Violin and viola players- information sheet part #5

Marshall Chasin
December 27, 2011

This is the fifth  in 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 violas and violins.  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.

Violins and violas can generate sufficiently loud levels of music such that they can cause permanent hearing loss. This is typically worse in the left ear (the ear nearer the instrument). In many cases, the violin or viola player is surrounded by many like instruments, such that the overall level in an orchestra in the violin and viola sections can be quite intense. Unlike most other instrument categories, the ability to hear the higher frequency harmonics is crucial to these musicians. Therefore recommendations are provided to protect hearing and to maintain audibility of the higher frequency harmonics.

• Violins and violas should always be played away from overhangs such as those commonly found in orchestral pits. The roof of such overhangs frequently are treated acoustically in order to minimize reflections. It is not uncommon that the magnitude of the higher frequency harmonic components of these instruments are reduced by this acoustic treatment. Since players of violins and violas need to be aware of this high-frequency energy, the sound is muted. These musicians tend to play harder to compensate for this lost energy with an unnecessary increased sound level and a possible danger to their arms.

• There are any number of acoustic baffles that can be placed on the rear portion of a seat in an orchestra that can serve to reduce the loudness of the instruments to the rear. Depending on the manufacturer some are opaque and some are transparent. Baffles do work well and serve to attenuate (or lessen) higher frequency sounds more than bass sounds. However, these seat baffles only work if the baffle is within 7 inches of the musician’s ear. If further away, because of reflections off the floor and music stands, the baffles have no significant effect.

• Like other instruments, violin and viola players can use mutes while practising, thus reducing the overall daily exposure to noise/music. These mutes can fit over the bridge and only result in a slight high-frequency loss of musical information.

• There are now custom made tuned earplugs that many violin and viola players are using 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 earplugs 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 musical session you may notice reduced hearing and/or tinnitus (ringing) in your ears. And if your hearing was assessed immediately after such a concert or session, 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, its a good excuse not to mow your lawn for a day or two!

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