THE MUSICIAN'S EARby Ellie Apuzzo
Noise induced hearing loss can happen to anyone in contact with loud music. Learn the hazards and how to protect yourself!
The last thing, a travel weary, instrument lugging, rehearsal haggard, make-ends-meet musicians want is another thing to worry about and invest in. But there is one. Perhaps the most important one.
Here are some statistics. Musicians routinely face sound pressure levels in potentially hazardous ranges. They extend up to 120-130 decibels while 3 feet from the speaker in amplified rock/pop bands, 83-112 decibels on stage in various orchestras and 80-101 decibels on stage in jazz, blues, and country and western bands. That reality, plus the fact that many musicians practice and/or perform 4 to 8 hours a day, suggests a strong causal relationship between their chronic loud music exposure and their "noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL)."
How do these numbers effect a musician's life and profession? Let's take a look. It is widely known that difficulty in speech comprehension seen in NIHL is secondary to hearing loss in the high frequencies.
What can be done? I'm glad to be able to offer some possible solutions. There are plugs that musicians' can wear that will help to protect their hearing while allowing the music to come through. The plugs are custom made and are far from the perceived "stuff-it-in-your-ear" complete muffling type of ear protection. One company which offers this product is Etymotic Research. They developed and patented the attenuator used in Musicians Earplugs. The attenuator serves to filter incoming sounds and gently reduces the intensity. The ER-15 attenuates oncoming sound by 15 decibels, the ER-25 by 25 decibels, and the newest addition is the ER-9 which will reduce the incoming signal by, you guessed it, 9 decibels. All of these attenuator "buttons" can be used, interchangeably, in the same custom made earmolds. The molds are made of one of two materials, vinyl or silicone. The silicone is softer and usually more comfortable to wear. The plugs are designed to maintain high fidelity reproduction of music without compromising the musician's ability to listen. Music and speech can still be heard clearly, but will not be as loud. A lower cost alternative is the ER-20 HI-FIT, a non-custom plug.
Ear Monitors are fast becoming popular as an on-stage aid to performing artists. These in-the-ear monitors benefit the performer in sound quality, clarity, and performance. In other words, they hear themselves more clearly.
There are three general types of personal ear monitors to choose from: completely custom earpieces, occluding modular designs, and non-occluding modular designs. One popular custom monitor currently seen in the professional touring category, the Ultimate Ears UE5 Pro, is manufactured at Westone Laboratories. That design places two drivers with a passive crossover in the earpiece for exceptional sound quality and clarity. A special acoustic seal allows the artist to have a lower "at ear" volume, even on high-volume stages.
Modular occluding (sealed ear) designs are based on earpieces that can be used either with generic foam tips or with an earmold. Examples include the Shure Bros. models E1/E5 and the Sensaphonics Pro-Phonic 4.
Modular non-occluding (partially open ear) designs are usually used with commercially designed earbuds. The earpieces can be custom molded or generic fit. These products should be limited to the quietest of performance venues as there is little ambientnoise reduction. When used in louder venues, there may be a tendency to operate the monitors at an extreme level in an attempt to mask the ambient noise.
Every study confirms that excessive loudness, over time, results in hearing loss. And hearing loss effects every aspect of a musician's career. But noise-induced hearing loss can be prevented, and proper prevention should begin with the school band member and carry through to the touring professional. For more information, call the Hearing Aid Center of Orange County at 845-564-1593, or visit the Westone website.
|Ellie Apuzzo owns and operates Ellie's Consider It Done. She provides "on-site oversight for absentee owners" here in the Florida Keys; and so far, this lifelong New Yorker just can't seem to get into "Keys time!" Ellie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.|