Some people incite the wrath of neighbors when they play piano in their apartment. Others worry so much about disturbing their neighbors that they don't play piano or decide not to buy one for their apartment.
Fortunately, there's a middle ground when it comes to playing piano in an apartment and dealing with neighbors.
If you play piano or are thinking of starting, here are some things you should consider that will help make your playing neighbor-friendly and lower the chances of problems with those who live around you.
Neighborly Considerations for Apartment Pianists
Keep the lid down on a grand piano. If you've got a grand piano, keeping the lid down while playing will prevent the sound from resonating as loudly throughout your apartment. You can keep the lid up when you're not playing or when guests are over, if you prefer displaying your piano in that way.
Follow tips for upright pianos. If you've got an upright piano, move it away from the wall. As a matter of furniture placement and aesthetics, it might not make sense to put the piano in the middle of a room, but moving the piano even six inches or so away from any wall will help keep the sound from vibrating strongly through the walls to the surrounding apartments. If possible, choose an interior wall instead of a wall that you share with a neighboring apartment. You can also drape a thick blanket over the back of your upright piano to dampen the sound, and keep the top lid down, if your upright has one.
Practice during reasonable hours. If you know neighbors are away at certain times (such as at work during weekdays), practice then, if possible. Other than that, just follow common courtesy. For instance, try not to start playing very early on the weekends, when many people try to sleep later. Similarly, unless you're having a late-night party (where you might be playing music anyway), there's probably no reason to start hammering out a tune at three o'clock in the morning.
Keep your piano in tune. Neighbors who object to another person's piano playing are usually bothered simply by the fact that the piano playing is an unwanted, unwelcome sound. But it helps to keep your piano in tune. For most people, an out-of-tune piano is more unpleasant to listen to. So if your neighbors are tolerating your piano playing, letting your piano go out of tune may be tempting fate. (In any event, having your piano tuned regularly is recommended to keep the piano maintained and avoid larger problems down the road.)
Consider the soft pedal. The left pedal of most pianos is known as the soft pedal, which adds a muting effect to your playing. Keeping the left pedal down may not be ideal, but it's something to keep in mind to try if you need more ideas for sound reduction.
If You Don't Yet Have a Piano
If you don't have a piano but are thinking of getting one for your apartment, consider purchasing a keyboard instead. Getting a keyboard instead of a piano isn't the right choice for everyone. As a pianist and piano teacher, I tell you that it's a personal, musical decision that's yours to make.
But a keyboard is the most neighbor-friendly option available to apartment dwellers. Sound production is electronic and only comes out of a speaker or two, which means you can lower the volume without having to adjust your playing style. Also, if people inside your apartment (such as roommates, and guests) don't want to hear you practice at certain times, you have the option of using headphones.
If you decide to learn piano on a keyboard, be sure to get an 88-key, weighted-action keyboard. It will cost you less -- probably much less -- than the wooden variety and it doesn't require tuning or other regular maintenance. Electronic keyboards also typically have the advantages of being portable (and certain to make it from the delivery truck into your apartment) and offering a variety of sounds.
Many people who want to test the waters with piano lessons decide to start with a keyboard. If you buy a keyboard and later decide you're serious about piano playing, you can always choose to buy (or rent) a piano down the road.