The Thing About the Neighbors

by Omar on October 13, 2009

in Education, Product Review

"Rock-a-Bye Bear" by MGM

"Rock-a-Bye Bear" by MGM


Since I love drums so much, I inevitably find instances, experiences in life that parallel, or even in the remotest sense, have something in common with drumming.  The experiences may not only be related to the actual playing of the drums themselves, but also to the environments in which we play them.  An experience early on in life may have an effect on our playing today.

When I was very young, my father used to work the night shift.  This obviously meant that he had to sleep during the day.  Unfortunately for him, he had four sons who always had the potential of making some noise:  TV too loud, creaky floor, unintentional door-slamming, book dropping to the floor, etc.  Unfortunately for us, he was a very light sleeper.  And he was cranky. One peep out of us, one wood creaking of the floor, and all of a sudden you'd hear some screaming from the master bedroom, "Who's there?  Who's there!  Come here!  Come here!" That caused all of us kids to get paranoid by even the slightest sound when he was sleeping.

On one occasion, I was headed for my bedroom to go to sleep, tip-toeing all the way.  Right before I entered my room, the wood floor creaked just a little.  I froze.  All of a sudden I heard the screaming from my Dad's room, "Who's there?  Who's that?  Come here!"  I rushed to my bed and pulled over the covers.  My Dad actually got up and came to our room to see if he could tell who 'intentionally' roused him from his needed slumber, but I made as if I was fast asleep.  He went away, and I dodged a bullet (or actually, his authoritative backhand).

Today, my brothers and I joke about that, and we crack up laughing when we mock how our father freaked out when he lost a minute of sleep (it's ok though, our father knows we kid about it; we even do in front of him now, and he just laughs 🙂 ).  It reminds me of one of the funniest cartoons ever, a classic called "Rock-a-Bye Bear" by MGM.  It's about a bear (apparently a hibernating one) who hires a dog to make sure everything's quiet while he sleeps.  Of course, he's yelling all of the instructions to the dog ("I hate NOISE!  Can't stand NOISE!"), yells goodnight as he's stomping away, and slams the door behind him.  In a little soft voice, the hired dog says, "Goodnight," only to have the bear come back screaming at the dog, "SHUT UP!  QUIET!  I SAID QUIET!  What's the matter?  You DEAF or somethin'?"  Hm, reminds me a little of my Dad!

Well that episode in our lives left me and my brothers somewhat traumatized.  We laugh about it now, but if anyone is sleeping in the house we're in, be it our own or visiting, even if it's a baby, we hear a noise and we freeze.  It's almost comical, but we just can't be at ease, ever, if someone's asleep in the house.

But since we love music, what is the instrument of choice for someone who 'can't stand noise'?  The drums, of course!  How comically tragic.  What's a drum lover to do?

This 'traumatization' has affected me to this day, and it's taking a lot of effort on my part to overcome it.  I'm still working on it.  Take, for instance, my first drum cover I posted on YouTube, "Crawl Away" by Tool.  Now there were a few circumstances surrounding this cover.  I was testing a camera, I was testing out the drum tuning, and I was playing the first full song on the newly acquired kit without ever having practiced it before.  The synchronization of the audio with the video was not, well, in sync, and you can tell that I'm playing very tentatively.  The latter could have been because I hadn't played the song before, or I had just started playing drums in earnest - finally (check my story to see what I mean).  But the real reason I'll attribute my tentative playing to is what I call the 'neighbor syndrome'.

Ok, I'm pretty sure I didn't coin that phrase, but I'm applying it in this case to a drummer with neighbors, which I would say are most drummers (if you live in your own house with no neighbors close by, then you don't suffer from the 'neighbor syndrome', but keep reading anyway!).  I cringe when I feel like I'm bothering someone with noise; it's just in my blood.  I've tried very hard to overcome this, and I've made strides.

Just for comparison's sake, check out the latest drum cover that I recorded, Van Halen's "Girl Gone Bad".  You can tell that I'm playing much more forcefully, beating those drums and slamming those cymbals.  You'd figure that for a song like "Crawl Away" I'd play with at least as much force, being that Tool is at least a hard rock band.  But I had not gotten over the 'neighbor syndrome' yet.  Even for "Girl Gone Bad", I could've played it even harder, but by then I had gotten over most of my 'neighbor syndrome'.  How did I do this?

For starters, I still don't want to bother the neighbors!  So I always ensured that I never played after dark.  My usual cutoff was 5:00 or 6:00pm at the latest.  This enabled me to respect the right of my neighbors to have peace and quiet.

Next, I took the initiative and spoke with my neighbors and let them know what I was up to.  I let them know that I played drums and recorded myself, and that I would be posting these recordings online.  One neighbor actually said that she now lived next door to a celebrity!  Flattering, yes - I'll take that compliment!  I let them know when I would be playing (generally, not specifically).  You never know if you have a neighbor who works the graveyard shift, and you don't want to intrude on their rest.  Letting your neighbors know beforehand when you would be playing gives them warning so they know what to expect, and they'll more likely respect that you took the initiative.

Yet another step you can take for dealing with the 'neighbor syndrome' is to take measures to soundproof your playing room as much as possible.  Where you play could influence what type of soundproofing material you use, or if you need sound absorption vs. sound blocking. Some may use corrugated foam or fiberglass rigid boards for soundproofing, but this isn't always the best solution.  Audimute, whose slogan is "We Make Soundproofing Simple", has many solutions specifically tailored for drum rooms, garage bands, professional studios, and more.  For example, their Absorption Sheets are, well, sheets, made of sound-absorbing materials that you can hang on the walls.  They have videos with testimonials and customer profiles with applications that may give you ideas as to how you could soundproof your playing room.  You can also call them at 866-505-MUTE (6883) for more specific inquiries.  Of course, Audimute isn't the only company that sells this type of product, but they're a great place to start.*

Yet another option we have to combat the 'neighbor syndrome' is to have muting pads, or silencers.  These can be placed on the drum heads depending on their size, and even on the cymbals.  An example of this is Vic Firth's Drum Mutes.  More ideal for practicing than for performance, these mute the sound of your drums (and cymbals!) so you don't drive your neighbors and family members nuts while you practice your rudiments.  And unless they give you a totally unexpected sound that you like, take them off for the show!

If all else fails, you can always get electronic drums.  This is the ultimate in silence:  just plug in the headphones and you're good to go.  They are very flexible as far as play-alongs and playing to and recording to songs and sequences.  You can also program the pads to almost any sound you want, if you really want to put on a show.  But these may sacrifice the feel of an acoustic kit, and for those that refuse to give in to 'the dark side', you may, if you can afford it, just incorporate the electronic triggers to your acoustic kit.

Of course, you may not care about the neighbors, you don't have 'neighbor syndrome', and you're just going to bang away to a Slipknot or Metallica cover no matter what anyone says.  In that case, then maybe the above is not for you!  But your life (and your neighbor's) won't be easy.  But you can have your cake and eat it too.  If you follow some of the suggestions herein, you and those near you will even enjoy your playing, and maybe even become fans!  If you have more suggestions on how to deal with 'neighbor syndrome', by all means, they are welcome!
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*For a fantastic source of information on soundproofing subjects, go to SoundProofingPlus.com

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Keith October 14, 2009 at 8:03 am

I would have to say that talking to your neighbors ahead of time is probably the most important step. My band rehearses in the piano players basement. He’s made it a point to befriend all of his close neighbors and give them a heads up before practicing.

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Jenni October 13, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Hey I came across your blog and it’s seriously great! I actually work for Audimute and just wanted to say that your blog has given me some great ideas for future videos.. i love the way you referred to “neighbor syndrome” because that’s exactly what all of our customers talk about when they call! it’s all about finding a way to soundproof your room with products that are cheap but effective..thanks for the mention and for the great post..

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Omar October 13, 2009 at 5:11 pm

Hi Jenni.

Very glad you liked the post! I believe the vast majority of drummers in particular suffer from ‘neighbor syndrome’ because they tend to be the instrument whose volume is difficult to control. And I’m not talking about dynamics, it’s just the nature of the drumming beast to be loud! Many drummers don’t like electronic drum sets or would just rather use them to augment their acoustic kit. Plus, electronic kits are expensive! If we can show how drummers can ‘have their cake and eat it too’, as the article mentions, there will be a lot of happy drummers!

Glad you liked the web site as well. If you don’t mind, let others know about this site so they can enjoy it as well (shameful plug yes, but couldn’t resist 🙂 )!

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