Any musician worth his salt has to be able to listen. When you're up on stage or practicing at home, it's important to be able to sense the intricacies of your instrument and nuances of your playing. A band of musicians rely on their ears when playing together; members play off of each other instruments to give the performance energy and soul. But why, then, do so many musicians not protect their delicate ear drums while playing music? Loud noises will cause permanent damage to your ears, but there are ways to prevent this Every musician needs to know how their ears work and what a hearing test can reveal after years of abuse.
Your ear contains many tiny hair-like sensors deep in the ear canal. These hairs react to any sound that enters them and converges the noise into an electrical signal that your brain can understand. Because these hairs are so accurate they are also delicious. When exposed to loud sounds, these hairs can flatten and die, causing permanent damage. A hearing test can determine how much damage has been done using the decibel system.
A decibel (dB) is a unit of measurement used to measure the volume of sound. Higher decibel levels have higher risks of doing damage to your ears, but there is no specific volume that will cause damage. Typically, trouble starts occurring around the 100dB mark. Lower decibel ratings will not cause damage initially, but over a period of a few hours your ears can start to suffer. Higher decibel levels (110dB – 120dB) can cause damage after only a few minutes, and anything over 120dB will cause permanent damage almost immediately! Considering that most concerts clock in around 120dB, this is a cause of concern for many musicians. If you've been playing for years with no ear protection, you may consider a hearing test to assess the damage.
Now that you know that you are in danger, there are several options to prevent further damage to your precious ears. Earmuffs and foam earplugs are the easiest products to find, but are also part of the reason that musicians are turned off by ear protection. Cheap ear plugs often muffle higher frequencies that musicians rely on, making their use undesirable. In recent years many manufacturers have developed earplugs specially made for musicians that reduce the volume of sound that enters the ear but retains the full spectrum of frequencies. These are much more useful to a working musician.
For those willing to make a long term investment in their ears (which should be everyone, really), fitted earbuds are becoming more and more popular. Audiologists create a mold of your inner ear so that the earbud creates a seal in your ears. These types of buds provide the best sound quality and protection. If you opt to take a hearing test, your technician should be able to recommend a good fitted earbud. Some of these even offer systems for in-ear monitoring, which channels the mix from the sound system into your ear at an appropriate volume.
If you think you've already experienced some loss, a hearing test can help you determine how much damage has been done and how to prevent further damage. Hairs in the ear that have died will never grow back, so take care of them now before it's too late!