Music Fact Sheets- Violins & Violas

Violins and Violas

Violins and violas can generate sufficiently loud levels of music that potentially can cause permanent hearing loss. This is typically worse in the left ear as it is nearer the instrument. In many cases, the violin or viola player is surrounded by many like instruments causing the sound in the section to be quite intense. Unlike most other instrument categories, the ability to hear the higher frequency harmonics is crucial to these musicians. Therefore recommendations are provided to protect hearing and to maintain audibility of the higher frequency harmonics.

  • Violins and violas should always be played away from overhangs such as those commonly found in orchestra pits.  The roof of such overhangs are frequently acoustically treated to minimize reflections. It is not uncommon that the magnitude of the higher frequency harmonic components of these instruments are reduced by this acoustic treatment. Since players of violins and violas need to be aware of this high-frequency energy, the sound is muted and the musicians play harder to compensate for this lost energy with an unnecessary increased sound level and a possible danger to their arms.
  • There are any number of acoustic baffles that can be placed on the rear portion of an orchestra seat that can serve to reduce the loudness of the instruments to the musicians. Many of which are opaque or transparent. Baffles work well and serve to attenuate (or lessen) higher frequency sounds more than bass sounds. They do however need to be within 7 inches of the musician’s ear. If further away they will have no significant effect due to reflections off the floor and music stands.
  • Violin and viola players can use mutes while practising, thus reducing the overall daily exposure to noise/music. These mutes can fit over the bridge and only result in a slight high-frequency loss of musical
  • Custom made tuned ER-15 earplugs are used by many violin and viola players. These allow all of the music to be attenuated (lessened in energy) equally across the full range of musical sounds. That is, the low-bass notes are treated identically as the mid-range and high-frequency treble notes. The balance of music is therefore not altered. These earplugs 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 musical session you may notice reduced hearing and/or tinnitus (ringing) in your ears. If your hearing was assessed immediately after such a concert or session, one would find a temporary hearing loss. After 16 hours however, your hearing should return to its “baseline” (hopefully normal) After a loud session or concert, don’t practice for 16 -18 hours.

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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.