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 am a piano tuner. Can piano tuning lead to hearing loss and should I be wearing hearing protection?
Indeed many piano tuners do suffer from hearing loss. Recall that it is not only the intensity of the sound that causes hearing loss, but also the duration. A piano tuner can spend many hours each day with various pianos and like most musically inclined people, tend to also visit night clubs and other loud venues. The total exposure can add up quickly. The ER-15 musicians’ earplug is the hearing protection of choice. It will protect the piano tuner, while still allow them to hear the music.
I’ve seen musicians on TV wearing what look like hearing aids connected to small wires. What are these?
These are called in-ear monitors, and they are a form of a modified hearing aid. In fact, in most ways they are hearing aids- they have an amplifier, and typically several loudspeakers (called receivers). Musicians use them as their own monitoring system instead of the small “wedge” monitors on the floor of the stage. The wires are connected to the sound amplification system either directly or through a wireless transmitter. The musician can then hear their own music as well as that of the other musicians, but at a safe level. When musicians use in-ear monitors, the overall sound level on stage is typically much less than if they were using conventional wedge monitors.
Are there any “open air” type in-ear monitors that would reduce “occlusion” effect?
Once an in-ear monitor is “open”- i.e., there is an air hole running through the monitor to your ear, there will be a significant loss of low-frequency sound energy as well as a loss of protection from intense low-frequency sounds in the environment. The advantage of course, would be to minimize the occlusion effect which causes one’s own voice to sound hollow and echoey. Other than creating an air hole, the major way of reducing the occlusion effect is to make the portion of the in-ear monitor that extends down the ear canal, as long as possible. This would also be useful for earplugs. When obtaining the in-ear monitors, or the musicians’ earplugs, ask that the person making the earmold impression, ensures that the bore will extend beyond the second bend in the earcanal.
My friend is a drummer and whenever he practices, he hums and grunts. Is he weird or is he doing this for a reason?
He isn’t weird (… well, he might be…) but many percussionists hum and grunt. There is a small muscle in the middle ear that mother-nature gave us so that our own voice would not be too loud to ourselves (called the stapedial muscle). It has been shown that if one hums or grunts just prior to a loud sound and continues that hum through the sound, this muscle in the ear continues to contract, providing an attenuation (or lessening) of the sound energy. So your friend is actually protecting his hearing.