Soundproofing: Windows, Doors, & Walls, Oh My!

Nov 30, 2022

As a musician, or the parent of a musician, creating a space where you can learn an practice without disturbing those around your is important. In fact, soundproofing doesn’t only keep your neighbours happy, it can also create better sound quality and improve productivity! That’s why this week we’re going to take a look at some simple music room soundproofing tips!

That said,, because high quality soundproofing can become expensive rather quickly, we’ll try to focus on as many “do it yourself” solutions as possible, with a few lower cost options as well.

Sound Waves

Before we get started, in order to successfully soundproof an area you must first have a basic understanding of how sound works.

Whenever anything makes a sound, whether it’s cymbals crashing, strings plucked, or dogs barking, pressure waves are sent through the air from the source. These pressure waves are referred to as sound waves because when the reach our ears they vibrate our eardrums, and our brain interprets it as sound.

Unfortunately for most musicians, modern wall design is very much like our eardrums: they are built with a membrane (usually drywall) on their outer surfaces, with an internal structural framework that is mostly air. Any sound wave of sufficient strength will hit one surface, pass through the internal airspace, and vibrate the other surface as audible noise. This is, of course, only slightly better than a single, thin wall surface, or no surface at all in the case of a door or window, through which sound waves can move freely.

With this basic knowledge in mind, let’s take a look at the major surfaces throughout any room you may want to soundproof for practice or recording. Windows and doors are going to be your biggest culprits for sound leakage, so we’ll begin there.

Soundproofing Windows

Windows can be a big problem, and unless you are willing to remove the window entirely and put a wall up in it’s place, you’re only realistic options are going to be temporary by default. You can begin by trying simple weather-stripping. If you are going to a low budget “that’ll do” approach, weather-stripping might just be enough for you, but it’s recommend you take it a little further.

If you can afford to lose the view, your most effective budget option is to shutter it off with a nice piece of plywood and some insulation; don’t forget the insulation! If you leave plywood up over your window without something between it and the window, you will produce the same effect as a hollow wall. Try stuffing the space with a heavy blanket, or if you’re willing to spend a little money, use mineral wool or fiberglass. With a little research you may be able to find kits that will help you modify existing windows, but they can get pretty pricey.

Soundproofing Doors

Doors are another major problem area for soundproofing. Most likely, the door in question will be an interior door. And unless there have been previous upgrades made to your living space, it probably has a hollow interior. If this is the case, the best solution is to replace it. But that’s expensive and time consuming, so here are a few other suggestions!

The first thing you should do is revisit our friend weather-stripping. Most leaked sound doesn’t actually come through the door, but rather comes around it, and weather-stripping gives you a nice seal to control that.

In addition to sealing the edges of the door, you can also try to increase the door’s mass. There are all kinds of products that you can buy to accomplish this, like sound absorbers, or a “Mass Loaded Barrier,” or MLV. An MLV is a loose sheet of sound blocking material made from two main ingredients. The first is vinyl, for a nice, flexible sheet, and the second is some naturally occurring, high mass, high density element, usually Barium Sulfate. If this system seems too complicated or too expensive for you, any sort of thick neoprene door seal from a big box hardware store should do the trick.

A thick, heavy blanket or comforter is the cheapest way to go, but will also give you the poorest result. Once you have chosen your preferred method make sure you have a good seal all around the door, including the threshold.

Soundproofing Walls

After your windows and doors are taken care of, your next biggest issue is your walls. Not only do you face the problem we discussed before regarding the empty space inside walls, but hard flat surfaces reflect sound waves around the inside of your room as well. To counteract these problems you’ll need to install some sort of soft material to absorb sound waves rather than reflect them. In this case at least, you only have to spend the big bucks if you really want to. If you’re sticking to that budget, you can use those big, thick blankets and comforters again, hung about the room to absorb sound and cut down on the transference through the wall.

Another inexpensive option is padded carpet scraps. Of course, spending a little money will get you the best results possible. Many companies produce and sell a wide variety of sound absorbing panels that can be attached to walls, some more permanently than others.

It’s strongly suggested you look into absorption materials and bass traps. Most absorption material is often a high density foam specially designed to suck up sound, and bass traps take it even a step further. Low frequency sound waves produced by bass instruments are very long, making them very strong and harder to control than mid and high frequency sounds. Bass traps are made of specially designed foam meant to snare those long waves.

Closing Thoughts

Even after you’ve taken the time to soundproof your music room, there are still a few good practices you can employ to make sure there aren’t any complaints from the neighbors. First, use technology whenever you can. You can plug electric instruments into an amp, and plug headphones into the amp, effectively disturbing no one! Mutes for horns and the “quiet” piano pedal can help for those kinds of instruments as well. You can try scheduling your practice time during reasonable daytime hours, and try to keep in mind the genre you might be playing. And of course, always try to keep in mind that the more performers there are, the more sound needs to be controlled.

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