When you strum or pluck a string on the guitar, the vibrations are made louder by resonating throughout the guitar body. If the hole is covered up, the vibrations will not resonate as much.
Although this doesn’t reduce the sound a whole lot, it will help and may be combined with another technique discussed above to reduce the overall sound.
This is a cheap method to use since a soundhole cover can be purchased for a minimal amount of money.
If you live in an apartment and still want to be able to play an acoustic guitar, you certainly have options. Although an acoustic guitar can project a loud sound that might annoy close living neighbors, the techniques discussed above will allow you to play the guitar and keep your neighbors happy as well.
The most important thing is to respect your neighbors and treat them the way you would want to be treated. You have to understand that living in an apartment is going to be this way and you will nearly always need to keep in mind that others may be hearing what you are doing.
I always assume that someone might be able to me and I try to avoid being louder than I have to be.
People who live in apartments next to you have the right to their peace and quiet. Make sure that you are doing all that you can to keep your noise level to a minimum so that you can avoid being the noisy neighbor that everyone hates.