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Musicians - Protecting the Professional Ear


Do I need hearing protection? 




If the answers to any of the following questions is "yes," then you are at risk for inner ear damage.

  1. Do you need to shout to be heard during studio or performance work?

  2. Do your ears ring after performances?

  3. Does everything around you sound muffled or distorted after a show or rehearsal?

  4. Do your ears ever feel plugged up after playing or listening to music?

  5. Does your music sound distorted at the end of a long set or rehearsal?

Where do I go?

See an audiologist who specializes in working with musicians.


Veronica Heide, Audiologist with Audible Difference, has over 25 years of experience working directly with local and internationally known musicians. "State-of-the-art testing (see article on Otoacoustic Emission Testing) is only part of what an audiologist provides," says Veronica.  "The needs of musicians vary depending on the instrument they play, type of music, and type of venue."  Sharing that knowledge and expertise is a part of the personal service that musicians receive at Audible Difference.  Contact Audible Difference for an appointment.

How loud is too loud?

The risk criteria described below are general guidelines for the "average person" that can help you determine whether or not the music you listen to is too loud.  One factor that we cannot measure is your genetic predisposition to hearing loss.  If you have family members with hearing loss, you are at greater risk than someone else who does not have that familial history.  Risk of hearing loss is a function of the amount of time you are in the music, the average level of the music, and the peak level of the music.  


Hearing conservation formulas were developed to provide guidelines for risk criteria.  Generally, musicians should verify that sound levels do not exceed 90 dBA SPL for any period of time.  One of the responsibilities of the sound engineer should be to measure and log the sound levels in performance both on stage and at the ear of the audience to make sure that the levels are safe for both.  Inexpensive sound level meters (for example, the Radio Shack 33-2050) can be used to monitor the performance levels (use the A-weighting scale).


The following table illustrates the average amount of safe hours per day of sound exposure using a conservative equal energy approach :
Noise Level 
in dBA SPL
Without Protection 10 dB Protection 15 dB Protection 20 dB Protection
95 3/4 8 8+ 8+
100 1/4 2 1/2 8 8+
105 0 3/4 2 1/2 8
110 0 1/4 3/4 2 1/2

This assumes total exposure of loud noise, not just music.  If a musician listens to recreational music at high levels, works in a workshop, mows the lawn, or target shoots and then further exposes his hears to two or more hours of loud performance music that exceeds safe levels, then the musician is at risk for further hearing damage.  


How do I protect my ears and still hear to perform?

1. Musicians Earplugs

2. In-Ear Monitors (see article)





Simple steps toward hearing conservation:

  1. Avoid exposure to sounds (all sounds, not just music) greater than 90 dBA

  2. Wear appropriate hearing protection for the level and type of noise.

  3. Rest your ears for 24 to 48 hours after exposure to high levels.

  4. Turn the volume down - even a little (5 dB) helps your ears.

  5. Avoid the temptation to crank it up on the second set.  Your ears will fatigue faster - you will increase distortion - and you will not hear your music as well.  Turning it up will make the definition worse and will increase the risk of permanent hearing damage.

  6. Move your drummer up onto a platform so that his high hats are not at your ear level.  Increase your distance on stage from high level sounds.

  7. Avoid competitive monitoring.  Set your levels and leave them.  If one band member feels that s/he is not hearing well, change the position of the monitor before you change the level.  Consider In-Ear-Monitors.

  8. Have your hearing evaluated by an audiologist once a year. 


Case History Form for Musicians -  Please print and complete this history prior to initial consultation.  Bring your completed history with you to your appointment.

Copyright 2001 Audible Difference

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