The Best Way for Musicians to Protect Against Hearing Loss

Rock and roll music background, guitar players on a stage, monochrome photo with selective focus

“Music is a language that doesn’t speak in particular words. It speaks in emotions, and if it’s in the bones, it’s in the bones.” ― Keith Richards
Music is everywhere. For musicians, it can also be their everything. What many musicians don’t realize is that their passion for music can also gradually rob them of their hearing over time. According to new research, this may be even more prevalent than ever realized before from the rock star on stage to the musicians in the orchestra pit to the amateur musician at home, and earplugs may be the only answer.
Noise-induced hearing loss can occur after exposure to any noise over 85 decibels, especially when the exposure is over a longer period of time. When acoustics expert and researcher Remy Wenmaekers began delving into orchestras and the noise their musicians are exposed to on a regular basis, he found that it often far exceeded that recommended safe level. In fact, during loud passages in the music:

  • Trumpet and flute players play at an average of 95 to 100 decibels
  • Violin and viola players play at an average of 90 decibels

As a comparison:

  • Power mowers average 94 decibels
  • Nightclubs average 97 decibels
  • Rock concerts average 115 decibels

In Wenmaekers’ research, he used a calculation model he developed to determine the level of sound close to the ears of musicians. This calculation model allowed for the fact that musicians play at varying levels each time and accounted for the fact that the most noise that reached the musicians’ ears came from their own instruments. Using his model, Wenmaekers investigated the impact of commonly used sound-reducing measures, such as screens and higher plateaus for the different orchestra sections. What he found was that these common measures were relatively ineffective providing little reduction in the decibels reaching a musician.
His conclusion? Musicians have two choices that prove effective. They can either play quieter or use earplugs to protect their hearing and prevent hearing loss.
“A musician with poor hearing risks losing his job. So to avoid this, earplugs are inevitable. At the same time, you want to perform as well as possible, so earplugs may hinder this. Musicians will have to get used to playing with earplugs from a young age because once you have a hearing problem you are too late,” stated Wenmaekers.
The good news is that technology is advancing by leaps and bounds, and this includes the area of earplugs for musicians. Research and development are ongoing to develop devices that not only protect hearing but also allow the unique qualities of the music to shine through.
According to experts, “musician earplugs mostly aim for spectrally flat attenuation characteristics to prevent the spectrum of the music from being distorted when hearing protectors are worn. In general, musician earplugs also attenuate less than standard earplugs.”
The findings are clear – if you are a musician, don’t wait. Start protecting your hearing today with earplugs specially designed for your unique needs. Discuss the latest options with your hearing healthcare provider to prevent hearing loss in the future.

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