Minimal Requirements for a Musicians’ Clinic

Marshall Chasin
October 4, 2011

From time to time I am asked to travel somewhere that wants to set up a musicians’ clinic for hearing loss prevention.  Talks and hands-on workshops are typically given and then in the middle of the night, I slip away to parts unknown…. well, maybe its not so romantic, and usually I end up at an airport waiting to take a flight home.

Other than feeling good about myself for helping to set up the musicians’ clinic, have I really done a good job.  After all, I won’t be there the day after to ensure things are being done correctly.

I am proud to say that I am indeed confident that things will be done correctly, albeit not the same way that I may have done things.  I am always amazed by how broad our training as audiologists really is.  We learn about room acoustics, hearing protection, rehabilitation, hearing aids, assessment using every possible tool, and we tie it all together with a sound theoretical basis that allows us to go beyond the textbooks and come up with innovative approaches.

Audiologists have all of the tools necessary to set up and run an effective musicians’ clinic.  It is not a “specialty” that only a few people can do.  An audiologist straight out of school knows everything they need to know- its sometimes only an issue of confidence.

Nevertheless there are some things that should serve as a minimal requirement for a musicians’ clinic.  Most of these things are found in any conventional audiology clinic.  As far as technology is concerned, otoacoustic emissions and real ear measurement come to mind.  Both are normal pieces of equipment that are found in many clinics.

Otoacoustic emission testing appears to show differences in auditory function long before one sees an audiometric loss and if our role is hearing loss prevention it makes sense to use the most sensitive approaches.  While there is a high level of variability from person to person with otoacoustic emission testing, there is a low level of variability within an individual so longitudinal testing of a musician from year-to-year to ascertain any differences can be very instructive and concrete recommendations can be given.

Real ear measurement can also be very useful for testing the spectral outputs of a musicians’ instruments while are playing them.  It can also be useful to verify the attenuation of recommended hearing protection.  This equipment is traditionally used for verification of real ear gain and output in hearing aids, but nothing prevents this same technology from being used as an in situ spectral analysis device.

That brings us to the third element of a musicians’ clinic- counseling materials.  Translating materials on hearing loss prevention from “audiology technical jargon” to everyday English for a musician is not always an easy task.  But audiologists are well equipped to do this.  After all, they need to convey concepts of masking, critical bandwidth, critical ratio, binaural summation, and room reverberation time, to their hard of hearing clients who are about to get their first hearing aids.  If this can be done for a 78 year old grandmother, I am sure that my colleagues can do the same for a 28 year old Rocker.

Information sheets are available for the asking.  Either visit my website ( or email me off-line at [email protected] and I can forward you 6 one page information sheets that cover the basics for every musician and musician category.  Courtesy of some colleagues in Quebec, these are also available in French.

Between normal audiology equipment, including otoacoustic emission testing, and real ear measurement, information sheets that can be given to the musician, the only other thing that a musicians’ clinic requires is a caring and compassionate hearing health care professional, and I am happy to say that our field is full of them.

Incidentally, I will be helping the University at Buffalo (SUNY) kick off their musicians’ clinic on Saturday October 15 so if anyone lives in upper New York state (or south western Ontario) drop by.   The neat thing about a musicians’ clinic is that its not just for the musician.  Audiology students can be plugged in to the clinic and ultimately everyone benefits.


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