Beginning violinists don't have the best reputation when it comes to sound quality. The reality is that except for the very rare virtuoso, all string musicians must start somewhere - and that somewhere often involves driving family members absolutely crazy as they go from eager beginner (shriek! twang! screech!) to confident player (rich! warm! smooth!).
Even the best musicians can irritate housemates and/or neighbors because the repetitive nature of practice (playing scales, musical phrases, or performance compositions over and over again – combined with extended practices – means they're forced to listen to your instrument whether they want to or not.
SELF-CONSCIOUS ABOUT PRACTICING YOUR STRING INSTRUMENT?
If you're feeling self-conscious about practicing your string instrument because of comments, warnings, or threats from family members and neighbors – and because you're thoughtful – the following tips will help.
MAKE INSTRUCTION TIME COUNT
While accurate notes are important, honing your playing technique – particularly bowing – is essential to producing the warm, smooth sounds you want to produce. So, make the time you have with your instructor count. Pay very careful attention (consider recording lessons so you can listen back later) to everything s/he shares about playing techniques and ways to produce the best quality of sound.
The sooner you grasp those points, the better you'll sound. Note awareness and accuracy will soon follow.
Check out, Tips for Recording Yourself as A Performance Improvement Strategy, to learn more about using recordings to optimize your practice time.
TUNE YOUR INSTRUMENT REGULARLY
String instruments are susceptible to temperature, humidity, movement, and the vibrations created when they're played. All of these things affect the tension of your strings and/or the position of fine tuners and tuning pegs. In addition to tuning your instrument before sitting down to practice, re-check its tuning about every 30-minutes or so.
CREATE A SOUND-PROOF SPACE
If you're really serious about becoming a string musician, you can create a more soundproof space easier than you'd think. Remember that soft materials/surfaces absorb sound, hard materials create more play for sound waves. Is there a large walk-in closet in the house? Throw a rug on the floor (if it isn't carpeted) and make sure you have adequate lighting - and you'd be surprised how a closet full of clothes will mute your sound when compared to an open room or space.
You can also purchase heavy sound curtains and mount them on the walls of the practice space, which can help to buffer sound transference from one room to the next (always ask parents and landlords before making any structural changes to a space).
USE A MUTE
Just as brass instruments are mutable, so are string instruments. There are mutes for every type of string instrument and some work better than others. Ideally, visit a local music store and try different versions out so you can see which types might work best for you.
However, online sources also offer them, and a thorough reading of the reviews will give you a good idea about which one you'd prefer. For example, this Otto Musica Artino Mute for Violin and Viola gets great reviews and is very affordable at $15.
COLLABORATE WITH THOSE WHO ARE AFFECTED
A mindful conversation goes a long way in situations like yours. Sit down with those in ear-shot of your playing and review what time of day is best for you to practice. Something as simple as practicing first and doing homework second may be the key to practicing at home before everyone else gets there. Face-to-face conversations can be very fruitful and build more respectful relationships.
Sometimes, beginning musicians are so enthusiastic and so excited to "get better" that they actually over-practice. In addition to creating a greater annoyance for the ears around them, over-practicing isn't good for you either. It can lead to overuse injuries or early burn-out.
Speak to your instructor and find out exactly how much practice is "enough." You may find cutting practice times a little short – without compromising progress – creates a win-win for all.
FIND AN EMPTY SPACE
An empty space might be waiting for you just around the corner. For example, a favorite teacher at school may give you permission to use a classroom after hours as long as you lock-up afterwards. A nearby community center may have a space you can use, or your workplace my have something available after everyone's gone home.
Think outside the box about the buildings you use – or that "live" in your neighborhood. Check in with the appropriate people in charge to see if you can use them for free or for a minimal fee or donation.
These solutions can help your practice time move freely, without hindering others' experience.