Hearing is one of the most important tools that musicians utilize, and one we normally take for granted. Hearing is fundamental in everything that we do—musician or not. On February 6, I had the opportunity to sit in on a clinic, led by senior audiologist J. Ackland Jones, Au.D., CCC-A, that dealt with this very subject and my mind was simply blown away.
As a vocalist, I heavily rely on my ears to guide me in the direction I want to go musically. Without hearing, it would be very difficult to continue to sing and stay in tune with a band or another person on a consistent basis. It’s important to remember how easily we can lose hearing without even realizing it. If you are anything like me, I really enjoy going to concerts and events where I get to listen to great music and be around some really eclectic people. However, I have gone to plenty of shows without ear protection. I’ve been right next to the speaker tree simply because I did not know better and because the tickets were cheap in that area of the venue. I assumed that my hearing would last forever and that the concert would not sound as great with something in my ear. I could not have been more wrong.
As I sat in this clinic, I realized I had made a lot of these classic mistakes as a teen going to concerts or as a performer playing a wedding gig; I always left with a ringing in the ears. Proper ear protection is key for ear health because it does not take a lot of decibels to damage your ears. If fact, unhealthy decibel levels start as low as 90 dBs, which is the equivalent of a lawn mower. Jones commenteded on the shocking statistic of the violin, noting “the violin can reach 110 dBs, which is the equivalent of a chainsaw.” “This is probably not all the time but it can damage hearing over time,” he said. Students and teachers alike practice for hours every day; imagine how much damage we can do if we are not careful.
When asked about ear buds and hearing loss, Jones said damage depends on the levels and referenced a study/discussion involving ear buds and background noise that found hearing loss occurs when people turn the levels up to drown out the outside noise. That caught my attention because I do that every day. I don’t realize normal levels do not cancel noise when on a train or walking down the street and the natural thing to do is make whatever you’re listening to louder.
We can combat hearing loss [please repeat after me] by wearing the proper ear protection! Jones pointed to common ear protective gear that comes in two categories: active (electronic) and passive. “Passive” protective devices include foam or rubber ear plugs and in-ear monitors and “active” protection includes level-dependent, ANR, and military issued TCAPS. In fact, there are some great high fidelity ear plugs for drummers (that I use as a non-drummer) that reduce the sound by 20 dBs without compromising the quality of the sound you are trying to listen to. I also recommend going to Northeastern University’s campus and visiting its ear and eye department. They can create custom ear protection with four interchangeable filters for less than $200. It is our responsibility to make sure that we protect our hearing and promote hearing health the best way we can and it starts with protecting your own.
Jonathan Page is a third semester voice principal who is majoring in professional music.