Guitars and Rock/Blues Vocalists- information Sheet part #I

Marshall Chasin
November 28, 2011

This is the first is a list of 6 fact sheets that can be copied onto your office letterhead and provided to musicians.  There will be one that relates to each musician instrument, and this one is obviously (as can be seen in the title) about guitar players and rock/blues vocalists.  These are used in the Musicians’ Clinics of Canada ( and I would appreciate citing the source of this information if you choose to use them as one of  your clinic handouts.  Like all information sheets this, and those that follow, can be used as part of the counseling session.

• Guitar players and Rock/Blues vocalists share a similar part of the stage and as such, are similarly exposed to loud music. Some of the strategies to reduce the potential for music related hearing loss are also similar.

• In ear monitors are small in-the-ear devices that look like hearing aids connected to small wire cables. They can be plugged directly into the amplification system. They not only afford some protection from overly loud music, but allow the guitar players and vocalists to monitor their music better. Frequently, the overall sound levels on stage during rehearsals and performances are quieter while using these monitors. In the case of vocalists, the use of in ear monitors will allow them to hear their voices better with an added benefit of reduced vocal strain after a long set. In ear monitors can be designed to either improve monitoring or function as ear protection, or both. Depending on the type of music, one’s style, and one’s position in the band, a trade-off between these goals may be necessary.

• Loudspeakers generate a wide range of sounds. Like the bell of a trumpet however, not all sounds come directly out of the speaker. Low-frequency bass notes can be just as loud beside the loudspeaker enclosure as directly in front, whereas higher frequency sounds emanate much like a laser beam. Tilting or aiming the loudspeaker up to the musicians’ ear will ensure that the music has a “flatter” response. The overall level will tend to be lower on stage because the sound engineer will not need to compensate for a “peaky” response. Some researchers recommend elevating loudspeakers to ear level for much the same reason. Indeed this can be useful, but this will depend on the design of the loudspeaker. Checking with the manufacturer will provide information on whether this is the best choice of orientation for that specific loudspeaker.

• The loudspeakers can also be used as an acoustic shadow to hide in. As stated above, high-frequency sounds tend to emanate from the loudspeakers in almost a straight line. Since these same high-frequency treble notes can also be the most intense, standing beside the loudspeaker enclosure (instead of in front or behind it) may afford some protection.

• The main source of potential damage appears to be from the drummer’s high hat cymbal- typically on the left side of the drummer. Moving away from the high hat cymbal as much as is reasonable, or the use of lucite or plexiglas baffles between the cymbals and the other musicians may be useful to minimize the potential damage to one’s hearing. If baffles are used, it is important to ensure that they do not extend above the level of the drummer’s ear, since high-frequency reflections can exacerbate the drummer’s hearing.

• There are now custom made tuned earplugs that many instrumental musicians and vocalists use called the ER-15 earplugs. These allow all of the music to be attenuated (lessened in energy) equally across the full range of musical sounds. That is, the low-bass notes are treated identically to the mid-range and high-frequency treble notes. The balance of music is therefore not altered. These have been in wide use since the late 1980s.

• The human ear is much like any other body part- too much use and it may be damaged. The ear takes about 16 hours to “reset”. After attending a rock concert or a loud session, you may notice reduced hearing and/or tinnitus (ringing) in your ears. And if your hearing was assessed immediately after the concert, one would find a temporary hearing loss. After 16 hours however, your hearing should return to its “baseline” (hopefully normal) level. After a loud session or concert, don’t practice for 16-18 hours. Also, it’s a good excuse not to mow your lawn for a day or two!

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