Music Fact Sheets – Guitar and Rock

Guitar and Rock/Blues Vocalists

Guitar players and Rock/Blues vocalists share a similar part of the stage and therefore are both exposed to loud music.  They can use similar strategies to reduce the risk of hearing damage:

  • Ear monitors are small in-the-ear devices that look like hearing aids connected to small wire cables which can be plugged directly into the amplification system. These afford some protection from overly loud music and allow the guitar players and vocalists to monitor their music. The overall sound levels on stage during rehearsals and performances are quieter as a result. In the case of vocalists, the use of ear monitors will allow them to hear their voice better with an added benefit of reduced vocal strain after a long set. Ear monitors can be designed to either improve monitoring or function as ear protection or both. Depending on the type of music, one’s style, and one’s position in the band, a trade-off between these goals may be necessary.
  • Loudspeakers generate a wide range of sounds however not all sounds come directly out of the speaker. Low-frequency bass notes can be just as loud beside the loudspeaker enclosure as directly in front, whereas higher frequency sounds emanate much like a laser beam. Tilting or aiming the loudspeaker up to the musicians’ ear will ensure that the music has a “flatter” response. The overall level will tend to be lower on stage because the sound engineer will not need to compensate for a “peaky” response. Some researchers recommend elevating loudspeakers to ear level for much the same reason. As loudspeaker design varies checking with the manufacturer will provide information on whether this is the best choice of orientation for that specific loudspeaker.
  • The loudspeakers can also be used as an acoustic shadow to hide in. High-frequency sounds tend to emanate from the loudspeakers in almost a straight line.  Since these same high-frequency treble notes can also be the most intense, standing beside rather than in front of or behind the loudspeaker enclosure may afford some protection.
  • The main source of potential damage appears to be from the drummer’s high hat cymbal which is typically on the left side of the drum set. Moving away from the high hat cymbal as much as is reasonable, or the use of lucite or plexiglas baffles between the cymbals and the other musicians may be useful to minimize the potential damage to hearing. If baffles are used, it is important to ensure that they do not extend above the level of the drummer’s ear, since high-frequency reflections can exacerbate the drummer’s hearing problems.
  • Custom made ER-15 tuned earplugs are manufactured for instrumental musicians and vocalists which allow all of the music to be attenuated (lessened in energy) equally across the full range of musical sounds. The low-bass notes are treated identically as the mid-range and high-frequency treble notes and the music balance is not affected. These have been in wide use since the late 1980s.
  • The human ear is much like any other body part—too much use and it may be damaged. The ear takes about 16 hours to “reset”. After attending a rock concert or a loud session, you may notice reduced hearing and/or tinnitus (ringing) in your ears. If your hearing is assessed immediately after the concert, one would find a temporary hearing loss. After 16 hours however, your hearing should return to its “baseline” level.  A break of 16-18 hours after exposure is recommended to let your hearing recover.

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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.