Ear Institute : Audiology & Hearing Evaluations

Hearing Conservation for Musicians

The University of Miami Ear Institute is working in collaboration with the University Frost School of Music to protect the hearing of its student musicians and faculty. In this website are educational presentations regarding the ear and hearing mechanism, the effects of loud sounds on the ear, important components of effective hearing conservation programs, and methods to protect hearing while preserving the sound quality of music. Links on the bottom of the page will lead you to these presentations as well as related links for further information. Contact us for further information regarding appointments for hearing evaluations and musicians earplugs.

Ear & Hearing

The ear consists of three parts: outer, middle, and inner.

The outer ear picks up and funnels sound through the auditory canal to the eardrum. The sound vibrates the eardrum and the movement travels to three tiny bones in the middle ear called the malleus, incus, and stapes. Vibrations from the movement of the bones in the middle ear cause the tiny hair cells of the cochlea in the inner ear to move resulting in a wave of energy that excites the nerve of hearing.

Hearing Conservation

An effective hearing conservation program with musicians consists of 4 main goals:

1. Assessment of the environments in which student musicians are exposed during rehearsals and performances.

  • Sound levels are measured using devices called sound level meters or dosimeters.
  • Dosimeters are a type of sound level meter that may be worn by an individual to measure one’s specific exposure to sound.

2. Audiometric testing to determine whether the noise exposure is causing hearing loss.

  • During testing, those involved in the hearing conservation program will go into a quiet sound booth, wear earphones, and listen to quiet tones.
  • The purpose of the test is to determine the quietest level at which the participant can hear the tones.
  • A baseline test is performed to determine preexisting hearing loss; annual audiograms follow to monitor hearing.

3. Hearing protection devices

  • Custom and noncustom earplug options that are designed for musicians to maintain the sound quality of music while reducing the intensity level.

4. Educational component

  • Includes topics such as the ear and the hearing mechanism, hearing loss and its effects, tinnitus, hearing conservation

The above pictures represent the very sensitive outer hair cells of the inner ear. These cells transform sound into an electrical signal, which is sent through the hearing nerve to the brain. Excessive noise exposure may damage the hair cells. Damage to the hair cells is often permanent.

Noise & Hearing Loss.

Effects of Hearing Loss on Musicians

For musicians, hearing is of particular importance. Hearing loss resulting from prolonged exposure to loud sound may lead to the following effects:

  • Less ability to hear musical tones
  • Lack of perception of timbre, the quality of sound of an instrument or voice
  • Distortion of balance between instruments
  • Tinnitus, the sensation of ringing, humming, buzzing sounds in the ears

Recent Studies

Miller, Stewart & Lehman (2007)

  • Student musicians ages 18-22
  • Results indicate high risk for noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) related to exposure to loud music

Phillips, Shoemaker, Mace & Hodges (2008)

  • 110 undergraduate music students at University of North Carolina-Greensboro
  • Results show a risk for NIHL in over half the study participants

Musician Earplugs

Custom and noncustom musicians earplugs are designed to reduce the intensity of sound, while preserving the quality of music. This is achieved through the use of a special filter that allows for a flat reduction of sound across all frequencies.

ER*20 High Fidelity Earplugs
A noncustom, less expensive option that is filtered to approximate the ear’s natural response. This plug reduces sound by about 20 decibels (dB) across all frequencies.

ER*9 Custom Earplugs
Custom fit for the individual, ER*9 plugs are recommended for small strings, large strings, acoustic guitar, & vocalists.

ER*15 Custom Earplugs
Custom fit for the individual, ER*15 plugs are recommended for small strings, large strings, woodwinds, brass, flutes, percussion, vocalists, acoustic guitar, amplified instruments, marching bands, music teachers, recording engineers, & sound crews.

ER*25 Custom Earplugs
Custom fit for the individual, ER*25 plugs are recommended for brass, percussion & amplified instruments.

Related Links

The following links lead to sites with information related specifically to hearing conservation, musicians, and health standards for occupational hearing protection.

National Hearing Conservation Association
The mission of the NHCA is to prevent hearing loss due to noise and other environmental factors in all sectors of society. Our newly enhanced website is intended to provide information to anyone interested in learning more about hearing loss prevention.

H.E.A.R. (Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers)
H.E.A.R. is a non-profit volunteer organization dedicated to raising awareness of the real dangers of repeated exposure to excessive noise levels from music which can lead to permanent, and sometimes debilitating, hearing loss and tinnitus.

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)
Every year, approximately 30 million people in the United states are occupationally exposed to hazardous noise. Fortunately, the incidence of noise-induced hearing loss can be reduced or eliminated through the successful application of engineering controls and hearing conservation programs.

NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)
Noise-induced hearing loss is 100 percent preventable but once acquired, hearing loss is permanent and irreversible. Therefore, prevention measures must be taken by employers and workers to ensure the protection of workers’ hearing.

( Pictures courtesy of Etymotic Research, Inc. website. Information regarding appropriate earplug recommendations taken from Chasin, Marshall (1996). Musicians and the Prevention of Hearing Loss, Singular Publishing Group, Inc., San Diego, CA.)