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Hearing Protection for Musicians

Sound Advice

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No matter how you look at it, there's one basic formula that leads to hearing loss.


Many of us wait until it's too late to do something. This may be because the warning signs go away after a period of rest, or that you think you're invincible. But, by the time you notice there's a problem, hearing loss has already occurred. If you want to do something about your hearing, you have 3 options:

-Control the volume at its source -Passive Hearing Protection -Active Conservation

musician trumpetTurn It Down: Strategies To Control Volume At Its Source

Here are a few simple strategies that you can use to turn the volume down.

Every situation is unique, so some of these ideas may or may not work for you (in your environment). You may want to combine some of these ideas with passive hearing protection, or the use of in-ear musicians' monitors. This section applies mainly to amplified music. If you are in a drum and bugle corps, or an orchestra, passive hearing protection may be the best solution for your situation.


Try using smaller sticks or Blasticks/Hotrods. Consider using smaller drums and lighter cymbals to reduce the volume. Use dampening materials on the heads themselves; tape, towels or tone rings can all effectively lower the volume you produce. A little experimentation and commitment to reducing your volume will provide decent results with good tone.


With the coolest pedals and effects boxes ever available, the guitarist has a lot in his/her arsenal to help lower the volume and still get good tone. You may want to try tilting the speaker cabinet back so it points towards you, or raising the speaker cab/amp to ear level. Some players mic the amp in its road case. Use a compressor at lower volume to help smooth things out and give you a fuller sound.


A small amp raised off of the floor and angled toward your ears can help. Use a compressor to fatten your sound up. Many players use an amp on stage mostly to monitor themselves; the P.A. carries most of the bottom.


Turn the volume down and use an E.Q. to help fatten things back up. Try to place the speakers closer to ear level.


Put the horn players on a riser so that their sound is directed over the heads of other players. Plexiglas panels can be used to reflect the sound.

Passive Hearing Protection

The most common way to protect your hearing is to use passive hearing protection (an earplug). But before you run down to the local store and get some kind of foam or other generic goop that you put in your ears, understand what happens to sound when you use that type of earplug. A major portion of the high frequency signal of your music will be lost. While that may be great if you live for bottom, most of us like to hear a little sizzle on the top.

What's That Frequency?

Most generic fit solutions to hearing protection are designed with only one thing in mind - maximum attenuation (noise reduction). While that may be great if you're changing tires at the local "TIRES 'R US", for most musicians/music lovers it's just not enough. With most standard earplugs, the higher the frequency the more attenuation, or reduction, in volume you get. This makes the music sound muddy, and is one of the reasons many musicians reject hearing protection.

How Will I Know What Works For Me?

That depends on the type, and volume, of music you're playing or listening to, as well as your daily or weekly exposure level to loud sounds. How often do you rehearse; do you take the subway; ride motorcycles, hunt? All these variables should be taken into consideration when choosing which type of hearing protection, as well as how often you should be using it. Hearing loss is cumulative, that is, it is the total time of exposure and the loudness of the sound combined that contribute to hearing loss. Each one of us is unique enough that it could very well happen that two people exposed to the same conditions will differ drastically in the amount of hearing loss they suffer.

Remember Volume And Duration

Noise induced hearing loss is directly related to the intensity of the sound as well as the duration, or time, you were exposed to the sound or sounds. The total exposure is what eventually leads to hearing loss. Your body gives you warning signs, but a lot of people don't act on these signs until it's too late.

musician guiterWhat's In My Account?

It may be helpful to think in terms of a bank account. Every time you expose yourself to loud sounds you are making a withdrawal from your account. Instead of a withdrawal receipt your body gives you a physical equivalent. Your ears feel like they are stuffed with cotton, perhaps you have a little ringing in your ears, or it sounds like other people's voices are muffled. These are all signs of temporary threshold shift; your body's way of warning you that your account could be overdrawn.

What's The Answer? Musicians' Earplugs!

The ES49 earplugs are designed specifically to reduce the volume, but not alter the frequency response of your music. You get to hear your music with all its subtleties and nuances, but at a lower volume. Special filters fit into custom molded earpieces. These filters allow you to have the amount of attenuation that is correct for your situation, and custom molding assures that they are comfortable, effective and inconspicuous, (if you desire).

Do Your Ears A Favor

The next time you leave rehearsal, practice, club, or a concert, think about this. As much as hearing aids have improved over the last few years, none will replace 100% of the hearing you were born with. The resources and the tools are out there; it just takes a commitment to protect your hearing.

Active Conservation

Over the last few years, there's been a revolution in live music. It's a revolution you can hardly see, but one you can certainly hear. From rock to jazz, from country to hip hop, the biggest names in music have come to rely upon personal in-ear musicians' monitors to maximize the quality of their live performances. Gone are heavy, bulky stage monitors and deafening volume levels. Also gone are muddy sound and off-key performances - a result of the musician simply not being able to hear what he or she was doing.

Source: Westone Laboratories