Musicians, as craftsmen of all the various creative media, spend inordinate amounts of time learning and plying their art. As a beginner they spend hours in the practice room becoming familiar with their instrument of choice. After mastering the rudiments they begin to experience the pleasure of playing with others. This is where they are first exposed to greater and potentially dangerous sound volumes. “Wow, this is fun,” the beginner musician thinks, but this is where the trouble can start. Without being aware of it, this can be the beginning of a very gradual and insidious loss of hearing.
This is especially true if one plays in a rock band. All such musicians should wear hearing protection to protect their hearing. Electronic instruments are inherently loud, but with the ever-present amplification of these instruments, the pumped-up decibel levels are often potentially injurious to musicians and audience members' hearing. Many famous and legendary rock stars have lost much of their hearing because they were not aware of the damage being caused until it was too late.
Rock musicians are not the only ones who need to be conscious of the sound levels they are exposing their ears to. Jazz musicians also need to be aware of this problem and wear ear plugs during especially long and loud sets. Clarinet and saxophone players are often assaulted by the intense sound of the trombones, trumpets and cornets blowing their fortissimos at the backs of their heads.
This is to say nothing about the drummers drilling away on their snares, bass drum, cymbals and high hats, etc. This ongoing combination of exposure and intensity puts musicians and their audiences in danger of hearing loss.
Many musicians assume that certain types of music, like symphony music could never harm their hearing. While certainly not the only one, John Adams' “Circus Maximus” is a prime example of a piece that can reach potentially dangerous noise levels. Most professional orchestras now employ sound deflectors behind those musicians seated in front of the brass and percussion sections in an effort to help lessen the decibel levels. While this helps, this method by itself is typically not enough to protect their hearing from extended exposure.
Fortunately, hearing loss in musicians is a problem that is fairly easily preventable with a bit of common sense and preparation. Musicians should keep ear plugs or some form of musician's ear protectors in their instrument cases, gig bag or in a keychain carrying case. There are even special foam earplugs that fit flat in your wallet and roll up like standard foam ear plugs for emergency purposes. Having hearing protection on-hand means one never finds themselves “in a jam” at a jam session, concert, or loud event without some form of protection for their ears.
If you are concerned about sacrificing sound quality or being sensitive to your own volume level and quality of sound, try some special musician's style earplugs. These help protect hearing from potentially damaging noises by allowing a more natural sound, just at a lower, safer volume. These earplugs also help lessen the distortion that tends to occur when music is over-amplified.
With those long rehearsals, jam sessions, and concerts, much of the music musicians are exposed to exceed OSHA's regulated noise exposure threshold levels where damage to their hearing can become permanent. A musician's hearing is their most essential asset, the most useful tool in creating their art. If a musician loses their hearing, they are likely to lose their music career as well. Musicians should be as vigilant about protecting their hearing as they are about protecting their instruments, hands, fingers, or lips.
Cecilia Benner is an avid cellist and musical arts enthusiast. She plays and practices chamber music in the USA and abroad while advocating healthy hearing. You may like to try Ear Plugs for Musicians, Ear Hearing Protection, Ear Products .