How to Soundproof a Room

“Stack rugs or wrestling mats on the floor,” says Yoron Israel, who leads the percussion department at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Sound doesn’t want to be contained; it undulates easily through air, concrete, brick and wood. In fact, it moves faster through solids, with their more densely packed molecules. An acoustic drum set is a high-decibel instrument with low frequencies particularly suited to spreading. Adjust your expectations: You can’t truly soundproof a room without decoupling it from the larger structure, which means building a new room within your existing room, preferably with several inches of air space and acoustic insulation between the two. Such a project will cost thousands of dollars, and if you’re a renter, landlords aren’t likely to sign off. You can buy pricey, prefabricated sound-insulation rooms, but Israel often advises his percussion students to go the cheaper, sound-dampening route. To do that you’ll want to hang drapery, acoustic-foam tiles or even mattress toppers over walls, ceilings, floors and doors. If you’re a drummer and can get away with it, leave your windows uncovered. “You deserve light,” Israel says. “People always make drummers play in basements.”

Your noise is only a problem if someone who hears it is displeased. Befriend your neighbors. Israel, who has played with the likes of Sonny Rollins and Ahmad Jamal, took up the drums as a child in a third-floor apartment in Chicago. Luckily, five of the six apartments in his building were occupied by family members who were mostly tolerant, and sometimes even encouraging. If someone tells you to tone it down, calmly negotiate with them. “Try to get to some kind of compromise,” Israel says. Most often, that will mean finding a stretch of time every day when your neighbors are away and you can play with abandon. Of course, Covid-19 has made such conditions harder to come by.

In recent months, Israel has suggested that his students soundproof themselves instead, by using rubber pads that go over drum heads and cymbals or electronic drum sets. Though these are workable solutions, Israel feels for his young, muted students, whose crestfallen faces he sees over Zoom, often back in their childhood homes playing on electronic drum sets with headphones only they can hear. “It’s been emotional for them,” he says.

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