Over the next months, I will be uploading some commonly viewed FAQs from MusiciansClinics.com. This is the website of the Musicians’ Clinics of Canada, and was completely updated over the last Christmas holidays. I should have entitled it “What I did over the Christmas holidays”! A full range of FAQs will eventually cover pretty much everything we know about music and the prevention of hearing loss.
Feel free to submit other questions that can be answered in 4-5 sentences and I may include them in future posts…
I have tried earplugs but they sound hollow. Also, I can’t really hear the high end. Are there better earplugs?
Because of the laws of physics, earplugs lessen (attenuate) the sound energy for the higher pitches more than the lower bass notes. Typically earplugs will cause a hollow sound without much high end. In 1988, a company called Etymotic Research came out with a “flat” earplug- one that lessens the sound energy for the high pitched notes as much as for the low bass notes. These use a small acoustic amplifier that puts back many of the high pitched sounds. Musicians and music listeners then can hear their music unaffected, except that it’s at a non-damaging level. These earplugs come in several amounts of protection- 9 decibels of protection (ER-9), 15 decibels of protection (ER-15) and 25 decibels of protection (ER-25). Different musicians use different earplug.
What ear plugs do you suggest for musicians?
There are three major types of ear plugs for musicians- the ER-15, the ER-25, and vented/tuned ear plugs. The ER-25 is generally only recommended for drummers. The ER-15 is the ear plug of choice for most other rock and blues instruments, as well as most classical instruments. The vented/tuned ear plugs are useful for those instruments that either do not have much treble sound energy (such as the acoustic bass and cello), or for those instruments that are not particularly damaging (such as the clarinet), but have to play near other noisy instruments, such as the drums. There is an article in the Publications section of this website with this information- “Musicians and the Prevention of Hearing Loss”.
Where can I get musician ear plugs?
Musician ear plugs, like the ER-15, can be obtained from anyone that makes hearing aids. I would contact an audiologist and they can either make the ear plugs for you, or send you to someone who specializes in musicians. Remember however, that while ear plugs are very important, they are only one of the many things that can be done to reduce music exposure. Environmental strategies (many of which are inexpensive) can be very useful. You should contact your state and provincial association for audiologists. Musicians’ earplugs are not typically covered under any medical program and usually are about $300 a pair. There are also one-size-fits-all Musicians’ earplugs called ER20XS and these can be obtained for about $15.00.
How can I scare my band mates into using earplugs? They refuse to use them.
This is a common problem. Prior to 1988 there were no earplugs that could successfully be used by musicians. Today’s earplugs (for example the ER-15) not only treat all sounds equally but minimize the occlusion (echoey) effect in the ears. Your band mates’ concerns are outdated. They should contact their local audiologist for an assessment and information session. Your band mates’ concerns are based on old history and have no basis with today’s technology.