Musicians' Hearing Protection

Man with Guitar

What do Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend of The Who, and Ludwig van Beethoven have in common? Not only are they all world-class musicians, they have all experienced profound hearing loss. While with Beethoven, the cause was unknown, most likely due to an illness. But with Clapton and Townshend, the exposure to loud music is the primary cause. If you work as a musician in any capacity, protecting your hearing is priority number one. Over time, exposure to loud music, either in a concert setting or through headphones can result in hearing problems like tinnitus, but also, your hearing quality can decrease gradually over time. What are the primary reasons for hearing loss, what can musicians do to protect their hearing, and how can hearing loss be prevented?

How hearing loss occurs

As adults and children are more exposed to loud music through increased use of earbuds, headphones, and listening to loud music in live concerts, continual exposure can cause hearing loss. The inner part of the ear contains small hair cells called nerve endings. Exposing these cells to loud sounds on a constant basis can damage them so the signal cannot be carried to the brain which would recognize them as sound.

Protecting your hearing

As a musician, it's vital that you protect your hearing. You can do this by getting as much information as you can about your individual musical habits. For example, you can head onto the H.E.A.R website to learn about how loud your musical instrument is. Of course, you may have a good idea as to how loud your instrument is, especially if you play the drums, but you also need to know how these instruments can damage your hearing over time. Whether you are in band practice or you are performing, the important thing to remember is about minimizing your exposure over time. In a gig scenario, when you stand directly in front of the speakers, you are exposing your ears to loud music in the worst possible way. Earplugs are essential in this environment. There are special earplugs designed for musicians that can help you hear the subtleties in the music you are playing. But if you've already been diagnosed with hearing loss, there are hearing aids that can be used.

Because modern hearing aid technology can be programmed to focus on specific tones, this means any musician can adapt to the requirements of the music. The way it used to be, hearing aids would only have one setting, making it almost impossible to alter what the person was hearing. By treating hearing loss with hearing aids, this means that the average musician has access to a broader range of musical frequencies. As your own devices can be programmed to harmonize with a specific instrument, such as percussion in a symphony, or a rhythm guitar in a rock band scenario, this highlights how hearing aids are just useful to musicians with hearing loss, but it's more than essential.

Preventing hearing loss

While preventing hearing loss is about protecting your ears with earplugs, it's also beneficial to know how loud the music is to you. There are two ways to determine this. Firstly, if you are unable to hear someone three feet away, the music is too loud. And secondly, if you need to raise your voice for others to hear you, the music is too loud in this instance. Even if you have been diagnosed with the hearing problem, you can still do your utmost to prevent further damage, by wearing earplugs or reducing your exposure to loud music.

As musicians are being exposed to loud noises continually, it's essential to protect their hearing as early as possible. It's not just about preventing and protecting, but it's about getting into the habit of doing this as soon as possible. Many prominent musicians of expressed regret in not protecting their ears sooner, Chris Martin of Coldplay being one of them. As this is something many younger musicians don't consider because they think their hearing is perfect. Getting into the bad habits of not protecting their hearing will result in the inability to pick up certain frequencies, meaning their skill as a musician becomes impaired.

It's never too late to protect your hearing. And if you go to concerts, listen to music through headphones, and expose yourself to loud music in general, your hearing needs to be your priority. If you have concerns about your hearing, or you want to find out more about what you can do, you can contact an audiologist with Peninsula Hearing at one of our two locations: