Ear Protection for Musicians

Musicians Hearing Protection

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What earplugs do you suggest for musicians?

There are three major types of earplugs for musicians – the ER-15, the ER-25, and vented/tuned earplugs. The ER-25 is generally only recommended for drummers. The  ER-15 is the ear plug of choice for most other rock and blues instruments, as well as most classical instruments. The vented/ tuned earplugs are useful for those instruments that either do not have much treble sound energy (such as the acoustic bass and cello), or for those instruments that are not particularly damaging (such as the clarinet), but have to play near other noisy instruments, such as the drums.

I have tried earplugs but they sound hollow and I can’t really hear the high-end. Are there better earplugs?

Because of the laws of physics, earplugs lessen (attenuate) the sound energy for the higher pitches more than the lower bass notes. Typically earplugs will cause music to sound hollow without much high-end. In the late 1980s, a company named Etymotic Research came out with a “flat” earplug that lessens the sound energy for the high pitched notes as much as for the low bass notes. These use a small acoustic amplifier that puts back many of the high pitched sounds. Musicians and music listeners then can hear their music unaffected and at a safe level. These earplugs come in several amounts of protection- 9 decibels of protection (ER-9),15 decibels of protection (ER-15) and 25 decibels of protection (ER-25). Different musicians use different earplugs.

Where can I get musician ear plugs?

Musician ear plugs, like the ER-15, can be obtained from your audiologist. Contact them audiologist and they can either make the ear plugs for you or advise on where you can get them. Make sure you go to someone who specializes in musicians. Remember however, that while ear plugs are very important, they are only one of the many things that can be done to reduce music exposure. Environmental strategies (many of which are inexpensive) can be very useful.

I’ve seen musicians on TV wearing what look like hearing aids connected to small wires. What are these?

These are called in-the-ear monitors, and they are a form of a modified hearing aid. Musicians use them as their own monitoring system instead of the small “wedge” monitors on the floor of the stage. The wires are connected to the sound amplification system either directly or through a wireless transmitter. The musician can then hear their own music as well as that of the other musicians, but at a safe level. When musicians use in-the-ear monitors, the overall sound level on stage is typically much less than if they were using conventional wedge monitors.

My friend is a drummer and whenever he practices, he hums and grunts. Is he weird or is he doing this for a reason? 

He isn’t weird (well, he might be…) but many percussionists hum and grunt. There is a small stapedial muscle in the middle ear that mother nature gave us so that our own voice would not sound too loud. It has been shown that humming or grunting just prior to a loud sound and during the sound, this muscle in the ear continues to contract, providing an attenuation (or lessening) of the sound energy. So your friend is actually protecting his hearing.

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All information is provided in the interests of Hearing Health education and is of a general nature. In all cases you should consult your doctor or other allied health professional for advice regarding your individual circumstances. 

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