If you like me are leaving in an apartment you know what I’m talking about.
Start playing a nice tumbao and what is a fantastic sound for you will be a terrible noise for your neighbors.
In this article we’ll clarify some concepts about soundproofing and will give practical advises to let you keep on (or start!) playing… and your neighbor keep on greeting you on the stairs
Soundproofing vs acoustic treatment
First of all, let’s be clear about two very different things: what is acoustic treatment and what is soundproofing?
Acoustic treatment is for making the sound in the room good.
Can take some time to figure out how to do it, but there are cheap options.
Blankets and used egg boxes are falling in this category, even if often confused as way to soundproof the room.
Soundproofing is for keep sound in from going out and keeping sound out from coming in.
This way, you don’t disturb your neighbors or other room attached with the house.
Real soundproofing takes enormous amount of time, effort and money, plus, bass frequencies are the hardest to treat.
If you want to prevent sound from travelling through walls you need to put up some heavy dead material like concrete, gypsum plaster (dry wall) etc.
Foam won’t change anything in this situation.
So, what do we want to achieve?
We want to start or keep on practicing and playing conga drums in our apartment without neighbors calling the police every time.
Hence, we want to find affordable ways to achieve soundproofing without transforming our house in an anti-nuclear bunker.
Soundproofing: your room or your congas?
As said, if we don’t want to build a bunker we need to get smart and instead reduce the effect of hitting our congas.
There are 2 effects that we need to take care of:
- the vibration
- the sound
Congas are producing and developing sound through vibrations from the conga head down to the shell and eventually conducted down to the floor.
So, the first thing we want to deal with is the vibration going through the floor straight to your downstairs neighbors, the more affected by your passion.
For the directly transmitted sound, the best way is to put a thick rubber mat under the area where your congas as well as your seat are.
The best kind of rubber would be a thick, compressible, dense, closed cell foam material like what they use to make some mouse pads.
For the best results, specifically made soundproofing mats like the following are recommended:
ATS Acoustic Panel 24x48x2 Inches
Auralex 4MF24 4 Mineral Fiber Insulation; 3-2′x4′x4 Panels
This really helps a lot, as these mats are able to absorb vibrations and “trap” the bass frequency.
The best way to keep the volume down is…. not to play. But that kind of defeats the purpose, so we need to find alternative ways to play generating less sound.
Here are some tips collected from different coungueros, that really work well, you just need to try and find the best one for your situation:
- get a towel on each of your congas. Try different thickness and see the result. You can also try to put a t-shirt on the conga, to “wear” them.
- put some towels or pillows inside the conga shell. This leaves a direct access to the skin and it will muffled the sound. Just add as many towels as you need.
- try wearing some thick cotton gloves. It’s hard to get good slaps, but for speed exercises and rhythm it deffinately helps. Open tones aren’t much affected.
Personally I have a thin towel on the tumba and a pillow inside the conga.
This is because I’m not working much on the tumba and I can live with the muffled sound, but I really need to practice my slaps on the conga
Someone suggests to buy practice congas like the LP Giovanni Hildago Compact Conga or the Pearl Practice Conga.
It’s not quite the same as playing the lovely full drums, but you can put them in your lap on top of a sweater or something, and even play them in your car parked somewhere.
For more information about the Compact Conga check out this previous article from the Percussion Conga Staff: LP Compact Conga Giovanni Hidalgo video review.
Make your enemy your friend…
The best option of all is go for a diplomatic approach rather than a military solution.
Talk to your neighbors, tell them you’ve this great passion but that you understand that what you call sound is for them just noise to get rid of.
Tips about how to be diplomatic:
- tell them about your great passion, but that you understand that what you call sound is for them just noise to get rid of
- schedule your playing for times when the neighbors are doing other things or are out
- involve them in the process by telling them what you are doing to control the sound and asking them to tell you if the sound level is ok or too loud
- ive them your phone number, have them call you when your being too loud, rather than calling the cops
- when you tell your proposal, don’t forget to conclude with “does it seem reasonable to you?”. This is usually a magic sentence, as if someone disagree will have to argument why what you’re proposing is NOT reasonable, which requires always mental effort.This is about social relationships: be friendly, tell them that you understand, and if you agree on certain times respect them: not before, not after, and absolutely not at night when you came home with friends after a partying hard…
Play hard, play save, play tomorrow again…
Hopefully this tips will help you to keep on playing, or start practicing at home!
To study more about soundproofing, there are good books about acoustic.
Two books very recommended are:
These are both well respected, very readable books that will get you started understanding how to build a soundproofed room.
Although they are written about building recording studios, practice studios are very similar in their acoustic design.
What is your experience?
This article is mostly based on this great Congaplace.com forum thread available here:
and upon on personal experience in the subject.