musicians_hearing_protection

musicians_hearing_protection
Health and Safety
Executive
Musicians’ hearing protection
A review
Prepared by the Health and Safety Laboratory
for the Health and Safety Executive 2008
RR664
Research Report
Health and Safety
Executive
Musicians’ hearing protection
A review
Jacqueline Patel BSc (Hons) MSc (Eng) MPhil MIOA
Health and Safety Laboratory
Harpur Hill
Buxton
Derbyshire
SK17 9JN
The music and entertainment industry is unique in that high noise levels are often regarded as an essential element
for the enjoyment of people attending concerts and live music events. However, there is a risk of hearing damage for
people working in the music and entertainment industry, including musicians. One of the methods used to reduce noise
exposure is the use of appropriate hearing protection. Many different types of hearing protection have been marketed
for musicians including premoulded earplugs, custom-moulded earplugs and in-ear monitors. In order to support the
Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) understanding of this issue, the types of hearing protection available to musicians
were identified. Telephone interviews were then conducted with nineteen professional musicians to collect information
on: the type of hearing protection (if any) musicians are currently using; musicians’ attitudes to hearing protection
including whether they think it is, or it can be, effective and whether it allows them to do their job effectively; and the
factors musicians consider important when choosing hearing protection.
This report and the work it describes were funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its contents, including any
opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect HSE policy.
HSE Books
© Crown copyright 2008
First published 2008
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
Applications for reproduction should be made in writing to:
Licensing Division, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office,
St Clements House, 2-16 Colegate, Norwich NR3 1BQ
or by e-mail to [email protected]
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The author gratefully acknowledges those who assisted in this project, in particular the
musicians who took part in the telephone interviews.
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CONTENTS
1
INTRODUCTION..........................................................................................1
2 HEARING PROTECTOR TYPES ................................................................2
2.1
Earmuffs ...................................................................................................2
2.2
Earplugs ...................................................................................................2
2.3
Sound restoration level-dependent hearing protectors.............................4
2.4
Flat or tailored frequency response hearing protectors ............................4
2.5
Hearing protectors with in-built communication systems..........................4
3 HEARING PROTECTORS FOR MUSICIANS .............................................5
3.1
Noise attenuation......................................................................................5
3.2
Attenuation characteristics .......................................................................5
3.3
Occlusion effect........................................................................................5
3.4
Commercially available musicians’ hearing protection .............................6
4 MUSICIANS’ ATTITUDES TO HEARING PROTECTORS – A
LITERATURE REVIEW ....................................................................................11
4.1
Reasons for wearing hearing protectors.................................................11
4.2
Reasons for not wearing hearing protectors...........................................12
4.3
Types of hearing protectors being used .................................................12
4.4
General conclusions about hearing protector usage ..............................13
5 MUSICIANS’ ATTITUDES TO HEARING PROTECTION – TELEPHONE
INTERVIEWS....................................................................................................14
5.1
Methodology...........................................................................................14
5.2
Sampling strategy...................................................................................14
5.3
Topics covered during the telephone interviews.....................................14
5.4
Analysis ..................................................................................................14
5.5
Results ...................................................................................................15
5.6
Discussion of telephone interview data ..................................................29
6
CONCLUSIONS.........................................................................................33
7
RECOMMENDATIONS..............................................................................35
8
REFERENCES ..........................................................................................36
APPENDIX A: LITERATURE SEARCH STRATEGY......................................39
APPENDIX B: MUSICIANS’ NOISE EXPOSURE ...........................................40
APPENDIX C: MUSICIANS’ HEARING...........................................................44
APPENDIX D: TOPICS COVERED DURING TELEPHONE INTERVIEWS
WITH MUSICIANS............................................................................................49
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Objectives
The music and entertainment industry is unique in that high noise levels are often regarded as an
essential element for the enjoyment of people attending concerts and live music events.
However, there is a risk of hearing damage for people working in the music and entertainment
industry, including musicians. One of the methods used to reduce noise exposure is the use of
appropriate hearing protection. Many different types of hearing protection have been marketed
for musicians including premoulded earplugs, custom-moulded earplugs and in-ear monitors. In
order to support the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) understanding of this issue, the types
of hearing protection available to musicians were identified. Telephone interviews were then
conducted with nineteen professional musicians to collect information on: the type of hearing
protection (if any) musicians are currently using; musicians’ attitudes to hearing protection
including whether they think it is, or it can be, effective and whether it allows them to do their
job effectively; and the factors musicians consider important when choosing hearing protection.
Main Findings
Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with nineteen musicians between June
and October 2007 to gain an understanding of their attitude towards using hearing protection,
and on the performance and usability of available hearing protectors. Although the sample was
small it was well represented across the different types of instruments played, how long the
musicians had played professionally, and the range of work experiences. The majority
interviewed were classical musicians playing in large orchestras. However, the views of three
freelance percussionists and two military band players provided some insight into the
experiences of other types of musicians playing different styles of music and in different
venues.
The findings presented in this report were obtained from telephone interviews with musicians
and from discussions with, and information provided by, hearing protector manufacturers and
suppliers.
Musicians most commonly use conventional foam and flange earplugs because they are easy to
fit during a performance, and they are often the most readily available. However conventional
protectors can provide too much protection when fitted properly, and they can cause musicians
to mishear or overplay as a result of the lack of high frequency sound heard through the
protectors. Musicians are most likely to wear conventional hearing protectors when they are
exposed to very loud music generated by other musicians.
Premoulded musicians’ earplugs provide moderate attenuation but preserve sound quality.
They are a relatively inexpensive off-the-shelf earplug, and are reusable if kept clean. They can
improve sound quality for those musicians working with or around amplified sound.
Custom-moulded musicians’ earplugs use interchangeable filters to provide different levels of
protection (9 - 25 dB), and have been designed to preserve a natural sound quality. They are
expensive and difficult to fit, but they are also unobtrusive if aesthetics are an issue. Despite
improved sound quality, orchestral musicians do not believe they can play properly when
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wearing custom-moulded protectors. However they are more likely to use this type of protector
when listening to other musicians.
Musicians are reluctant to wear any type of hearing protection when playing solo or exposed
pieces of music, which require them to play at the highest possible standard. Principal
musicians, and woodwind and brass musicians are likely to be the most resistant to wearing
hearing protection.
Custom-moulded vented earplugs are available, which are designed to provide significant high
frequency attenuation and very little low frequency attenuation. A hole through the length of
the earplug reduces the occlusion effect. These earplugs may be useful for musicians who play
low frequency instruments, and for those who blow into their instrument (eg woodwind and
brass players). However none of the musicians interviewed for this study were aware of, or
used, custom-moulded vented earplugs.
In-ear monitors provide musicians with a method for controlling the level of incoming sound
when used with a personal mixing desk, and the earpiece provides some isolation. There are
currently no standard tests for governing the performance of custom-moulded electronic
earplugs.
A range of noise control methods other than hearing protectors is available for reducing
musicians’ noise exposure. These include the use of screens and risers, regularly rotating
musicians within the orchestra, increasing the separation between players, and sound limiting on
electronic systems. However reflected sound makes the use of screens unpopular, and the lack
of space in many orchestra pits and studios can make it difficult to implement many of the other
control measures.
Recommendations
It is essential that suitably qualified professionals take and manufacture all ear-moulds to a high
standard. Poor ear-moulds can result in earplugs that are uncomfortable, or that block out too
much sound, and which are therefore unlikely to be used.
Musicians should ensure that the hearing protectors they use are CE marked and supplied with
attenuation data according to BS EN 352, which describes and verifies the performance of the
protector.
A good education programme is needed for both employed and self-employed musicians. It
should include information on the requirements of current noise legislation clearly identifying
employer’s and employee’s responsibilities, typical noise exposures and the associated risk to
hearing, the signs and symptoms indicative of hearing damage, and the types of hearing
protectors available and the advantages and disadvantages of each type.
Training on the selection and proper use of hearing protection is also essential to ensure that the
use of hearing protectors is an effective measure for controlling musicians’ noise exposure.
Musicians need wear earplugs during rehearsals and performances so that, with time, they hear
the attenuated music as normal, especially with musicians’ earplugs that are designed to
preserve sound quality. If earplugs are worn throughout a performance the fact that they are
difficult to fit, or that fitting them during a performance spoils the continuity of the music for
the musician, will no longer be a problem.
It is essential that methods used to control noise be given consideration when designing or
refurbishing venues in which live music is played, so that musicians do not have to rely on
hearing protection.
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1
INTRODUCTION
The music and entertainment industry is unique in that high noise levels are often regarded as an
essential element for the enjoyment of people attending concerts and live music events.
However, there is a risk of hearing damage for people working in the music and entertainment
industry, including musicians. An earlier literature search was carried out according to the
search strategy described in Appendix A to investigate musicians’ noise exposure. The results
of this search showed that orchestral musicians can be exposed to A-weighted continuous noise
levels between 80 and 110 dB and rock/pop musicians can be exposed to A-weighted noise
levels between 88 and 117 dB. Appendix B contains a summary of this review.
Many studies have been carried out to identify whether there is a link between musicians’ noise
exposure and the incidence of hearing loss among musicians. A review of published studies is
contained in Appendix C. It is very difficult to draw conclusions about the incidence of hearing
damage among both classical and rock/pop musicians because of the conflicting conclusions
drawn from the different studies. Eight of the studies concluded that there was no significant
difference between the hearing threshold levels of musicians and non-noise exposed reference
populations; two found musicians with better hearing than the reference population; and six
concluded that musicians have slightly poorer hearing thresholds than non-noise exposed
reference populations. Poor study design may be responsible for some of the conflicting
conclusions. Nevertheless the reported evidence suggests that musicians’ noise exposure may
be high enough to cause some hearing loss and to increase the incidence of hearing disorders
such as tinnitus and hyperacusis.
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, which are designed to prevent hearing
damage, cover all employees working in the music and entertainment industry. Employers have
a duty under this legislation to protect the hearing of their employees. One of the methods used
for reducing and controlling noise exposure is use of appropriate hearing protection. Its use
should only be considered as a last resort or where it is not reasonably practicable to control
exposure by other means. Many different types of hearing protection have been marketed for
musicians including premoulded earplugs, custom-moulded earplugs and in-ear monitors.
In order to support HSE’s aim of preventing hearing damage among musicians, a project was
carried out with the following objectives:
To identify the types of hearing protection currently available to musicians;
To carry out telephone interviews with 10-15 professional musicians to collect
information on:
o the type of hearing protection (if any) musicians are currently using;
o musicians’ attitudes to hearing protection including whether they think it is, or
it can be, effective and whether it allows them to do their job effectively; and
o the factors musicians consider important when choosing hearing protection, eg
comfort, attenuation (ie noise reduction) requirements, and quality of attenuated
music and speech.
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HEARING PROTECTOR TYPES This section briefly describes the wide range of hearing protectors that are generally available.
Further information can be found in BS EN 458: 2004 and in Controlling Noise at Work: The
Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (HSE, L108). The advantages and disadvantage of
each type of protector are described, and where appropriate the usefulness of the protector for
musicians is identified.
2.1
EARMUFFS
Earmuffs consist of hard plastic cups, which fit over and surround the ears. The cups are sealed
to the head by cushion seals usually filled with soft plastic foam or a viscous fluid. Tension to
assist the seal is provided by a headband. The inner surfaces of the cups are lined with a soundabsorbing material, usually soft plastic foam.
Earmuffs are generally cheap and easy to use, they can provide high levels of protection in high
noise environments when worn correctly, and the occlusion effect is less significant compared
with earplugs, especially for earmuffs with large (high-volume) cups. [Note: The occlusion
effect occurs when the ear canal is blocked which causes sound to be reflected back towards the
eardrum. The occlusion effect increases the loudness perception of a person’s own voice and
can boost low frequency noise in the ear canal.]
The disadvantages associated with using earmuffs are that they are heavier and more obtrusive
than earplugs, they typically provide higher levels of attenuation at high frequencies than low
frequencies, they can be uncomfortable in hot, humid conditions, and their effectiveness can be
compromised when the seal is broken by glasses, jewellery, long hair and facial hair.
2.2
EARPLUGS
Earplugs are hearing protectors that are inserted and worn in, or which cover, the ear canal in
order to seal its entrance. They can be disposable or reusable, and are available in many
different forms. Figure 1 shows a selection of earplugs. Earplugs may not be suitable for all
wearers because of medical conditions.
Figure 1: Earplugs
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2.2.1
User formable earplugs
These are made from compressible materials that the wearer forms before inserting them into
the ear canal. After insertion, these earplugs expand to form a seal within the ear canal. The
advantages of user formable earplugs are that they are cheap, they can effectively protect
against high noise levels, they are portable being small enough to carry around in a pocket, and
they are more comfortable in hot environments than earmuffs.
One of the main disadvantages of earplugs, especially user formable plugs, is that they can be
difficult to fit properly. Training on how to fit earplugs is essential, because they can offer
virtually no protection when fitted incorrectly. Other disadvantages include uneven attenuation
characteristics, which “colour” the sound so that it no longer sounds natural (for example a foam
earplug that reduces low frequency sounds by 20 dB, may reduce high frequency sounds by
40 dB), the occlusion effect which distorts sound perception, and there is a risk of infection if
earplugs are inserted with dirty hands.
Published literature suggests that conventional user formable earplugs may not be suitable for
vocalists and musicians, especially for those who play brass and woodwind instruments because
of the occlusion effect.
2.2.2
Premoulded earplugs
These are usually made from silicone, rubber or plastics, and are available in a range of different
shapes including flanged (ie Christmas tree) and domed (ie toadstool). They may also be
available in a range of sizes. This type of earplug is designed to enable easy insertion into the
ear canal without the need for shaping. Premoulded earplugs are generally reusable, but they
require regular cleaning.
2.2.3
Custom-moulded earplugs
Qualified professionals individually mould these earplugs to fit the shape of the user’s ear canal.
Figure 2 shows examples of custom-moulded earplugs. These moulds can be fitted with filters
that shape the sound heard by the wearer, in-ear monitors for use with amplified music systems,
and communication devices. It is essential that suitably qualified people make custom earmoulds as poor ear-moulds are likely to be uncomfortable and compromise the performance of
the resultant device.
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Figure 2: Custom-moulded earplugs
2.3 SOUND RESTORATION LEVEL-DEPENDENT HEARING PROTECTORS
These incorporate an electronic sound reproduction system. At low levels the noise detected by
an external microphone is relayed and amplified to a loudspeaker inside the hearing protector.
As the external noise level increases, the electronics gradually reduce the amount of noise
transmitted to the inside of the hearing protector.
Sound restoration level-dependent hearing protectors may be suitable for musicians playing
instruments with a large dynamic range, such as brass, woodwind and percussion. It is
particularly important for brass and woodwind players to have negligible attenuation at lower
noise levels because they have significant skull contact with their instruments. This means that
their ears receive both the treble-rich (high frequency) noise via the eardrum and bass-rich (low
frequency) noise via bone conduction. When the eardrum noise is reduced, for example due to
the use of hearing protectors, the bass-treble distortion can be significant.
2.4 FLAT OR TAILORED FREQUENCY RESPONSE HEARING
PROTECTORS
Most hearing protectors provide greater attenuation for high frequency noise than for low
frequency noise. Flat frequency response hearing protectors are designed to give a similar
reduction across a wide range of frequencies, which results in a more natural sound.
2.5 HEARING PROTECTORS WITH IN-BUILT COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS
These devices use a wired or wireless system through which working signals, alarms, messages
or entertainment programmes can be relayed. Some products incorporate a system to limit
sound.
Musicians, vocalists and sound engineers commonly use headphone monitors, which can
incorporate a combination of active and passive attenuation as well as signal limiters. Only
headphones incorporated into an earmuff complying with BS EN 352-6 (and BS EN 352-1) are
designed and approved to provide noise attenuation in noisy environments.
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3
HEARING PROTECTORS FOR MUSICIANS
The following sections contain information on factors that are likely to be important to
musicians when deciding to wear, and selecting suitable, hearing protection. A range of hearing
protectors is also described that have been specifically designed with the needs of music and
entertainment industry professionals in mind.
3.1
NOISE ATTENUATION
Musicians need to hear while they play, both their own music and that of other players.
Conventional hearing protectors can often provide too much attenuation for this purpose, as
well as having a detrimental effect on the sound quality heard by the user. A reduction of less
than 10 dB is often sufficient for musicians, however conventional hearing protectors often
provide significantly more than this and using them might result mishearing or overplaying.
The overall attenuation provided by musicians’ earplugs is designed to avoid unnecessarily high
protection in moderate noise. These protectors typically offer a range of protection from 9 to
25 dB. [Note: The protection provided by some low attenuation earplugs does not meet the
minimum attenuation requirements specified by BS EN 352-2: 2002, and these protectors do not
therefore carry the CE mark.]
3.2
ATTENUATION CHARACTERISTICS
Inserting an earplug into the ear removes the ear’s natural resonant peak (approximately 15 dB
at 2.7 kHz in the average ear) (Niquette, 2006). This insertion loss causes music and voices to
sound muffled. The attenuation characteristics of conventional earplugs can also make it
difficult for the wearer to hear music and speech clearly; they typically provide more attenuation
at higher frequencies than in the mid and lower frequencies. Most musical instruments have a
significant amount of energy above 1 kHz, with harmonics that are more intense than the
fundamental frequency. These high frequency harmonics are vital for accurate loudness
perception, and they also contribute to the richness of the music. Earplugs that provide high
levels of high frequency attenuation can have a detrimental effect on the tonal balance of the
music, as perceived by the wearer. This can result in mishearing or overplaying to compensate
for the lack of high frequency sound heard through the earplugs.
Earplugs are commercially available with attenuation characteristics that follow the shape of the
natural frequency response of the open ear, but at a reduced level. These earplugs are designed
so that sound heard with the earplugs fitted has the same quality as the original sound, but it is
quieter. This type of device is available as both a premoulded earplug and a custom-moulded
earplug.
3.3
OCCLUSION EFFECT
Occluding and sealing the ear with an earmuff or earplug (Berger, 1988) increases the efficiency
with which bone-conducted sound is transmitted at frequencies below 2 kHz. This is called the
occlusion effect. When a musician sings or blows into the mouthpiece of an instrument, the
sound is transmitted via the jaw to the bone surrounding the inner portion of the ear canal.
Blocking the ear canal with an earmuff or earplug allows this noise, which is effectively
generated within the ear canal, to build up within the enclosed space. This causes an increase in
the sound pressure level at the eardrum in the occluded ear compared to the open ear for sounds
generated by the user (eg vocalist, brass or woodwinds). Compared to a completely open ear
canal, the occlusion effect may boost low frequency (usually below 500 Hz) sound pressure in
the ear canal by more than 20 dB.
5
The occlusion effect causes wearers of hearing protectors to experience a change in the
perception of their voice quality and other body-generated sounds and vibrations (eg breathing,
chewing, etc). In addition, some people may also feel a sense of pressure or blockage in the ear
when an earplug is inserted.
There are two ways to reduce or remove the occlusion effect (Ross, 2004). The most effective
way is to not completely block the ear canal with an ear-mould, by creating a vent hole that
connects the outer surface of the earplug to the inner surface. This permits the bone-conducted
sound generated in the ear canal to escape the ear in the way that it is supposed to. The amount
of sound that escapes, and therefore the magnitude of the occlusion effect, depends on the size
of the vent. The larger the vent, the more the occlusion effect can be reduced.
Another method of reducing the occlusion effect is to use a very long and tight ear-mould
(Killion, 2003); the plug should make a seal in the second bend of the ear canal (deep in the ear
canal). The presence of the ear-mould deep in the ear canal prevents the sound vibrations
produced by the wearer from being developed. However care is needed because a tight-fitting
ear-mould situated deep in the ear canal may be uncomfortable and irritate the skin in the ear
canal.
3.4
COMMERCIALLY AVAILABLE MUSICIANS’ HEARING PROTECTION
3.4.1
Custom-moulded flat response earplugs
The flat frequency response custom-moulded earplugs designed for use by musicians use a
patented filter with the specific acoustics of a custom ear-mould (Killion, 1993, 2004). The
filter contains a thin plastic diaphragm that functions as an acoustic capacitance, while the
volume of air in the sound bore of the ear-mould acts as an acoustic mass. Figure 3 is a diagram
of a musician’s earplug.
C2
L1
R2, L2
R1
C = Compliance
L = Inductance
R = Resistance
C1
Figure 3: Musician’s earplug (Killion, 1993)
The combination of the filter and the volume of air produces a resonance at approximately
2.7 kHz (as in the open ear) resulting in attenuation characteristics that follow the natural
frequency response of the open ear, but at a reduced level, between 80 Hz and 16 kHz.
Increasing the diaphragm stiffness increases the attenuation provided by the earplug, and several
different levels of attenuation are available for a range of uses:
6
Earplugs are available that attenuate low frequencies by 9 dB and attenuate high
frequencies by up to 15 dB (low attenuation devices).
Earplugs that provide 15 dB attenuation are available (medium attenuation devices).
Music heard through these earplugs retains the same quality as the original, only
quieter. These are designed for environments where the A-weighted sound pressure
level is 105 dB(A) or lower.
Earplugs providing a near uniform 25 dB attenuation (high attenuation) were
developed for musicians exposed to high levels of noise (eg drummers and rock
musicians). These are designed for use in environments above 105 dB(A) and below
120 dB(A).
Custom-moulded earplugs are manufactured to fit individual ears, and are claimed to give
repeatable performance, consistent protection and increased comfort for longer periods of time.
They are available in a variety of medical-grade silicone and vinyl materials to reduce irritation
of sensitive ears; flesh coloured earplugs are an option, which are unobtrusive and in some
situations highly desirable. A range of interchangeable filters (9, 15 and 25 dB) can be
purchased, which are inserted into the custom-moulds to give the level of protection that is most
suitable for the particular noise environment.
One of the disadvantages of custom-moulded earplugs is that they are expensive. However they
are designed to give several years of reliable use, and long life will result in low cost per
individual per day. It is essential that a qualified professional make custom-moulded earplugs.
Poor ear impressions will significantly limit the effectiveness of this type of earplug (Killion,
2003). Proper maintenance is also essential to ensure that the earplugs do not damage the
delicate lining of the ear canal. As with all forms of hearing protection, it is essential that
training be provided on how to fit custom-moulded earplugs and how to get used to rehearsing
and performing with them fitted in the ears. Custom-moulded earplugs have a shelf life of 4 to
5 years due to the aging process of the earplug material and also the change in the shape of the
user’s ear over this time period.
Manufacturers recommend the use of custom-moulded earplugs for musicians who play or who
are located near to instruments that produce high frequency sounds, such as trumpets, pianos,
violins and piccolos. They are also useful for anyone who works with or around amplified
music, including musicians, vocalists, conductors, and sound engineers.
It is essential that the performance of custom-moulded musicians’ earplugs is assessed and
verified. They should be CE marked and attenuation data according to BS EN 352-2 should be
available on request from the manufacturer or supplier. HSE recommends that fit tests are
carried out before custom-moulded earplugs are put into use to ensure that they fit properly and
are comfortable (HSE, L108).
3.4.2
Custom-moulded vented earplugs
Custom-moulded vented earplugs have an adjustable valve (hole) through the length of the
earplug. This is designed to provide significant high frequency attenuation, but allows the
lower frequency sound to pass through the earplug unattenuated (Chasin, 1992). The frequency
characteristics depend on the vent diameter. In the most open position (3 mm diameter vent)
these earplugs are acoustically transparent up to 2 kHz, but attenuate higher frequencies by
about 20 dB. Closing the vent increases the amount of high frequency attenuation to about
28 dB. A side effect of these vented earplugs is that the mass of air in the vent resonates, which
gives rise to a small amplification around 500 Hz. This can be used to improve the user’s
ability to monitor their voice, and might be useful for vocalists.
7
Custom-moulded vented earplugs are useful for musicians who play bass and lower frequency
instruments (for example acoustic bass and cello). They are also useful for musicians whose
instruments do not generate high noise levels (eg clarinet) but who play near other noisy
instruments, such as the drums. Vented earplugs will attenuate high frequency sounds from
percussion and trumpet sections, therefore allowing musicians to hear their own music. Another
advantage of custom-moulded vented earplugs is that there is very little occlusion effect,
provided that the ear-mould has been taken and manufactured to a high standard. As with other
custom-moulded earplugs, these earplugs are expensive and need to be custom-moulded by a
qualified professional.
It is essential that the performance of custom-moulded vented earplugs, including the effect of
the vent, is assessed and verified. The earplugs should be CE marked and attenuation data
according to BS EN 352-2 should be available on request from the manufacturer or supplier.
HSE recommends that fit tests are carried out before custom-moulded earplugs are put into use
to ensure that they fit properly and are comfortable (HSE, L108).
3.4.3
Premoulded musicians’ earplugs
Premoulded musicians’ earplugs have been developed to provide low-cost high fidelity earplugs
that can be used in a variety of noisy environments. They are designed to provide moderate
attenuation but preserve sound quality. This is achieved using a tuned resonator and an acoustic
resistor to give relatively flat attenuation characteristics up to about 6 kHz. The vented design
reduces “blocked up” feelings. They are manufactured using material that is soft, durable and
non-irritating, with a triple-flange design for increased comfort during extended wear. Figure 4
shows a sketch of this type of earplug.
Damper
Sealing ring
End cap
Eartip
Stem
Figure 4: Premoulded musician’s earplug (Killion, 1993)
The advantages of premoulded musicians’ earplugs are that they are less expensive than
custom-moulded earplugs, they are available off the shelf, and are reusable if kept clean. The
disadvantages are that they are more expensive than user formable earplugs and the attenuation
characteristics are not as flat as custom-moulded earplugs.
Premoulded earplugs are useful for musicians and vocalists looking for a relatively inexpensive
flat frequency response earplug for use during practice and rehearsals.
8
Figure 5 compares the attenuation characteristics of the different types of musicians’ earplugs
with the attenuation characteristics of a conventional foam earplug. It shows clearly the
different attenuation characteristics for each type of plug.
10
Mean attenuation dB
0
100
1000
10000
-10
-20
-30
-40
-50
Frequency Hz
Conventional earplug
Non-custom-moulded musician's earplug
Custom-moulded musician's earplug
Custom-moulded vented earplugs
Figure 5: Attenuation characteristics for different types of earplugs
3.4.4
In-ear monitors
The purpose of on-stage monitor systems is to allow the performers to hear themselves on stage
over a range of competing sound sources (Santucci, 2006). The PA system, crowd noise, on­
stage amplifiers, and escalating noise levels from other musicians trying to hear themselves, all
add to the difficulty in musicians hearing their own instrument or voice during a live
performance. The solution has been to place loudspeakers on stage in front of the musicians,
and at other locations on stage as required. With the ever-increasing size of venues and stages,
more loudspeakers are needed to provide sound to all areas of the concert venue. These
loudspeaker monitor systems present a variety of problems for the musicians, the audience and
the sound engineers. The performers are force to turn up the volume of their monitor
loudspeakers to hear themselves over the competing sound sources, while the sound engineer is
challenged to manage the resultant feedback from the loudspeakers. As a result, all on-stage
personnel can be exposed to very high levels of noise.
In-ear monitoring is emerging as the preferred method of on-stage sound reinforcement for live
concerts (Santucci, 1999), and in-ear monitors are replacing the stage monitor speakers
traditionally used by musicians. Everything that the musician wants to hear through the in-ear
monitors is channelled through a range of equipment both on and off stage. Besides standard
vocal microphones, additional microphones must be placed in front of guitar amplifiers and
around drum kits. These microphone signals are sent to a monitor mixing board where they are
adjusted to each performer’s sound preference. The processed signal is then sent back to the
musician’s belt-pack amplifier via a hard-wired or wireless transmitter, and then to the in-ear
monitor.
9
Advantages associated with the use of in-ear monitors include:
The hi-fidelity micro-transducers in custom-moulded earplugs allow musicians to
control the mix and overall loudness of their own voice and instrument. They can
also balance these loudness levels in relation to the rest of the band (ie other
musicians) more effectively. This often results in improved sound quality over
conventional stage monitors.
Varying room acoustics in different venues have a great deal of influence on the
sound coming from a stage monitor. In-ear monitors, with high isolation from
ambient sound, provide a consistent sound because the acoustic environment (the ear
canal) is not greatly affected by variations in room acoustics. This gives consistent
sound quality from venue to venue.
With stage monitors, the musician is forced to either stand directly in front of a
loudspeaker or line up consecutive loudspeakers across the stage. Using wireless FM
transmitters with in-ear monitors, the musician is free to go anywhere on stage
without sacrificing sound quality.
Because of feedback, stage monitors cannot always be turned up loud enough to be
heard, and so vocalists put undue strain on their vocal cords to hear themselves.
Elimination of stage monitors and feedback also eliminates vocal fatigue.
A reduction in the overall noise levels on stage.
Manufacturing techniques, transducer types, transducer combination, degree of isolation from
ambient sound and construction materials vary among in-ear monitor manufacturers. There is
currently no standard test for governing their performance in terms of the amount of noise they
attenuate and generate. Although miniature in size compared to conventional stage monitors,
they are still capable of producing very high sound pressure levels, up to 120 dB(A) at the ear.
Peak limiters or compressors can be used to prevent accidental exposure to very high noise
levels from feedback or other equipment malfunctions. However the real danger from these
devices is everyday use at levels that exceed the exposure action values. In-ear monitors are
amplified through a variety of monitor boards, transmitters and belt-packs from different
manufacturers, and it is very difficult to predict the actual output based on manufacturers’
specifications alone. It is essential that musicians are educated in the safe use of in-ear
monitors. They should be made aware of the need to protect their hearing by using available
methods to control the monitor’s output levels, such as volume adjustment and limiter circuits.
The manufacturers of some in-ear monitors claim their products provide noise attenuation up to
25 dB (with no input). However there are currently no standard tests for governing the
performance of custom-moulded electronic earplugs. In the absence of a standard test, any
noise reduction claims made by manufacturers and suppliers must be substantiated with
evidence, for example BS EN 352-2 attenuation data. Contact was made with a company who
supply custom-moulded communication earplugs that are fitted with a filter to musicians.
These earplugs were originally developed for covert police operations. The company provided
test data for this product, which had been obtained using the test methods specified in BS EN
352-2, EN 24869-1 and pr EN 352-6: 1998 (now BS EN 352-6: 2002).
10
4
MUSICIANS’ ATTITUDES TO HEARING PROTECTORS
– A LITERATURE REVIEW
There is evidence to suggest that prolonged exposure to music can result in permanent hearing
damage. The use of hearing protection can reduce these damaging effects. Although most rock
musicians use hearing protection, at least while rehearsing (Laitinen, 2005), the use among
classical musicians is uncommon for a variety of reasons:
Musical practice and performance require the professional musician to accurately
match frequencies over a broad range in order to play proficiently. Some musicians
fear that the use of hearing protection may lead to unacceptable pitch or loudness
discrimination (Henahan, 1985; Eaton et al, 2002; Peters et al, 2005; Bloom, 2006;
Curk et al, 2006).
The occlusion effect, which is an enhancement of low frequency bone-conducted
sound due to plugging the ear canal. It is a particular problem for vocalists and
musicians whose instruments are in contact with their head/face, eg brass and
woodwind players. The occlusion effect makes it very difficult for musicians to
monitor their own playing and that of other musicians in the ensemble (Teie, 1998;
Chasin, 1992; Eaton et al, 2002).
Two studies have been carried out to investigate musicians’ use of hearing protectors. Laitinen
(2005) used questionnaires to study the factors affecting the use of hearing protectors among
196 classical musicians playing with five major orchestras in Helsinki. String, flute, woodwind,
brass and percussion players were represented in the sample, and almost half had been playing
in a professional orchestra for over 20 years. Curk et al (2006) obtained completed surveys for
283 amateur and professional percussionists (representing all styles of music and musical
settings) using questionnaires or personal interviews. The majority of musicians reported
playing for 11 to 20 years.
In both groups of musicians job satisfaction was high, with over half agreeing with the
statement that their work was “inspiring and meaningful”. There was a high degree of
awareness (up to 90%) that exposure to loud music could result in permanent hearing damage
for which there was no cure. In both studies hearing protectors were used more commonly
during rehearsals and performances, but were rarely used during individual rehearsals. The
main factors affecting the use of hearing protectors identified from these two studies are
summarised in the following sections.
4.1
REASONS FOR WEARING HEARING PROTECTORS
Hearing protectors were used more frequently by musicians suffering from hearing damage
symptoms (such as existing hearing loss and tinnitus) than those without symptoms. There was
awareness that permanent music-induced hearing loss could have some serious consequences,
including not understanding speech, not being able to hear subtle sounds when performing, and
not hearing faint or high-pitched sounds.
Among those musicians wearing hearing protection, there was the belief that hearing protectors
could save hearing, prevent tinnitus, make loud sounds more comfortable, reduce loudness
without causing distortion, prevent fatigue, decrease stress, irritation and fatigue due to pre­
existing hearing loss and tinnitus, and protect the ears from pain.
11
The number of musicians wearing hearing protectors increased following appropriate training
and education (including the provision of a free pair of custom-moulded musicians’ earplugs).
Following this training, musicians reported wearing hearing protectors more often because they
were more aware of the dangers of loud music, more aware of musician-quality earplugs,
because they received a free pair of musician-quality earplugs, or learned that they were at risk
of music-induced hearing loss.
4.2
REASONS FOR NOT WEARING HEARING PROTECTORS
Musicians gave the following reasons for not wearing hearing protection:
Hinders their own performance by affecting the sound quality
Difficult to hear others play
The sensation caused by wearing hearing protectors is unpleasant
They are too difficult to insert and it’s too much hassle
They interfere with communication during rehearsals
An existing hearing loss makes their use difficult
A belief that they are not needed
The cost
The appearance
Not wanting to be seen as having “weak” hearing in a business that is all about
subtlety and nuance
The most commonly reported effects were related to the sound quality of the musician’s own
music and that of their colleagues, and the perception that wearing hearing protectors was too
much “hassle” because of difficulties with fit and communication.
4.3
TYPES OF HEARING PROTECTORS BEING USED
The musicians reported currently using the following types of hearing protection:
Custom-moulded musician-quality earplugs
Premoulded musician-quality earplugs
Disposable foam/wax-moulded earplugs
Reusable (premoulded) flange earplugs
Headsets
Cotton, tissues and hands
The most popular types were custom-moulded and premoulded musicians’ earplugs and
conventional foam/flange earplugs. Laitinen et al (2003) assessed the performance of four
different types of musicians’ earplugs including custom-moulded and premoulded devices. The
12
attenuation data supplied with the hearing protectors was used with typical A-weighted and Cweighted noise levels generated by the musicians to estimate the effective A-weighted sound
pressure level at the ear. The HML check method described in BS EN 458: 2004 was used.
The results showed that three of the four earplugs were capable of reducing the A-weighted
noise level at the ear to below 85 dB.
Disposable earplugs were popular with some of the musicians who found custom-moulded
earplugs difficult and slow to use. They chose disposable earplugs when they needed protection
quickly because they perceived that this type of hearing protection is quicker and easier to fit.
However it takes time to properly insert disposable earplugs, and if they are not fitted correctly
they will not make a good seal with the ear canal, which will reduce the attenuation of the
earplug. It is therefore possible that those musicians are under-protected when using disposable
earplugs.
Although flat frequency response hearing protectors have been designed for musicians, it is not
easy to start using them. The musician needs to get used to the feel of the earplugs and also to
how they change the sounds that the musician hears. The manufacturers recommend that the
musician initially wear the earplugs at home, then for individual practice, building up to group
rehearsals and performances. It can take two to three months for musicians to get used to new
earplugs, although this can vary between individuals.
One of the most surprising (and disturbing) results to come out of the two studies carried out to
investigate musicians’ use of hearing protectors, was that 24 professional musicians out of a
sample of 196 reported using cotton, tissues and hands as a method of reducing their noise
exposure. It suggests a real and urgent need for an effective education programme.
4.4
GENERAL CONCLUSIONS ABOUT HEARING PROTECTOR USAGE
Musicians are sensitive to many hearing symptoms and seem to be keener to start using hearing
protectors once the symptoms appear. Although musicians are worried about their hearing, the
use of hearing protectors is low and especially neglected in individual practice. Laitinen (2005)
and Curk et al (2006) both found that the use of hearing protectors is related to motivation. To
increase the number of musicians wearing hearing protection, a good education programme is
essential which should include information on the following:
The warning signs of hearing loss, including tinnitus and temporary threshold shift
Dangers of exposure to loud sound
Sound pressure levels experienced by musicians
Types of hearing protection available and the benefits of each type
It is important to note that the provision of training and information would only be effective if
delivered as part of an on-going process, with important messages reinforced on a regular basis.
13
5
MUSICIANS’ ATTITUDES TO HEARING PROTECTION –
TELEPHONE INTERVIEWS
A qualitative study was carried out to gain a range of opinions and in-depth information on
musicians’ attitudes towards hearing protection. Semi-structured telephone interviews were
conducted with nineteen musicians between June and October 2007.
5.1
METHODOLOGY
Semi-structured interviews allow information on pre-defined topics to be collected from
interviewees. The method is flexible, and it gives the interviewer the opportunity to use followup questions in order to elicit more detailed information where appropriate. Semi-structured
interviews allow the main topics to be covered while enabling the interviewee to answer in a
comprehensive manner, so eliciting the maximum amount of information from each question.
A final question, for example “Do you have any further comments to add” will both encourage
and allow the interviewee to raise any points that may have been missed during the interview, to
elaborate further on any points that they think may be pertinent to the study, and to emphasise
points that they feel most strongly about. Unlike questionnaires with standardised questions and
closed-ended answers, semi-structured interviews only include general questions. This leaves
the interviewer free to rephrase them as appropriate and to add further questions based on the
interviewee’s answers and the conversation flow. Semi-structured interviews also allow for
unexpected information to surface during the interview.
5.2
SAMPLING STRATEGY
Contact details of organisations willing to help with this qualitative study were obtained, mainly
from HSE specialists; these included the Musicians Union, the Ministry of Defence, the British
Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and the Association of British Orchestras.
These
organisations then provided details of professional musicians willing to take part in the
telephone interviews. In addition, several freelance musicians also agreed to take part in this
study. Participation in the study was completely voluntary, and the musicians were informed at
the start of the interviews that the information obtained would be anonymised for inclusion in
the final report.
5.3
TOPICS COVERED DURING THE TELEPHONE INTERVIEWS
The semi-structured telephone interviews were based on the topics described in Appendix D.
The same interviewer carried out all the telephone interviews. This ensured that all the
questions were interpreted in the same way so that any issues of ambiguity and/or common
misunderstandings could be addressed.
5.4
ANALYSIS
Thematic analysis was used to analyse the data obtained from the telephone interviews. This
technique is used to identify, analyse and report patterns (themes) within data (Braun et al,
2006). Analysis was carried out on transcriptions of all the telephone interviews, which were
systematically analysed to identify as many potential themes/patterns as possible.
14
5.5
RESULTS
5.5.1
Musicians’ details
Table 1 contains details of the nineteen professional musicians who took part in the telephone
interviews.
Table 1: Musicians’ details
Musician
ID
Instrument
Range of current
work experience
M1
String (cello)
M2
String (viola)
M3
M4
M5
Brass (trombone)
Percussion
Percussion
Orchestra, teach,
examiner
Orchestra, teach during
term time
Orchestra, freelance
Orchestra, freelance
Orchestra, teach during
term time, occasional
freelance
M6
Woodwind
(piccolo)
String (cello)
M7
M8
M9
M10
M11
M12
Woodwind
(clarinet)
Percussion
(drums)
Percussion
(timpani)
String (violin)
Percussion
(drums)
M13
Percussion
M14
Brass (tuba)
M15
M17
Brass (French
horm)
Woodwind
(contrabassoon)
String (viola)
M18
Percussion
M19
Woodwind
(piccolo, flute)
M16
Length of
time as
professional
musician
> 25 yrs
Employed
or selfemployed
Studio, concert halls
23 yrs
Employed
Studio, concert halls
Studio, concert halls
Studio, concert halls,
teaching room and
sound proofed booths
(acoustically adapted to
industry standard)
Mostly large studios
25 yrs
14 yrs
25 yrs
Employed
Employed
Employed
20 yrs
Employed
Orchestra, teach,
occasion freelance
Orchestra
Orchestra pit
30 yrs
Employed
Orchestra pit
30 yrs
Employed
Freelance (corporate
gigs, theatrical
musicals)
Orchestra, occasional
master class/session
Orchestra
Freelance (pop, rock,
soul, contemporary),
session musician,
functions, teach
Teach, freelance (brass,
orchestral, rock)
Various
4 yrs
Selfemployed
Orchestra pit
40 yrs
Employed
Orchestra pit
Various
26 yrs
13 yrs
Employed
Selfemployed
Various, school music
rooms
7 yrs
Studio
10 yrs
Employed
(teaching),
selfemployed
Employed
Large concert hall,
studio
Studio, concert halls
36 yrs
Employed
30 yrs
Employed
22 yrs
Employed
20 yrs
Employed
15 yrs
Employed
Orchestra, freelance
Orchestra, occasional
freelance
Orchestra, teach,
occasional freelance
Orchestra, occasional
freelance
Orchestra, occasional
freelance, examiner
Military band,
freelance
Military band,
freelance, teach
Work
environment
Orchestra pit
Large concert halls,
studios
Parade, rehearsal
studio
Parade, rehearsal
studio, recording
studio, concert halls,
practice rooms
Employed
The sample interviewed included fourteen classical musicians working with large orchestras,
three freelance percussionists, and two musicians who played with a military band. Details of
the range of the musicians’ current work are shown in Figure 6.
15
18
16
15
14
Number of musicians
14
12
10
8
8
6
4
2
2
Examine
Military band
2
0
Orchestra
Freelance
Teach
Figure 6: Musicians’ current work experience
The majority of musicians (14) were employed full time with an orchestra, although many had
contracts that allowed time for freelance work outside the orchestra. Fifteen of the musicians
reported doing freelance work, either as their main source of income (3 were self-employed) or
in addition to their main source of income (12). The type of freelance work included playing
with other orchestras, big band jazz, corporate gigs, theatrical musicals, brass, rock, master
classes and session work. Eight of the musicians taught music, either privately (7) or employed
by the education authority (1), and two of the musicians were qualified music examiners.
The musicians played a range of instruments including cello, viola, trombone, percussion,
piccolo, clarinet, timpani, violin, tuba, French horn, contrabassoon, and flute. Figure 7 shows
the number of musicians playing in each instrument group, where the instruments were
classified according to the following scheme:
•
Woodwind: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon
•
Brass: horns, trumpets, trombones, tuba
•
Percussion: timpani, cymbals, snare drum, bass drum, xylophone, etc
•
String: violin, viola, cello, double bass, harp
16
8
7
7
Number of musicians
6
5
5
4
4
3
3
2
1
0
Woodwind
Brass
Percussion
String
Figure 7: Instrument details
The musicians had been playing professionally for various lengths of time ranging from 4 years
to 40 years (mean 22 years, standard deviation 10 years). They had experience of playing in a
range of different venues as shown in Figure 8.
14
12
Number of musicians
12
10
8
8
6
5
4
3
2
2
0
Orchestra pit
Concert hall
Studio
Practice room
Parade
Figure 8: Work environment
5.5.2
Musicians’ noise exposure
The musicians were asked to estimate their exposure times, ie the number of hours they were
exposed to the noise generated by the music they play professionally, including rehearsal and
performance times. Most of them found this quite difficult because the length of time they play
depends on several factors including the type of work they carry out, the piece of music (eg an
opera can be between 3 and 5.5 hours long), and on how much rehearsal time is needed. It was
17
difficult for the freelance musicians to estimate duration because their workload is generally
unpredictable.
Estimates of the musicians’ exposure times were between 14 and 42 hours per week (mean
28 hours, standard deviation 7 hours). The orchestral musicians contracted to large orchestras
reported that an upper daily limit was placed on their playing time (rehearsal and performance).
An upper limit of 6 hours per day was reported by nine of the musicians, five musicians
reported an upper limit of 7 hours per day. Comments on these upper exposure times included:
“Management are not keen to implement this upper limit because it is seen as a benefit
to the musicians”
“There is a limit of 6 hours per day but it isn’t enforced”
Only three of the musicians made any reference to personal practice sessions:
“I practice at home 2 hours per day, 3 to 4 days per week in a small room with poor
acoustics”
“I generally work up to 7 hours per day which includes rehearsal and performance
time. I’m generally too tired to do additional practicing after working a 7 hour day.”
Over half of the musicians (11) who took part in this study were aware that noise assessments
had or were being carried out by their employer. These assessments involved monitoring noise
levels during rehearsals and performances, in various sections of the orchestra, and for different
pieces of music. Five of the musicians had received no feedback; six had received the following
feedback:
“Broad range of A-weighted levels, some over 100 dB, localised “hot spots” within the
orchestra”
“Average levels below exposure action values”
“A-weighted sound level in studio is 85 dB”
“A-weighted noise level is 90 dB, localised “hot spots” in the orchestra”
“No feedback on daily personal noise exposure, but average A-weighted noise level is
87 dB, average C-weighted peak noise level is 133 dB”
“Exposed to occasional peaks but within the limits”
Eight of the musicians in this sample had not had their noise exposure assessed; this included all
three self-employed musicians. Two of these musicians (both self-employed) had borrowed
sound level meters to measure the levels of noise they were exposed to: one had measured
110 dB two feet from his drum kit. These musicians were both curious about how loud their
music was, and they commented on the lack of information and support available for freelance
musicians.
The musicians were asked to subjectively rate their current noise exposure: five judged their
noise exposure as significant; twelve said they were regularly exposed to loud noise but that the
very high levels were generally not sustained for long periods; and two described their noise
exposure as varied. The musicians identified many sources that contributed to their noise
exposure including:
18
v
The noise generated by their own instrument (11)
v
The noise generated by other musicians’ instruments (17)
v
The type of music being played (4)
v
The seating position within the orchestra (8)
v
The type and size of the venue (7)
v
Crowd noise (1)
v
Playing on parade (1)
A sample of the musicians’ comments on these noise sources is given below:
“My own instrument is a more significant source of noise exposure when sat near
quieter instruments”
“Most noise exposure is due to my own instrument (timpani) unless I’m sitting near the
brass section”
“The orchestra plays a lot of contemporary music – the levels are usually quite high
and painful”
“The orchestra mostly plays 19th century romantic style music which is generally
quieter than modern operas”
“Noise exposure depends on the repertoire – pieces of music are put together to satisfy
programming needs rather than limit noise exposure”
“As a piccolo player, the worst exposure occurs when practicing in small rooms which
are poor acoustically”
“Exposure to high noise levels is exacerbated by playing in a pit rather than on stage”
Almost half the musicians (8) thought that their seating position within the orchestra had an
impact on the level of noise they were exposed to because of the instruments played by other
musicians sitting close by. Instruments identified as contributing to the musicians’ noise
exposure included percussion (9), woodwind (10) and brass (12). Ten of the musicians always
sat in the same position within the orchestra, while the seating position of six of the musicians
varied depending on either the repertoire, the sound the musical director was trying to achieve,
or because it was policy to regularly rotate musicians within the orchestra.
5.5.3
Musicians’ hearing
The majority of musicians (16) had had their hearing assessed, either through their employer
(14) or privately (2). Audiometry was most commonly carried out at the start of employment
(5) or when requested. Four of the musicians reported having regular hearing checks, either
annually (3) or every 5 years (1). Only one of the musicians said they would like their employer
to regularly monitor their hearing.
Several concerns were raised about health surveillance including the quality of tests offered, the
availability of tests when occupational health services are outsourced, confidentiality issues
19
where the employer provides health surveillance, and whether health surveillance is compulsory
under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, which came into force in the music and
entertainment industry in April 2008.
No diagnosed hearing loss was reported. However hearing checks had shown slightly reduced
hearing sensitivity at high frequencies for five of the musicians, which was attributed to age (2)
or possibly due to being a professional musician (3). Figure 9 shows details of other hearing
problems that were reported by the musicians interviewed for this study.
12
11
Number of musicians
10
8
6
5
5
4
2
2
1
1
0
Reduced
hearing
sensitivity
Temporary
deafness
Temporary
ringing in the
ears
Permanent
tinnitus
Hyperacusis
Waxy ears
Figure 9: Musicians’ reported hearing problems
Three of the musicians felt that the ear might have a natural defence mechanism against the loud
sounds generated by their own music:
“I have very waxy ears and have adapted my playing accordingly – I wonder whether
this provides a natural defence against damage because my ears never seem to hurt
when I generate loud peaks”
“I think the ear has a natural defence, within the middle ear, against the sound you
generate yourself”
The experience of these musicians may support evidence of the stapedial reflex, which is
thought to provide protection against intermittent loud noises due to the contraction of a muscle
in the middle ear (Chasin, 1999). More details of this response are contained in Appendix B.
5.5.4
Hearing protection
Hearing protection was provided free of charge by the employers of fourteen of the musicians
interviewed; three of the musicians purchased their own hearing protection either because they
were self-employed (2) or they didn’t like the type of protectors supplied by their employer (1).
The use of hearing protection was optional for eighteen of the musicians. Only one musician
played with a large orchestra that had made the use of hearing protectors compulsory for those
musicians whose A-weighted noise exposure exceeded 85 dB. The musician reported that this
policy is not enforced.
20
5.5.4.1
Use of hearing protection
Six of the musicians interviewed during this study did not use hearing protection (3
percussionists and 3 brass players). They gave the following reasons for not using hearing
protection: it is impossible to play properly when wearing hearing protectors (5); hearing
protectors are uncomfortable (2); and noise exposure is not high enough to cause hearing
damage and therefore hearing protection is not necessary (3). Some of the comments made by
these musicians are given below:
“You get no feedback with hearing protectors and because you hear lower noise levels
you tend to play louder to compensate, which increases overall noise levels”
“When playing a brass instrument, the cavities in your head are part of the sound
because air within them vibrates. With earplugs, I can hear the vibrations within my
head rather than the sound coming out of the bell so I don’t get an accurate
representation of the sound I’m making. This makes it difficult to adjust my playing to
fit in with other players.”
“I don’t think there’s a (noise) problem – everyone is just jumping on the bandwagon.
My noise exposure was assessed over a six month period and the results were
completely inconclusive.”
Thirteen of the musicians interviewed used hearing protection; one would not play without it
and twelve said that they wear hearing protection when they feel they need it, for example when
the music becomes uncomfortably loud (2), when sitting near to the brass or percussion sections
(3), teaching (1), and on parade (1). Nine of these musicians (6 woodwind and 3 string players)
would not use hearing protection when playing a solo or an exposed piece of music, ie music
that makes a significant contribution to the overall sound generated by the orchestra (eg a piece
played just by the string section). Some of the comments made by the musicians on the use of
hearing protection for solo playing included:
“I wouldn’t wear any hearing protection when playing solo because my playing has to
be absolutely precise in these conditions and hearing protectors dull my hearing
sensitivity and awareness of how others are playing”
“I don’t feel I can play to the same high standard when wearing my earplugs”
“I can’t hear my own sound properly with hearing protectors and this causes me to
doubt my ability”
“I worry about playing in tune when wearing plugs and I will not wear them when
playing a solo”
5.5.4.2
Types of hearing protectors being used
The type of hearing protection that were being worn or had been worn included:
v
Earmuffs (2)
v
Sound restoration earmuffs (1)
v
User formable (foam) earplugs (10)
v
Premoulded (flange and domed) earplugs (5)
21
v
Custom-moulded flat response earplugs (15)
v
Non-custom moulded flat response earplugs (2)
v
In-ear monitors (2)
The musicians interviewed rarely used earmuffs. One musician playing an exceptionally loud
piece of music in an orchestra pit wore heavy-duty muffs. It was difficult to play well wearing
these muffs, but the noise levels were sufficiently high for this not to be a concern for the
musician. It is unlikely that musicians playing on a stage would wear heavy-duty earmuffs
because of the visual impact on the audience. Sound restoration muffs were also rarely used;
one musician had tried them and commented “the variable attenuation works well allowing
precision playing during quieter musical pieces”.
The majority of musicians (15) had worn or were using standard earplugs. The main
disadvantage associated with standard earplugs was that they distort the sound of the musician’s
own music (6), which makes it difficult for them to play properly. However the musicians also
identified several advantages associated with using standard earplugs: easy to fit during a
performance (5) especially those which are attached to a cord; variable protection achieved
when needed by either loosely fitting the plug or pushing it further into the ear canal (4); and
easily (readily) available (11), for example usually located in dispensers at the entrance of the
studio:
“Foam plugs are very easy to fit during a performance. I wear them loosely fitted when
the music is quiet, and push them firmly in when the noise level increases”
“Although I have custom-moulded plugs I often forget to bring them, it is good having
easy access to disposable plugs at the studio”
[Note: Loosely fitting earplugs in the ear is NOT an effective way of protecting hearing, and it
is possible that earplugs will not provide any protection when fitted this way. The attenuation
data supplied with earplugs assumes that they are fitted correctly according to the
manufacturer’s instructions. It would therefore be impossible to estimate the amount of
protection an earplug gives the user when it is not fitted correctly.]
The majority of musicians (15) had been fitted with custom-moulded musicians’ earplugs. One
of the musicians commented that “the performance of these plugs is irrelevant – when the music
is loud it doesn’t matter if you can’t hear all the frequencies, you can’t even hear yourself
playing”. Seven of the musicians used custom-moulded earplugs regularly, however none wore
them all of the time either during rehearsals or performances. Five of the musicians reported
that they found it difficult to fit custom-moulded earplugs:
“It is hard to fit my custom-moulded earplugs quickly in the middle of a performance (it
can take up to 30 s per ear) especially when holding an instrument”
“I often have less than 1 s to remove my hearing protectors before playing a solo
piece”
Five of the musicians commented that their custom-moulded earplugs were fitted with filters
that were unsuitable for the level of noise they were exposed to; they either provided too much
or too little protection. Three musicians reported problems that were attributed to poor moulds.
These musicians had abandoned custom-moulded earplugs because they either “blocked out all
sound completely”, “didn’t fit properly and let too much noise in”, or “were inserted so deeply
they made me cough”. In two cases, the manufacturers acknowledged that the problem was
22
probably due to poor moulds, however the musicians had declined the offer of having the
moulds redone.
The musicians gave differing opinions regarding the comfort of custom-moulded earplugs. Two
found them uncomfortable, while two found them comfortable:
“Custom plugs can sometimes cause soreness in my ears because of the close fit”
“Custom-moulded earplugs fit better (than foam or flange earplugs) and are therefore
more comfortable”
Advantages associated with the use of custom-moulded earplugs were identified. Six of the
musicians reported custom-moulded earplugs preserved a more natural sound quality compared
to standard earplugs. Although this made them “great for listening to music” none of these
musicians said that they would wear them for solo or exposed performances:
“Custom-moulded earplugs are excellent when the orchestra is playing a really loud
piece of music – the music from my colleagues is not distorted, just quieter”
“Custom-moulded earplugs are much better than standard plugs but they still alter my
perception of the music I generate”
“The sound quality is much better with custom-mould earplugs than standard foam
plugs”
Another advantage associated with the use of custom-moulded earplugs was that they are
unobtrusive. Two of the musicians felt using hearing protectors that protruded from the ear
would be visually distracting or unacceptable to the audience:
“The earplug is fitted with a stalk that sticks out of the ear by about one-inch, which
looks a bit strange”
Two of the freelance, self-employed percussionists used premoulded musicians’ earplugs. The
main advantage of these earplugs was that they preserve and even improve the sound quality at
a relatively low cost. These musicians also used in-ear monitors, which they thought, “were
great”. In-ear monitors provide a method for controlling the level of incoming sound when
used with a personal mixing desk, and the earpiece provides some isolation. One of the
musicians expressed concern that at large gigs musicians have to take responsibility for limiting
their own noise exposure, for example by using a personal submixer or volume limiter because:
“Soundmen often plug in-ear monitors straight into the main output, which is usually
set at a high level to feed the amplifiers”
“There is often no overall control (of noise levels) at large gigs”
5.5.4.3
Information and training
The musicians had been given the following information and training:
v
How to correctly fit their hearing protectors (8)
v
How to clean and maintain their hearing protectors (7)
“I’ve found my plugs need to be regularly replaced because sweat, wax and heavyuse damage the material which results in a poor seal”
23
v
How to get used to wearing and playing in custom-moulded earplugs (4)
“The supplier advised me that it was essential to get used to playing in (custommoulded) earplugs – you’ve got to accept the attenuated music as the normal
sound”
v General training on noise including the possible risk of hearing damage and the
introduction of new noise regulations (4)
“We have very good, compulsory training on noise – however it is generally only
the large orchestras who have funding for this”
“My employer is engaged in a lot of training at the moment, the orchestra has a
hearing conservation programme and we’ve been directed to the HSE website for
information on the new noise regulations”
The only information on fit and maintenance available to four of the musicians (two were selfemployed) was the information contained in the manufacturer’s instructions supplied with the
protectors. Only one of the musicians using custom-moulded earplugs had been advised that the
moulds might need redoing because of material damage and possible changes to the size and
shape of the ear canal with time that might affect the fit:
“I was advised that the plugs would be good for 2 to 5 years, after which I may need to
get the moulds redone”
5.5.4.4
Advantages of using hearing protection
The musicians identified the following as advantages associated with the use of hearing
protection:
v Protect hearing (8)
v Reduce or block out loud music generated by other musicians (7)
v Reduce the incidence of pain in the ears, temporary deafness, and ringing in the
ears (4)
v
Improve sound quality (3)
Two of the freelance drummers reported that using hearing protectors improved sound quality:
“The earplugs take out high frequencies so that the music sounds less tinny and
therefore warmer”
A third percussionist made the following comment:
“My plugs take out the harshness from the cymbals positioned behind me – this helps
enormously”
5.5.4.5
Disadvantages of using hearing protection
The musicians identified the following as disadvantages associated with the use of hearing
protection:
24
v
Compromises performance (13)
v
Difficult to fit during a performance (4)
v
Difficult to communicate with the conductor (2)
v
Uncomfortable (3)
v
Visually distracting for the audience (2)
v
Unable to fully enjoy the music generated by your own instrument (4)
The majority of musicians (13) said that the use of hearing protection compromised their
playing. The most common reason given for this was that hearing protectors prevent the
musicians from hearing properly the sound generated by their own instrument (6).
Consequently it is difficult for them to make fine adjustments to their playing (6), to control
how loud or soft they are playing (3), and to confidently play in tune with other players (4).
Only one of the musicians reported that with practice they had gained some confidence in
playing with earplugs. However this musician was still unwilling to use hearing protection
when performing a solo piece. Seven musicians felt that they were unable to play at the highest
possible standard when using hearing protection:
“I can adjust my playing when wearing earplugs by knowing how hard I should blow,
but I lose the fine adjustment. No one has ever complained about my performance
when using plugs but I don’t feel it sounds as good.”
“I worry I will lose the ability to play at the highest standard if I continue to play with
hearing protection for a long time”
Five of the musicians interviewed felt that it was very stressful and demoralising not being able
to play at the highest possible standard when wearing hearing protectors:
“I find it very stressful wearing hearing protectors – I make more mistakes and I think
using them compromises my ability to play at the highest standard”
“Using hearing protectors compromises my performance and I worry the resultant
sound is not good enough – this is demoralising and depressing for a professional
musician”
Four of the musicians (2 woodwind and 2 brass players) identified the occlusion effect as a
disadvantage associated with the use of hearing protection. These musicians generate music by
blowing into their instrument. Wearing hearing protectors changes the musicians’ perception of
the sound they make and of other sounds generated within their bodies. The following
comments were made:
“I sound like a beginner to myself when I’m using earplugs”
“I tried earplugs but was horribly conscious of noises rattling inside my head”
“I can hear buzzing in my head, however wearing just one earplug improves this”
25
5.5.4.6
Factors affecting the use and selection of hearing protection
The following factors were identified as having an impact on a musician’s decision to wear and
select a particular type of hearing protector:
v Comfort (7)
“Uncomfortable hearing protectors will get in the way of my performance”
v Ease of use during a performance (8)
“I need to be able to easily fit my plugs in and out during a performance”
Although ease of use was an important factor, two of the musicians expressed the
following concerns:
“Fitting the plugs in and out during noisy and quiet parts of a performance spoils
the continuity of the music”
“It’s okay to put earplugs in and out during a concert when musicians are in an
orchestra pit. I think this would look awful for musicians sitting on a concert
platform.”
v Variable attenuation (2)
“There is a lot of variation within the music that means hearing protectors can be
fitted and removed several times during a performance. Protectors with variable
attenuation are needed.”
v Quality of attenuated music (9)
“It is essential that the quality of the music heard through the hearing protector is
maintained”
v Cost (3). The three self-employed musicians reported that although it should not be
an issue, the cost of some types of musicians’ hearing protection was too expensive.
The cost of hearing protection was not considered important by nine of the
musicians; their employers provided it free of charge.
“Cost shouldn’t be an issue, but I’ve made some expensive mistakes. I now use an
audio hire company that allows me to trial new products before buying them.”
The following factors were judged to be the most important by the musicians interviewed:
v
Easy to use and quick to fit (8)
v
Preserve sound quality and allow effective playing (7)
v
Reduce (painfully) loud music (3)
v Unobtrusive (2)
v Provide variable attenuation (2)
26
v
Comfortable (1)
The following factor was judged to be the least important by the musicians interviewed:
v Cost (6)
5.5.5
Other control methods
The musicians identified a wide range of control methods that have been used to control their
noise exposure, including:
v Regularly rotating playing positions within the orchestra (5) so that players are not
always sitting close to noisy groups of instruments such as brass and percussion.
“We are rotated on a weekly basis to practice playing in different positions within
the orchestra – this is good musically and it can reduce noise exposure”
v Acoustic screens (8) have been used, however they can give a hard edge to the
music, they don’t work for brass players because the reflected sound changes what
the player hears, string players perceive no effect at all, they can present a tripping
hazard especially where space is limited, and they can be distracting for the
audience.
“Screens don’t work because of the problems associated with reflected sound”
v Increasing the separation between individual musicians, and between different
sections of musicians, was identified as an effective control method by almost half
of the musicians interviewed (7).
“Increasing separation – even by a few inches – makes a noticeable difference”
v Using podiums, risers and platforms was described by four of the musicians as a
method of reducing their exposure to loud noise from other players, particularly
brass players. However careful stage design is needed.
“Placing the string section on podiums increased our noise exposure from the brass
section”
v Programme planning (1)
“There is some scope for putting together a repertoire that limits noise exposure
but the programme also needs to be exciting to attract audiences”
v
Playing at lower noise levels during rehearsals can limit noise exposure (1)
“We give the conductor the balance it’s going to be during the performance once,
then turn the volume down for the rest of the rehearsal”
v Use of larger, acoustically treated practice rooms and studios (2)
“We are currently playing in a studio that is not large enough to accommodate the
full orchestra – there is no room for spacing and noise levels are too loud”
v Freelance percussionists (2) recommended use of a personal mixing desk and in-ear
monitors.
27
“The mixing desk gives full control over the signal level input to the in-ear monitor
and the earpiece cuts out the excessive noise generated by other musicians on
stage”
v One of the freelance musicians had experience of a sound limiting system at a large
venue. It consisted of a light positioned above the stage that turned red if the noise
levels exceeded a particular level. If the light remained illuminated for more than
3 s the power to all the equipment on stage was cut.
“Cutting the power suddenly isn’t good for equipment so these systems are often,
and easily, overridden”
v Four of the musicians reported blocking their ears with either their hands or fingers
during particularly loud periods of music.
“I make a note of when these (unbearably loud percussion) moments are coming
and put my hands over my ears”
v Five of the musicians commented that their noise exposure was higher when
playing in the confined space of an orchestra pit compared to playing on an open
stage.
“Playing on a stage or platform is far better than playing in an orchestra pit in
terms of sound quality and noise exposure”
Two of the musicians interviewed play in a military band, which includes regularly playing with
the marching band. These musicians recognised the difficulties of using many of the control
methods available to other types of musicians, other than hearing protectors.
5.5.6
Other comments
Seven of the musicians raised issues about the impact of implementing the requirements of the
Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 in the music and entertainment industry. There was
concern about the following:
v The career prospects for musicians seen to be wearing hearing protection or
reporting hearing loss (1)
v The impact on the business if musical programmes cannot include the loud (and
usually exciting) pieces of music, if stages are cluttered with control measures such
as screens, and if the audience observe musicians fitting hearing protectors during
performances (3)
v The prospect of controlling noise exposure by limiting the amount of playing time,
which will have an impact on salary (1)
v The use of hearing protectors may become compulsory (1)
v Orchestra managers may issue hearing protectors as an easy way of complying with
the regulations (1)
“I worry that issuing hearing protectors is an easy option for management – it puts
the responsibility on to players who have to use hearing protection and struggle
with trying to cope with the end result, when stage design and increased separation
between instruments are likely to be more effective at reducing noise exposure”
28
Three of the musicians felt that it was important to raise awareness among young musicians of
the risk to hearing from exposure to loud music:
“I am concerned about the hearing of young musicians who spend many hours
practising on their own – an education programme is essential”
“We need to raise awareness among young musicians of the possibility of hearing
damage – it would help if wearing hearing protectors was considered cool or if famous
musicians endorsed their use”
Two of the freelance percussionists felt that more practical information should be available for
drummers, especially regarding in-ear monitors (eg what they can do, cost, availability,
limitations). The experience that these musicians had of in-ear monitors was largely self-taught,
although one had studied the topic briefly at college.
It is possible that the use of hearing protection might be influenced by the type of instrument
played, on the style of music played, and on the musician’s position within the orchestra:
v The musicians were more willing to wear hearing protectors when playing
contemporary music, which contains a lot of percussion, compared to older
romantic pieces of music (3) and when playing with a marching band (1) rather than
in a concert because of the style of the music
v Some groups of musicians are always likely to be resistant to wearing hearing
protectors (1)
“All principals, woodwind players who want to be as naked as possible when
communicating their music with the audience, and most string players who feel a
lot of vibration through the strings and don’t want to lose any connections between
what they feel and hear”
v Three of the musicians reported that using hearing protectors was essential when
sitting near to particular sections of the orchestra, for example a large brass section
and percussion
“I occasionally wear plugs when playing – I wear them mostly when I’m positioned
close to the horns”
5.6
DISCUSSION OF TELEPHONE INTERVIEW DATA
5.6.1
Sample details
Nineteen musicians were interviewed to gain an understanding of their attitude towards using
hearing protection, and on the performance and usability of available hearing protectors.
Although the sample was small it represented well the different types of instruments played,
how long the musicians had played professionally, and the range of work experiences. The
majority interviewed were classical musicians playing in large orchestras. However, the views
of three freelance percussionists and two military band players provided some insight into the
experiences of other types of musicians, playing different styles of music and in different
venues.
29
5.6.2
Noise exposure
Most of the musicians found it difficult to estimate typical noise exposure times because of the
range of work that they carry out (eg contract work, teaching, freelance), the type of music
being played, and variable rehearsal times which depend on the difficulty of the piece of music
being played. It was particularly difficult for the freelance percussionists because of the
unpredictable nature of their work. Consistent with reports in the literature, very few of the
musicians included personal practice sessions in their estimates of exposure durations.
However it is likely that musicians playing full time with an orchestra would have neither the
time nor the energy for additional practicing after work. The musicians also identified a wide
range of factors that affect the level of the noise that they are exposed to, including proximity to
loud sections of the orchestra, the type of music, and the type of venue. The results of the
interviews reported here show how difficult it can be to estimate the level and the duration of
the noise musicians are exposed to, and therefore how difficult it is to estimate their daily
personal noise exposures in order to assess the risk of hearing damage.
5.6.3
Noise assessments
The information obtained during the interviews suggests that noise exposure assessments are
generally being carried out, at least for employed musicians. However the musicians
interviewed either received no feedback following the assessment, or they reported information
that indicates poor assessments or a lack of understanding of the purpose of noise assessments;
the musicians reported noise levels rather than noise exposures, and several musicians expressed
concern about the validity of the measurements made. It is possible that more information will
be available to the musicians, for example on how their noise exposure will be managed, under
the requirements of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 which came into force in
April 2008.
5.6.4
Hearing problems
The majority of musicians perceived that they were regularly exposed to loud noise, with
occasional exposure to short bursts of very high noise depending on the music being played and
their proximity to loud sections, eg brass and percussion. Most of the musicians had had their
hearing assessed, although generally at the start of their employment and not as part of a health
surveillance programme. None of the musicians reported diagnosed hearing loss. However
they reported incidences of slightly reduced hearing sensitivity (possibly due to age or noise
exposure), temporary deafness, temporary ringing in the ears, and hyperacusis, which they
thought were related to exposure to music. The results obtained from this sample of musicians
are consistent with those reported in the literature, ie low incidence of diagnosed hearing loss
and higher incidence of hearing disorders. Information should be collected on hearing disorders
among musicians since it might indicate hearing damage to other parts of the auditory system,
even when there is no evidence of damage to the cochlea.
5.6.5
Hearing protectors
The purpose of the study reported here was to identify the types of hearing protection that
musicians are currently using. Consistent with other published papers, a wide range are
available although the majority of the musicians reported using standard foam or flanged
earplugs and/or custom-moulded musicians’ earplugs. Both types were generally provided free
of charge to all the employed musicians. By comparison the freelance musicians interviewed
either did not use hearing protection or they purchased it themselves, often based on limited
information and with limited money to spend. A comparison of the most commonly used
hearing protectors based on the musicians’ experiences showed that although the sound quality
30
was better with custom-moulded musicians’ earplugs, standard foam and flange earplugs were
much easier to fit.
The majority of the musicians interviewed used hearing protection, but only when they felt it
was needed. More importantly, most of these musicians said that they would never use any
hearing protection when their playing made a significant contribution to the overall sound
generated by the orchestra, eg a solo piece. The main problem was that orchestral musicians in
particular do not believe they can play properly when wearing hearing protection; they believe
all protectors alter the musician’s perception of the sound that they make. This in turn affects
the musician’s ability, and probably their confidence, to play at the highest standard and with
other players in the orchestra. By comparison the freelance percussionists reported that using
hearing protection generally improved sound quality, and so there was much less resistance to
wearing it compared to the orchestral musicians. However it is important to note that only three
freelance percussionists were interviewed during this study and their views may not be typical.
Other factors that affected a musician’s choice to wear, or not to wear, particular types of
hearing protector included whether they were quick and easy to fit during a performance,
whether they were comfortable, and whether or not they were unobtrusive. Cost was not
considered an important factor by most of the musicians interviewed during this study, however
this was probably due to the fact they were employed by large orchestras who covered the cost
of hearing protectors.
The majority of the musicians had received training on how to fit and maintain their hearing
protectors, although the self-employed musicians generally relied on the information provided
with the hearing protectors. Many of the musicians using standard earplugs commented that
they were easy to fit, which made standard earplugs a popular choice. It is recognised that
earplugs are often difficult to fit properly, even with training. Many of the musicians reported
that loosely fitted earplugs gave sufficient protection (ie they took the edge off the very high
noise levels), with the option of additional protection achieved by pushing the earplugs further
into the ear when needed. It is important to highlight two points: loosely fitted earplugs might
not provide any protection; and the performance of hearing protectors is assessed using the
standard attenuation data supplied by the manufacturer, which assumes that the devices are
fitted properly. It will therefore be difficult to assess the performance of standard earplugs that
worn in a way to provide variable protection.
Although some musicians liked custom-moulded earplugs because of better sound quality and
the fact that they were unobtrusive, the results from the musicians’ interviews suggest that there
are issues about ear-mould quality and training that need to be addressed. Several musicians
had abandoned using custom-moulded earplugs because poor moulds meant that they were
either uncomfortable to wear or they blocked out too much sound. Similarly some musicians
had stopped using custom-moulded earplugs because they were fitted with filters that provided
either too much or too little protection. Earplug manufacturers need to ensure that the quality of
ear-moulds is of the highest possible standard, and that musicians are provided with earplugs
fitted with appropriate filters.
Only a small minority of the musicians had received training on how to get used to wearing and
playing with custom-moulded earplugs, and many found them difficult to fit, especially during a
performance and when holding an instrument. Better training is essential. Musicians need to
spend time getting used to rehearsing and performing with custom-moulded earplugs fitted until
the attenuated music sounds normal. If earplugs are worn throughout a performance, the fact
that they are more difficult to fit than standard earplugs will no longer be a problem. Any
training on custom-moulded earplugs should also include a reminder that the ear-moulds do not
last forever. They need checking after 4 to 5 years because over time the ear-mould material
31
may degrade and the user’s ear may change shape. Both of these factors will affect how the
earplug seals the ear and therefore the performance of the earplug.
5.6.6
Self-employed musicians
None of the self-employed musicians interviewed knew that major changes to current noise
legislation were imminent for people working in the music and entertainment industry. [The
interviews were carried out in 2007 before the new noise legislation came into force.]
Consequently, they had no idea what they would be expected to do after April 2008. It is also
clear that musicians using in-ear monitors need information on what these devices can do and
how they can be used with other equipment to limit noise exposure, and they also need details
of reputable suppliers, and typical costs. Simple, clear and practical guidance specifically for
self-employed musicians is needed.
5.6.7
Other methods for controlling noise exposure
The musicians identified a range of control methods that have been used to limit noise exposure.
These include rotating players within the orchestra, using acoustic screens/podiums/risers,
increasing the separation between players, and playing in acoustically treated rooms that are
large enough to accommodate all of the musicians. Many of the musicians seemed to think that
the most effective way of controlling noise exposure was to increase the separation between
individual musicians or sections. Unfortunately most reported that this was not possible
because of space limitations in many orchestra pits and studios. Methods for reducing noise
exposure should be given consideration when designing new studios, theatres, and venues or
when carrying out major refurbishments of existing venues.
32
6
CONCLUSIONS
Musicians are exposed to high levels of noise, which could cause permanent hearing damage
with prolonged exposure. The requirements of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005
came into force in April 2008 in the music and entertainment industry. This legislation
introduced similar action and limit values for employers as previous noise legislation but at
lower levels of noise exposure. Employers have a duty under this legislation to prevent hearing
damage and one of the methods used for controlling noise exposure is the use of appropriate
hearing protection.
Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with nineteen musicians between June
and October 2007 to gain an understanding of their attitude towards using hearing protection,
and on the performance and usability of available hearing protectors. Although the sample was
small it represented well the different types of instruments played, how long the musicians had
played professionally, and the range of work experiences. The majority interviewed were
classical musicians playing in large orchestras. However, the views of three freelance
percussionists and two military band players provided some insight into the experiences of other
types of musicians, playing different styles of music and in different venues.
Information from musicians and hearing protector manufacturers and suppliers showed that
conventional (standard) hearing protectors often provide too much attenuation for musicians. In
addition, because they are designed to provide high levels of high frequency attenuation, their
use can result in musicians’ mishearing or overplaying to compensate for the lack of high
frequency sound heard through the protectors. Musicians are most likely to wear conventional
hearing protectors when they are exposed to very loud music generated by other musicians.
Conventional foam and flange earplugs are most commonly used because they are easy to fit
during a performance, and they are often readily available, for example from dispensers located
at the entrance to the studio or stage.
Premoulded musicians’ earplugs provide moderate attenuation but preserve sound quality.
They are a relatively inexpensive off-the-shelf earplug, and are reusable if kept clean. This type
of protector can improve sound quality for those musicians working with or around amplified
sound.
Custom-moulded musicians’ earplugs use interchangeable filters to offer different levels of
protection (between 9 and 25 dB), and they have attenuation characteristics that follow the
natural frequency response of the open ear but at a reduced level to preserve sound quality.
These earplugs are also unobtrusive, which is perceived as being an advantage for the audience.
Custom-moulded earplugs are expensive, and more likely to be used by musicians whose
employers provide them free of charge. Despite improved sound quality, orchestral musicians
do not believe they can play properly when wearing custom-moulded protectors. However the
improvement they provide to sound quality does mean that musicians are likely to prefer this
type of protector when listening to other musicians during loud performances. Custom-moulded
earplugs are perceived as difficult to fit, especially during a performance. In practice the
musicians have two problems: fitting the earplugs while also keeping hold of their instrument
and having very little time within a piece of music to fit the earplugs.
Musicians are reluctant to wear any type of hearing protection when playing solo or exposed
pieces of music, which require them to play at the highest possible standard. Musicians believe
that if they cannot hear the sound generated by their own instrument properly, they will not be
able to make fine adjustments to their playing, control how loud or soft they play, or play in
33
tune with other players with any confidence. Principal musicians, and woodwind and brass
musicians, are likely to be the most resistant to wearing hearing protection.
Custom-moulded vented earplugs are available. They are designed to provide significant high
frequency attenuation and very little low frequency attenuation. A hole through the length of
this type of earplug means that there is very little occlusion effect provided that the ear-mould
has been taken and manufactured to a high standard. These earplugs may be useful for
musicians who play low frequency instruments, and for those who blow into their instrument
(eg woodwind and brass players). However none of the musicians interviewed for this study
were aware of, or used, custom-moulded vented earplugs.
In-ear monitors allow musicians to control the mix and overall loudness of their own voice and
instrument. However in-ear monitors are capable of producing very high noise levels. It is also
very difficult to predict the actual output from these devices because they are amplified through
a variety of monitor boards, transmitters and belt-packs, all supplied by different manufacturers.
Where overall noise levels are not controlled (which can happen at some large venues), in-ear
monitors provide musicians with a method for controlling the level of incoming sound when
used with a personal mixing desk, and the earpiece provides some isolation. There are currently
no standard tests governing the performance of custom-moulded electronic earplugs.
34
7
RECOMMENDATIONS
A good education programme is needed for both employed and self-employed musicians. It
should include information on the requirements of current noise legislation clearly identifying
employer’s and employee’s responsibilities, typical noise exposures and the associated risk to
hearing, the signs and symptoms indicative of hearing damage, and the types of hearing
protectors available and the advantages and disadvantages of each type. Training on the
selection and proper use of hearing protection is essential to ensure that the use of hearing
protection is an effective method for controlling musicians’ noise exposure.
Musicians need to spend time getting used to practicing, rehearsing and performing with
earplugs until the attenuated music sounds normal, especially with musicians’ earplugs which
are designed to preserve sound quality. If earplugs are worn throughout a performance, the fact
that they are difficult to fit or that fitting them during a performance spoils the continuity of the
music for the musician, will no longer be a problem.
It is essential that musicians are educated in the safe use of in-ear monitors, which should
include providing information on what these devices can do, how they can be used with other
equipment to limit noise exposure, details of reputable suppliers, and typical cost. Any noise
reduction claims made by in-ear monitor manufacturers and suppliers must be substantiated
with evidence, for example BS EN 352 attenuation data.
It is essential that suitably qualified professionals take and manufacture all ear-moulds to a high
standard. Poor ear-moulds can result in earplugs that are uncomfortable, or that block out too
much sound. Similarly, it is important that musicians are provided with appropriate filters so
that their earplugs do not provide them with either too much or too little protection. In
accordance with HSE guidance, fit tests should be carried out before custom-moulded earplugs
are put into use to ensure that they fit properly and are comfortable.
Ear-moulds should be checked after 4-5 years. Over time the earplug material may degrade and
the user’s ear may change shape; both of these factors may compromise the performance of the
earplug. All hearing protectors should be CE marked and supplied with attenuation data
according to BS EN 352, which describes and verifies the performance of the protector.
A range of noise control methods is available for reducing musicians’ noise exposure. These
include the use of screens and risers, regularly rotating musicians within the orchestra,
increasing the separation between players, and sound limiting on electronic systems. However
reflected sound makes the use of screens unpopular, and the lack of space in many orchestra pits
and studios makes it difficult to implement many of the other control measures. It is essential
that methods used to control noise be given consideration when designing or refurbishing
venues in which live music is played, so that musicians do not have to rely on hearing
protection to control their noise exposure.
35
8
REFERENCES
Babin A, 1999, “Bring in da funk and leave out da noise”, Art Hazard News, 19(4)
Berger EH, 1988, “Tips for fitting hearing protectors”,
www.ear.com/pdf/hearingcons/earlog19.pdf
Bloom S, 2006, “New hearing conservation initiatives: Small steps with great potential”, The
Hearing Journal, 59(1), January 2006, 23-30
Braun V and Clarke V, 2006, “Using thematic analysis in psychology”, Qualitative Reseach in
Psychology, 3, 77-101
BS EN 352-1: 2002 Hearing Protectors. Safety requirements and testing. Earmuffs
BS EN 352-2: 2002 Hearing Protectors. Safety requirements and testing. Earplugs
BS EN 352-6: 2002 Hearing Protectors. Safety requirements and testing. Earmuffs with
electrical audio-input
BS EN 458: 2004 Hearing protectors. Recommendations for selection, use, care and
maintenance. Guidance document
Butterfield D, 2006, “Measurement of noise levels that staff are exposed to at live music
events”, HSE Research Report RR517
Chasin M, 1992, “A clinically efficient hearing protection program for musicians”, Medical
Problems of Performing Artists, June 1992, 7(2), 40-43
Chasin M, 1999, “Musicians and the prevention of hearing loss”, Hearing Review, January
1999
Controlling noise at work: Guidance on the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005,
2005, L108, HSE Books
Cunningham D, Curk A, Hoffman J and Pride J, 2006, “Despite high risk of hearing loss,
many percussionists play unprotected”, The Hearing Journal, 59(6), 58-66
Curk AE and Cunningham DR, 2006, “A profile of percussionists’ behaviours and attitudes
towards hearing conservation”, Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 21(2), 59-64
Early KL and Horstman SW, 1996, “ Noise exposure to musicians during practice”, Appl
Occup Environ Hyg, 11(9), 1149-1153
Eaton S and Gillis H, 2002, “Review of orchestral musicians’ hearing loss risks”, Canadian
Acoustics, June 2002, 30(2), 5-12
Einhorn K, 2006, “The medical aspects of noise induced otologic damage in musicians”, The
Hearing Review, March 2006, www.hearingreview.com/issues/articles/2006-03_04.asp
Groothoff B, 1999, “Incorporating effective noise control in music entertainment venues? Yes,
it can be done”, J Occup Health Safety – Aust NZ 1999, 15(6), 543-550
36
Gunderson E, Moline J and Catalano P, 1997, “Risks of developing noise-induced hearing
loss in employees of urban music clubs”, Am J Ind Med, 31, 75-79
Hagberg M, Thirlinger G and Brandstom L, 2005, “Incidence of tinnitus, impaired hearing
and musculoskeletal disorders among students enroled in academic music education – a
retrospective cohort study”, Int Arch Occup Environ Health, 78, 575-583
Hain TC, 2006, “Sensorineural hearing loss”, www.dizziness-and-balance.com
Henahan D, 1985, “Music view; orchestra players and ear plugs”, The New York Times
Hoffman JS, Cunningham DR and Lorenz DJ, 2006, “Auditory thresholds and factors
contributing to hearing loss in a large sample of percussionists”, Medical Problems of
Performing Artists, 21(2), 47-58
ISO 7029: 2000 Acoustics. Threshold of hearing by air conduction as a function of age and sex
for otologically normal persons
Kahari K, Axelsson A, Hellstrom P, and Zachau G, 2001, “Hearing assessment of classical
orchestra musicians”, Scand Audiol, 30(1), 13-23
Kahari K, Zachau G, Eklof M, Sandsjo L, and Moller C, 2003, “Assessment of hearing and
hearing disorders in rock/jazz musicians”, International Journal of Audiology, 42(5), 279-288
Killion MC, 1993, “The parvum bovum, plus melius fallacy in earplug selection”, Proceedings
of the 15th Danavox Symposium Recent Developments in Hearing Instrument Technology;
Copenhagen, Denmark; 415-433
Killion MC, 2003, “Earmold Acoustics”, 24(4), 299-312
Killion, M, 2004, Interview with Mead Killion “Musicians Ear Plugs”,
www.healthyhearing.com/library/interview_content.asp?interview_id=179
Laitinen H, 2005, “Factors affecting the use of hearing protection among classical music
players”, Noise and Health, 7(26), 21-29
Laitinen H, 2007, “Use of hearing protection in classical music orchestras”, Presented at Music
– Safe and Sound 16-17 January 2007 held at the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and
Health (BauA), Dortmund
Laitinen HM, Toppila EM, Olkinuora PS and Kuisma K, 2003, “Sound exposure among the
Finnish National Opera Personnel”, Appl Occup Environ Hyg, 18(3), 177-182
Lee J, Behar A, Kunov H and Wong W, 2003, “Noise exposure of opera orchestra players”,
Canadian Acoustics, 31(3), 78-79
Niquette, P, 2006, “Hearing protection for musicians”, The Hearing Review,
www.hearingreview.com/issues/articles/2006-03_06.asp
Obeling L and Poulsen T, 1999, “Hearing ability in Danish symphony orchestra musicians”,
Noise and Health, 1(1), 43-49
Ostri B, Eller N, Dahlin E, and Skylv G, 1989, “Hearing impairment in orchestral musicians”,
Scand Audiol, 18(4), 234-249
37
Palin SL, 1994, “Does classical music damage the hearing of musicians? A review of the
literature”, Occup Med, 44(3), 130-136
Peters C, Thom J, McIntyre E, Winters M, Teschke K and Davies H, 2005, “Noise and
hearing loss in musicians”, www.musicmotion.com/content/mim/pdfs/hearinglossmusicians.pdf
Ross, M, 2004, “The Occlusion Effect – What it is, and what to do about it”,
www.hearingresearch.org/Dr.Ross/occlusion.htm
Royster JD, Royster KH and Killion MC, 1991, “Sound exposures and hearing thresholds of
symphony orchestra musicians”, J Acoust Soc Am, 89(6), 2793-2803
Santucci M, 1999, “In-ear monitoring: Use as directed”, Hearing Review, January 1999
Santucci, M, 2006, “Please welcome on stage…….Personal in-the-ear monitoring”, Hearing
Review, March 2006
Schmuziger N, Patscheke J, and Probst R, 2006, “Hearing in non-professional rock/pop
musicians”, Ear and Hearing, August 2006, 27(4), 321-330 Teie PU, 1998, “Noise-induced hearing loss and symphony orchestra musicians: risk factors, effects and management”, Maryland Medical Journal, 47(1), 13-18
The Noise at Work Regulations 1989, Statutory Instrument 1989/1790
38
APPENDIX A: LITERATURE SEARCH STRATEGY The literature for the review reported in Appendices B and C was identified from the following
bibliographic databases:
v
Medical databases – Embase, Psychinfo, Medline
v
Engineering databases – Compendex, Inspec, ANTE
v
Health and safety at work databases – OSH-ROM (containing HSELINE, NIOSH,
CISDOC, RILOSH, CCOSH, OSHLINE), HEALSAFE, RoSPA
v
World Wide Standards – HIS
The following keywords were used: musicians, classical, orchestral, symphony, concert, rock,
pop, jazz, noise, levels, exposure, noise-induced hearing loss, audiometry, tinnitus, hearing
disorders, sound measurements, dosemeters, hearing protectors, earmuffs, earplugs, comfort,
usage, attenuation data, attitude, behaviour, comfort, minimum attenuation requirements, flat
frequency response, integral communication system, quality, attenuated music speech.
A significant number of papers referenced in this review were found within other papers
identified during the original search.
The search was restricted to those papers written in English within the last 5 to 10 years.
An extensive search of the internet was conducted to identify hearing protectors designed for
musicians.
Information was also obtained from telephone conversations with hearing protector
manufacturers/suppliers and telephone interviews with professional musicians.
39
APPENDIX B: MUSICIANS’ NOISE EXPOSURE Chasin (1999) highlighted both the similarities and the important differences between music and
noise. Both spectra are relatively broadband, with similar crest factors and a similar range of
average sound pressure levels. However music is significantly more intermittent than industrial
noise: it has loud intense periods followed by quieter, or in some cases completely silent,
periods. It is this intermittence that many researchers feel is the reason why exposure to music
may be slightly less damaging than an equivalent industrial noise exposure. It is thought that
the stapedial reflex provides a significant amount of protection from noise or music when
exposure is intermittent. This reflex is due to the contraction of a muscle in the middle ear that
contracts in response to loud sounds. This contraction pulls on the middle ear bones,
temporarily making it harder for sound to be transmitted to the inner ear.
A wide range of noise levels is reported in the literature in relation to the levels of noise that
classical (orchestral) and rock/pop musicians are typically exposed to. Table B1 contains a
summary of this noise data with details of the source of this information.
Table B1: A-weighted noise data for musicians
Author
Year
Type of music
Instrument
Butterfield
2006
Drum, bass guitar,
guitar
Einhorn
2006
Hain
Schmuziger et al
2006
2006
Live indoor
events
Rock/pop
Orchestra
Jazz/blues
Orchestral
Rock/pop
Hagberg et al
2005
Orchestral
Peters et al
2005
Kahari et al
2003
Rock/jazz
Orchestral
Rock
Rock/jazz
Laitinen et al
2003
Orchestral
Lee et al
2003
Orchestral
Eaton et al
2002
Orchestral
Babin
1999
Orchestral
40
Woodwind
Guitars, bass,
percussion,
trombone,
keyboard
Woodwind
Brass
Percussion
Drum
Bass
Woodwind
Brass
Percussion
Strings
Woodwind
Brass
Percussion
Conductor
Strings
Woodwind
Brass
1
A-weighted
noise data dB
101 – 105
120 – 130
82 – 112
80 – 101
112
100 – 105
95
92 – 94
95
91 – 95
80 – 100
90 – 105
101 – 109
106 – 115
95
92 – 94
95
84 – 90
87 – 90
90 – 93
85 – 87
82
85 – 89
91 – 92
93 – 95
84 – 101
Author
Year
Type of music
Groothoff
Obeling et al
1999
1999
Rock/pop
Orchestral
Teie
1998
Orchestral
Gunderson et al
Early et al
Palin
1997
1996
1994
Rock/jazz
Orchestral
Orchestral
Killion
Royster et al
1993
1991
Orchestral
Orchestral
1
Instrument
String
Woodwind
Brass
Percussion
Strings
Woodwind
Brass
Percussion
Amplified music
Woodwind
Brass
String
Woodwind
Brass
1
A-weighted
noise data dB
98 – 106
75 – 91
85 – 94
86 – 95
84
75 – 103
80 – 112
85 – 114
90 – 92
95 – 107
86 – 108
92 – 94
92 – 93
105
78 – 100
82 – 96
86 – 98
This data includes reported average noise levels and daily, weekly and annual time-weighted noise exposure
levels (discussed further in this section)
Levels for groups of instruments have been combined. The instruments groups defined in
Table B1 include the following instruments:
Strings: violin, viola, cello, double bass
Woodwind: oboe, clarinet, bassoon, flute
Brass: trumpet, trombone, horn, tuba
Percussion: full drum kit, glockenspiel, tympani, gongs, etc
The data in Table B1 shows that musicians are exposed to a very wide range of levels, even for
similar instrument types. The data was combined to give a rough idea of the difference between
rock/pop and classical music levels. From the range of noise values in Table B1, the minimum
levels reported for each type of music were combined to give mean and standard deviation
values; similarly the mean and standard deviation values were obtained for the maximum levels
reported. The range of rock/pop A-weighted noise levels was between 88 and 117 dB, and the
range of classical music A-weighted noise levels was between 80 and 110 dB; where the lower
range values are mean levels minus one standard deviation, and the upper range values are mean
levels plus one standard deviation. These estimated ranges show that rock/pop music noise
levels are higher than classical music noise levels.
The spread of reported noise levels for both rock/pop and classical music is similar; the
difference between the minimum and maximum estimated noise levels is approximately 30 dB.
There are several reasons why there is so much variation in the reported noise levels. The data
reported in many studies were measured using dosemeters attached to individual musicians,
microphones located in fixed positions, or a mixture of the two methods. It is not clear from the
majority of published reports where the microphones were placed, yet this can have a significant
effect on the measured levels. Butterfield (2006) reports discrepancies between dosemeter and
fixed microphone measurements, and between different microphone positions for dosemeter
measurements. Noise levels measured with the dosemeter microphone attached to the wearer’s
41
collar can be up to 5 dB higher than when the microphone is fixed to the point of the shoulder.
The location of fixed microphones within the orchestra (eg at the side, front, back) can also
result in measured noise levels varying by between 4 and 6 dB (Palin, 1994).
The acoustic environment in which the levels are measured can also have a significant effect on
the measured noise. Higher noise levels are likely to be measured for orchestral musicians
playing in a deep orchestra pit (effectively a confined space) than for those playing on a large
open stage; Palin (1994) observed increases of up to 3 dB. Early et al (1996) showed that
musicians can be exposed to high noise levels during practice sessions and recommended that
attention should be given, in particular, to small practice rooms where the sound can reach
excessive levels due to reflections if the room is reverberant.
The noise levels will also depend on the type of music being played. The overall noise levels
generated during rock/pop concerts tend to be higher than those generated during classical
concerts. The dynamic range of rock/pop is generally smaller than that of classical music.
Rock/pop music typically gets loud and stays loud, so that there is not so much variation in the
measured noise levels. It also tends to be louder because there are not as many quiet periods in
the arrangements. By comparison, classical music has a huge dynamic range comprising of
very loud periods followed by very quiet or even silent periods. For classical music, the noise
levels will depend on the type of classical music played. Modern classical music is more
dynamic and generates higher noise levels than older pieces of music, partly due to the character
of the composed music and partly due to increased use of percussion and brass instruments
(Ostri et al, 1989). Differences of up to 10 dB (Laitinen et al, 2003; Lee et al, 2003) have been
reported due to the playing of different pieces of music, for example Madame Butterfly and The
Italian Girl in Algiers. Some musicians have also reported that there is a trend for conductors to
push the orchestra to perform intensely and loudly (Kahari et al, 2001) in an effort to attract
audiences.
The noise levels measured for individual musicians are highly dependent on the type of
instrument they play and also where they sit in the orchestra. For example, higher noise levels
will be measured in the left ear of violin and viola players compared with the right ear, and for
flute players higher levels will be measured in the right ear compared with the left ear (Kahari et
al, 2001), probably due to asymmetrical noise exposure from their instruments. Musicians
sitting close to the brass and woodwind instruments will be exposed to higher A-weighted noise
levels (80 – 114 dB Table B1) compared to musicians sitting near the string instruments (75 –
103 dB Table B1). Henahan (1985) referred to those musicians who have to sit directly in front
of brass or percussion sections as “unfortunately positioned” because of “instrumental din”!
Another reason such a wide range of noise levels has been reported may be due to the fact that
authors are measuring and reporting different quantities, for example equivalent continuous
sound levels (LAeq), instantaneous sound pressure levels, and time-weighted noise exposures.
While some authors clearly define the parameters that have been measured, including the
dosemeter’s exchange rate setting (typically 3 dB in UK and Europe, and 5 dB in the USA),
many do not. Table B2 contains a summary of the daily, weekly and annual noise exposure
levels that have been reported in the reviewed literature. These exposures take into account the
level of noise exposure and the typical durations.
42
Table B2: A-weighted noise exposure levels for musicians
Author
Year
Type of
music
Type of noise
exposure
Orchestral
Orchestral
Rock/jazz
Rock/jazz
Typical
exposure
duration
300 hrs/year
1500 hrs/year
15 hrs/week
over 8mth
annual season
4 – 8 hrs/day
15 hrs/week
1 – 2 hrs/day
-
Lee et al
Laitinen et al
Eaton et al
2003
2003
2002
Orchestral
Orchestral
Orchestral
Early et al
Royster et al
Kahari et al
Gunderson et
al
Schmuziger
et al
Butterfield
Groothoff
1996
1991
2003
1997
Annual
Annual
Annual
A-weighted
noise
exposure dB
74 – 85
83 – 95
84 ± 1
Daily
Daily
Daily
Daily
86 – 108
75 – 95
95 – 105
92 – 100
2006
Rock/pop
5 hrs/week
Weekly
100 – 105
2006
1999
Rock/pop
Rock/pop
-
Daily
Daily
101 – 105
98 – 106
For the music and entertainment industry in the UK, exposure action values for an individual’s
daily personal noise exposure are currently set at 80 dB and 85 dB, A-weighted. Table B2
shows that A-weighted noise exposure values reported for rock/pop/jazz musicians are between
92 and 106 dB. These exceed the exposure action values defined in current legislation, which
suggests that there may be a risk of hearing damage for these musicians.
The A-weighted daily personal noise exposure values reported for orchestral musicians are
between 75 and 108 dB. Annual personal noise exposure values take into account the large
variation in the number of hours worked over a year, for example there may be a seasonal
element for the music programme of some orchestras. The annual A-weighted personal noise
exposure values shown in Table B2 are therefore lower, ranging from 74 to 95 dB. These
exposures still suggest that some orchestral musicians are exposed to levels of noise that may
result in hearing damage. An important point to highlight is that most of the reported data is for
working hours that only includes group rehearsals and performances. It does not include the
noise exposure from solo practices, teaching and off-the-job exposure to music, for example
freelance work with another group of musicians. Laitinen (2005) suggests that the amount of
time musicians spend practicing on their own could be of the same order of magnitude as
reported performance times. It is essential that all sources of noise exposure (eg solo practices,
group rehearsals and performances) be taken into account when assessing the risk to musicians’
hearing.
43
APPENDIX C: MUSICIANS’ HEARING
Hearing disorders among musicians
Two types of hearing damage can occur as a result of exposure to noise. Acoustic trauma is an
immediate, severe and permanent hearing loss that can occur following exposure to a very loud
noise (eg gunshot or explosive). This type of exposure causes physical damage to the structures
of the inner ear. The second type of damage is a gradual hearing loss that occurs as a result of
prolonged exposure to loud noise. It is referred to as noise-induced hearing loss. The level and
duration of exposure, the frequency characteristics of the noise, and individual susceptibility
determine the degree of hearing loss. Gradual hearing loss resulting from chronic exposure to
music is termed music induced hearing loss (MIHL) (Einhorn, 2006). Other hearing disorders
associated with noise induced hearing damage exist among musicians. These include:
Tinnitus – the perception of sound in the absence of any sound, ie ringing in the head
or ears
Recruitment – reduced dynamic range of hearing
Hyperacusis – extreme intolerance to everyday sounds
Distortion – sounds are heard but lack clarity
Displacusis – sounds are perceived as being of a different pitch than they actually are
Incidence of hearing loss among musicians
The most common method of assessing musicians’ hearing loss is to compare age- and genderadjusted measured threshold levels against ISO 7029: 2000 reference data or another normal
hearing non-noise exposed control group.
There are several very comprehensive reviews of the studies carried out to investigate hearing
damage in classical musicians (Palin, 1994; Eaton et al, 2002). Table C1 contains a summary of
the individual studies reviewed and the conclusions drawn from them. It also contains the
results from the papers reviewed for this project on hearing loss in orchestral musicians,
rock/pop musicians and percussionists.
44
Table C1: Summary of hearing loss studies between 1960 and 2006
Author
Year
Brief study
details
Conclusions
ORCHESTRAL MUSICIANS
Arnold et al
1960
30 pianists
Flach et al
1967
277 orchestral
musicians
No significant hearing loss compared
with reference population
Westmore et al
1981
34 orchestral
musicians
12% of sample had 20 dB hearing loss
at 4 kHz but not statistically significant
Axelsson et al
1981
139 orchestral
musicians
58% of sample had hearing loss
>20 dB, could be due to noise
exposure or ageing, poorer hearing in
brass and woodwind players
Karlsson et al
1983
417 orchestral
musicians
No increased risk of hearing loss
compared with screened and nonscreened non-noise exposed
populations, risk of NIHL nil or
negligible
Johnson et al
1985
62 orchestral
musicians
No significant hearing loss compared
with unscreened non-noise exposed
population
Johnson et al
1986
60 orchestral
musicians
No significant difference between
hearing levels of musicians and nonmusicians, both groups showed similar
age effect at high frequencies
Ostri et al
1989
95 orchestral
musicians
Slightly poorer hearing than reference
population
Royster et al
1991
59 orchestral
musicians
Better than average hearing compared
to unscreened non-noise exposed
population, slightly poorer hearing
compared to screened non-exposed
population, high freq notch suggestive
of noise-induced hearing loss in 53%
of ears
McBride et al
1992
63 orchestral
musicians
No statistical difference between
hearing of musicians exposed to high
and low levels of music
Kahari et al
2001
140 orchestral
No severe hearing loss, high-frequency
45
Better hearing than that of average
reference population
Author
Year
Brief study
details
musicians
Eaton et al
2002
53 orchestral
musicians
Conclusions
notch suggesting some noise damage,
percussion and woodwind poorest
hearing levels
No significant difference between
hearing levels of musicians and
unscreened non-noise exposed
population, high frequency notch in
25% suggestive of noise damage
ROCK/POP/JAZZ
Cunningham et al
2006
400
percussionists
Poorer hearing thresholds for
musicians compared to non-exposed
reference population, prevalence of
hearing loss 39% among percussionists
(9% among general population)
Kahari et al
2003
139 rock/jazz
musicians
No significant difference between
hearing levels of musicians and nonexposed normal population; higher rate
of incidence of hearing disorders, 43%
tinnitus, 39% hyperacusis
Schmuziger et al
2003
42 pop/rock
musicians
Slightly poorer than hearing of control
group, 17% tinnitus, 26% hyperacusis,
significant effect on hearing levels due
to use of hearing protection
It is very difficult to draw conclusions about the incidence of hearing damage among musicians
based on the studies reviewed here. For orchestral musicians, the published literature identified:
Seven studies that concluded there was no significant difference between the hearing
threshold levels of musicians and non-noise exposed reference populations;
Two studies that found musicians with better hearing than the reference population;
and
Four studies that concluded that musicians have slightly poorer hearing thresholds
than non-noise exposed reference populations.
Similar results were found for rock/pop musicians: one study concluded that there was no
significant difference between the hearing threshold levels of musicians and non-noise exposed
reference populations; and two studies observed musicians with slightly poorer hearing
thresholds compared to non-exposed reference populations.
The range of conclusions from different published studies makes it very difficult to say for
certain whether musicians’ noise exposure is sufficiently high or prolonged to cause hearing
damage. In the studies that identified some hearing loss, it was generally in the form of a high
46
frequency notch (that may or may not be related to presbycusis) or raised hearing thresholds.
However raised thresholds were generally not significant in terms of associated hearing damage,
when compared to the threshold levels used to define hearing loss. Several definitions for
hearing loss have been reported in the literature: Cunningham et al (2006) defined hearing loss
as hearing thresholds equal to or greater than 25 dB at two or more frequencies or equal to or
greater than 30 dB at one frequency in one or both ears; Kahari et al (2001) defined normal
hearing as pure-tone thresholds equal to or less than 20 dB at the frequencies between 250 Hz
and 8 kHz.
Cunningham et al (2006) measured mean auditory threshold levels for percussionists that were 5
to 11 dB higher than the reference group. However, these raised levels were less than 20 dB,
suggesting only a slight hearing loss. Schmuziger et al (2006) also measured significant but
small hearing losses in a group of pop/rock musicians; hearing thresholds were raised by up to
7 dB. Interestingly in this study, hearing loss was minimal in musicians who always wore
hearing protection.
Palin (1994) concluded that conflicting conclusions could be partly due to the poor design of
many of the studies. Reviewing the literature has identified the following problems with
hearing loss studies, which must be addressed in future hearing loss studies:
There is no universal definition for hearing loss. No definition was given in some
studies, which partly explains the different conclusions reached by some studies.
Not all possible risk factors for noise-induced hearing loss are identified for the
musicians taking part in the studies: age, sex, instrument, position of seating in
orchestra, practice outside orchestra, noise exposure other than classical music (eg
hobbies, previous occupational noise exposure).
Exclusion criteria such as pre-existing ear pathology, family history of hearing loss,
use of ototoxic drugs are not identified.
Hearing threshold levels are not measured at all the relevant frequencies.
No record of when audiometry is carried out (hearing thresholds should be measured
before a rehearsal or performance to ensure that there is no temporary hearing
threshold shift due to music exposure).
Sample sizes are generally small, which makes it difficult to assess statistical
significance.
Although it is not clear whether exposure to music can cause significant hearing loss, several
authors have reported higher levels of hearing disorders such as tinnitus and hyperacusis,
especially among rock/pop musicians. Incidence rates for tinnitus were between 17% and 54 %
(Schmuziger et al, 2006; Hoffman et al, 2006; Kahari et al, 2003); incidence rates for
hyperacusis were between 26% and 39%. Kahari et al (2003) found hearing disorders in 74% of
rock/pop musicians, although there were no significant hearing losses. The reason for this high
rate of hearing disorders, and low rate of hearing loss may be due to damage mechanisms that
have their origin in parts of the auditory system other than the cochlea.
Pure tone audiometry is traditionally used to assess whether a person is suffering from a hearing
loss, and it is the basic tool in the diagnosis of congenital or acquired hearing loss. However
several authors (Chasin, 1999; Kahari et al, 2001; Cunningham et al, 2006) have suggested it
may not be a sufficiently sensitive test on its own to detect the early stages of hearing disorders
in musicians and to allow a full assessment of hearing. A thorough hearing assessment for
47
musicians is recommended, which includes extended measurements such as speech in noise,
uncomfortable loudness level in the case of pure tones, and otoacoustic emission tests, along
with assessment of other hearing disorders.
[Note: Otoacoustic emissions indicate the health of the sensory cells. Changes in otoacoustic
emissions can potentially provide the first indication of sensory cell damage, even before the
pure-tone audiogram shows any significant decrease in auditory sensitivity.]
48
APPENDIX D: TOPICS COVERED DURING TELEPHONE INTERVIEWS WITH MUSICIANS The purpose of this telephone interview is to identify the type of hearing protection (if any)
musicians are currently using; musicians' attitudes towards hearing protection and the factors
musicians think are important in choosing hearing protection.
Work history
What area do you currently work in (including instruments played)? Give a brief description of your work history (eg teaching, freelance work, contract work) How long have you been working in the music industry? Give details of any previous relevant occupations. Are you self-employed?
Noise exposure
How would you rate your current noise exposure (insignificant, excessive, exposed to
a lot of noise every so often, exposed to a little very regularly, etc)?
Describe type of exposure, eg typical duration in hours per session, loudness,
frequency (no. of day/weeks), source of noise, etc
Has your noise exposure been assessed – any idea of the level of noise you are
typically exposed to?
Have you experienced any temporary deafness (noises sounding very quiet following
exposure)? Have you had any hearing tests (audiometric testing)? Do you have diagnosed hearing loss, ringing noises in the ears, etc? Hearing protection
Do you wear hearing protectors? If so, what type (eg standard earplugs, musicians’
earplugs, ear muffs, in-ear monitors, etc)?
Why did you choose this particular type of hearing protection?
If you don’t wear hearing protectors, why not?
Did you choose to wear hearing protection, or was it required (eg by employer)?
Can you do your job effectively while wearing hearing protection? If not, why not?
Have you received any training on how to select, fit and care for earplugs?
Factors that may influence hearing protection use/choice
I have put together the following list of factors that I think may be important when deciding
what hearing protection to use. These are: comfort; attenuation requirements; flat frequency
response (ie those designed to reduce muffle effect you sometimes get with conventional
hearing protectors); integral communication system; the quality of the attenuated sound (music
and speech); and cost.
Which of these factors are important to you when deciding whether or not to use
hearing protection?
Do you think I’ve missed any important factors out – based on your own experiences?
Do you have any comments on any of these issues that relate to your particular
circumstances?
What do you think are the most/least important factors when deciding whether or not
to use/choose a particular type of hearing protection?
Finally, do you have any other comments?
49
50
51
Published by the Health and Safety Executive
11/08
Health and Safety
Executive
Musicians’ hearing protection
A review
The music and entertainment industry is unique in that
high noise levels are often regarded as an essential
element for the enjoyment of people attending concerts
and live music events. However, there is a risk of
hearing damage for people working in the music and
entertainment industry, including musicians. One of the
methods used to reduce noise exposure is the use of
appropriate hearing protection. Many different types of
hearing protection have been marketed for musicians
including premoulded earplugs, custom-moulded earplugs
and in-ear monitors. In order to support the Health and
Safety Executive’s (HSE) understanding of this issue, the
types of hearing protection available to musicians were
identified. Telephone interviews were then conducted with
nineteen professional musicians to collect information
on: the type of hearing protection (if any) musicians are
currently using; musicians’ attitudes to hearing protection
including whether they think it is, or it can be, effective
and whether it allows them to do their job effectively; and
the factors musicians consider important when choosing
hearing protection.
This report and the work it describes were funded by
the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its contents,
including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are
those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect
HSE policy.
RR664
www.hse.gov.uk
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