Here’s the new theme verse for a generation of musicians: “Eh? Say what? Can you speak up a bit louder, please!” Music-induced hearing disorders are a significant, yet underappreciated, problem in musicians of all genres. They also are worsening because of the multiple ways to generate noise in our society. Musician hearing protection is an important issue. After all, if a musician can’t hear, playing notes with accuracy becomes much more challenging…
WHAT KIND OF MUSIC CREATES THE PROBLEM?
Many scientific studies highlight the damage to hearing caused by music. And it’s not just the rock and roll! Virtually all types of music—and any other loud sounds—can cause hearing loss. Jazz, pop, country, religious, and even classical orchestral music, all contribute. Neither is it just from listening to music with headphones or earbuds. Any music (or other sound) that enters the ear can have a negative effect if it is too loud. These negative effects include ringing in the ears (tinnitus), ear pain, sensitivity to sound, and alterations in how pitches are heard.
I did a study of my own that shows the high levels of sound generated by a marching band. My colleagues and I recorded huge sound exposure levels on ourselves, and we were only around the band providing healthcare services, not actually in the band. That means that the sound levels received by the musicians would have been much higher than ours. Therefore, musicians must pay attention to hearing protection or risk losing that sense that is so critical to their artistic work. Once hearing ability is damaged, it cannot be regained without the use of hearing aids or other accommodations.
MUSICIAN HEARING PROTECTION DEVICES
There are two companies I am familiar with that manufacture musician hearing protection devices: Sensaphonics (http://www.sensaphonics.com/) and Etymotic Research (http://www.etymotic.com/). The main reason musicians tell me they don’t wear hearing protectors is that “I won’t be able to hear right so I can play.” Trust me, if musicians neglect to look after their hearing, they definitely won’t be able to hear right so they can play.
The problem really is that musicians don’t realize that playing with hearing protection simply requires becoming accustomed to it. One’s amazing body will adapt to the “new normal” and musicians will learn to play just as well as they always have…but with a decreased chance of damaging their hearing.
The National Association of Schools of Music and the Performing Arts Medicine Association created a set of resources to help musicians conserve their hearing. Here is a link to get to these materials that I highly recommend: https://nasm.arts-accredit.org/publications/brochures-advisories/nasm-pama-hearing-health/. If you’re a musician or music teacher, I’d love to hear your comments about hearing loss and musician hearing protection.