Most people know that frequent exposure to loud sounds can damage a person’s hearing, so it’s no surprise that rock musicians are prone to hearing loss. Believe it or not, classical musicians are actually more likely to suffering hearing loss, and problems can begin as early as middle school or high school for students who play in orchestras and bands. Frankly, anyone who wants to spend their life making music should make hearing protection for musicians a priority.
Hearing Protection for Musicians
Loud sounds can harm the stereocilia, the microscopic hair cells that line the ear, causing muffled or distorted sound. Sadly, these hair cells don’t grow back, so the damage is permanent. Since singers and instrumentalists depend on their ears when they make music, this hearing loss can be particularly devastating for them. Fortunately, hearing protection for musicians comes in a few different forms, which you can use to safeguard this invaluable tool of your trade.
Protection That Doesn’t Interfere
Conventional earplugs can certainly provide protection from loud noises, but they tend to do more than turn down the volume. Most actually interfere with the wearer’s ability to perceive sounds, making voices and music seem muffled or unnatural. Since musicians need to be able to hear clearly while performing, they require special hearing protection that shields their ears without interfering with the accuracy of what they hear. In some ways, it’s a matter of frequency. Few musicians require protection from high frequencies, and blocking these frequencies makes sounds unclear or dull. Instead of using products that reduce sounds indiscriminately, musicians need a way to shield themselves from excessively loud mid- and low-frequency sounds. Specially designed in-ear monitors and musicians’ earplugs can get the job done without impairing the musician’s ability to perform.
In-Ear Musician Monitors
If a musician performs for large crowds, in-ear musician monitors are generally a wise choice. In-ear monitors use technology to strike a balance; they protect the musician’s ears from the roar of the audience and any amplification systems while still allowing them to perceive the vocals and music effectively. Custom-fitted in-ear monitors can deliver between 25 decibels and 35 decibels of noise reduction while letting musicians listen to their music or a custom mix of vocals and instrumentation as they perform live or work in the recording studio.
Musicians’ earplugs are another option. These non-electrical earplugs contain custom filters that make specific sounds in the music spectrum softer without compromising the overall musical experience. They fit deeply in the ear so that the earmold seals within the bony portion of the ear canal. With some ear plugs, occlusion is a problem; wearers are confronted with a hollow, booming sound in their own voice. The deep fit of musicians’ ear plugs reduces this effect and improves the quality of sound the wearer can hear. How effective are musicians’ ear plugs? They can reduce sound levels by about 20 decibels, which is normally enough to reduce harmful sounds without distorting music or voices.
The Right Fit
Both in-ear monitors and musician’s earplugs can be found in universal-fit and custom-fit options. Universal-fit options can be convenient and effective, but custom-fitted hearing protection for musicians often delivers more comfort and improved protection. When a custom fit is desired, a hearing professional like an audiologist makes an impression of the musician’s ear, which is used to create an earmold that is a perfect match for the individual’s unique ear shape. Selecting a professional with experience in making impressions for musician’s earplugs and in-ear monitors is crucial because the quality of the impression and the material and technique used to generate it have a direct impact on the comfort, sound quality, and sound isolation capabilities of the hearing protection that will ultimately be crafted from it. Most audiologists understand how vital a good fit is and have the training necessary to produce a high-quality ear impression.
Musicians may have special needs when it comes to hearing protection, but the in-ear monitors and earplugs designed to meet those needs are popular with other groups as well. In fact, these forms of specialized hearing protection are often utilized by sound crews, concert-goers, airline personnel, professional athletes, sports referees, medical professionals, construction workers, truck drivers, and motorcyclists. Would in-ear musician monitors or musicians’ earplugs be a good fit for you?
To learn more about your hearing protection options, contact Apex Audiology if you live in Colorado. Dr. William F. Herholtz can conduct a simple hearing test, increase your understanding of your hearing loss, and offer solutions for treatment. To get started, please call us at 719-569-5000 or schedule an appointment online. We look forward to hearing from you!