My syllabus for the orchestra this semester includes the verbiage below. I thought it would be appropriate to share this here—not only for the musicians who read this blog, but perhaps even more for the non-musicians who don’t think as often, or as thoroughly, about hearing health in particular.
Thanks first off to John, my department chair who urged his faculty to consider adding such material to our syllabi. Thanks also to faculty colleagues Ted and Lara, whose wordings I also adapted for my purposes.
Health Recommendations (Hearing and Musculoskeletal)
Hearing health is essential to your ability to enjoy and perform music. Your hearing can be permanently damaged by loud sounds, including music. The danger from Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is constant, but the good news is that NIHL is generally preventable. Avoid overexposure to loud sounds, especially for long periods of time (e.g., limit daily exposure times to sounds through ear-buds at half-volume [94 db] to an hour; 15 minutes at full volume [100 db]. Complementary foam ear plugs for hearing protection in any practice, rehearsal, or performance situation are available from the Orchestra/Band Room. If you monitor the volume of music, limit the time you listen, and take breaks and other precautions, you should be able to protect your hearing for a lifetime of enjoyment.
Playing instruments can also cause or aggravate carpal tunnel syndrome or other muscular/skeletal issues. Take regular breaks, maintain healthy posture, vary the type and intensity of practice, and inform a professional of any problems. For further information on musicians’ health, you are encouraged to read the advisories posted at https://nasm.arts-accredit.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2016/02/4a_NASM_PAMA-Student_Guide-Standard.pdf.
Speaking personally, I have used high-end, noise-canceling earplugs while performing on horn in a large ensemble. Sometimes, one earplug will do; sometimes, two are needed. I don’t like to have to use them, because it limits my ambient perception, but I’m intent on protecting my hearing. In my experience, the relative need for protection can depend somewhat on front-to-back row spacing, e.g., how far behind me are the trumpets or timpani? Glockenspiel/bells can be damaging, too. It’s not out of place to ask the stage manager or conductor for a chair-position adjustment if the back of your neck is touching the timpanist’s music stand.
Now for the sake of my snippet-snarfing readers who just want the bullet points and don’t have the time to consider even the brief, foregoing paragraphs, here’s the take-away:
- Generally speaking, take breaks (for your muscles and your ears).
- Seriously limit the use of earbuds while listening to any kind of music).
- Use noise-canceling ear protection in extremely loud environments (e.g., in airplanes, during lawn mowing or snow blowing, at rock concerts).
- Turn down the volume when the db level is too high. Common sense is good here, but I’d suggest 90db as a threshold. Although orchestral and wind band music can have peaks at high db levels, the more likely listening damage will come from sustained exposure to popular genres (e.g., country, pop, and rock) that tend to hover at one dynamic level. It’s uncool to like your music¹ so loud that it produces physical pain in someone else when you inflict it on him/her.
¹ I’ll throw this in for free! Stop sharing “your music” with everyone on the streets through open windows or with the top down in your convertible. It’s rude. It doesn’t matter whether it’s rock, country, Christian, classical, or rap. This also relates to physical pain. My upper ribs have rattled, and my ears have been overwhelmed by music from other people’s car speakers.