Music Fact Sheet – Woodwinds & Bagpipes

Woodwinds and Large Stringed Instruments

Woodwinds such as clarinet, saxophone, oboe, bassoon, and the flute are found in all symphonies and smaller groups. As well as the larger stringed instruments such as cello, string bass, and the harp. These instruments generate similar sound levels (albeit at different frequencies), and are subject to similar music exposure from other instruments. Many of these musicians need to sit in front of potentially damaging trumpet and percussion sections.

  • Most of these instruments possess significant low-frequency sound energy with very little fundamental harmonic energy in the higher level. These musicians need to sit “downwind” of the brass section. Most of the damaging energy from the brass section is in the higher frequency ranges, so it would be ideal to have ear protection that lets through the lower frequency sounds, but attenuates (or lessens) the higher frequencies from the other instruments. A “vented/tuned ear plug” is useful for these instruments. A tuned cavity is created in the ear plug that allows the musician to hear their own instrument while ensuring that the damaging elements of the trumpet and percussion sections are reduced.
  • For woodwinds such as clarinets, saxophones and flutes that also play in jazz and blues bands, a wider form of protection can be useful such as the ER-15 earplugs. They allow the music to be attenuated (lessened in energy) equally across the full range of musical sounds. The low-bass notes are treated identically to the midrange and high-frequency treble notes. The balance of music is therefore not altered. These earplugs have been in wide use since the late 1980s.
  • Plexiglas™ baffles can be erected between the cymbals and the jazz/blues woodwind players, but should not extend higher than the drummer. Such baffles can attenuate the sound energy of the drums for the other musicians. Ensuring that the baffles do not extend too high will ensure that the drummer is not subject to their own high-frequency reflections, which may increase the potential for future hearing loss.
  • In-the-ear monitors are small in-the-ear devices that look like hearing aids connected to small wire They can be connected directly to the amplification system. These not only afford some protection from overly loud music, but allow the woodwind players to monitor their music better. Generally however, these are not necessary unless the music levels are very intense. Frequently, the overall sound levels on stage during rehearsals and performances are quieter while using these ear monitors.
  • Acoustic monitors are stethoscope-like devices that can be used by acoustic bass, cello and harp players to allow them to hear their own instrument better. A length of hearing aid tubing plugs into a custom made earplug on one end and a suction cup or similar attachment into the tail piece, bridge, or body of the bass or cello. The musician can better monitor their own instrument which has the benefit of not overplaying. Wrist and arm strain is usually reduced with such a set-up.
  •  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. And if your hearing was assessed immediately after the concert, one would find a temporary hearing loss. After 16 hours however, your hearing should return to its “baseline” (hopefully normal) level. After a loud session or concert, don’t practice for 16-18 hours.

What about bagpipes?

Bagpipes are a fascinating instrument- the only “modern” instrument with no volume control! The output of bagpipes has been measured at 108 dB and when combined with the drum corps to their rear can result in a real problem. The hearing protection of choice is the ER-15 earplug if the piper is solo and the ER-25 earplug if drums are around. Of course, the same precautions/moderation should be taken as outlined for other woodwinds.


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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.