My violins are too loud for my hearing.

Edited: February 19, 2018, 1:58 PM · This is a somewhat new experience for me. I've been playing the violin for over 40 years, and while they've always been loud to me, lately it's actually verging on pain. The sound is distorted and I'm instinctively reluctant to lay into it. However, I can record my playing and the sound is sweet and pleasing on the recordings. I've mostly been a "home alone" player, but when I've played in ensembles I've always found the volume to be uncomfortable. And I've never been comfortable in bars or nightclubs where the sound system is turned up.

I can use a mute, but the violin response is limited. The solution I've found is to simply wear musician's earplugs whenever I'm playing. I've been using Planet Waves Pacato ear plugs, with good effect. I recently purchased some Hearos plugs but haven't tried them yet. Both products attenuate about 12 decibels. Using these earplugs allows me to hear my own playing with a clarity and lack of distortion that makes playing a joy and a pleasure.

What I'm wondering is, should I consider this to be a problem? After all, isn't sensitive hearing a gift to be cherished and guarded. It's a little inconvenient having to put the earplugs in every time, but it's doable. Has anyone else had this experience? For some reason it would be reassuring to know that I'm not the only one.

Replies (25)

February 19, 2018, 2:13 PM · Lots of people play with musician's earplugs.
Edited: February 19, 2018, 2:59 PM · You're absolutely right about protecting your hearing. Erik's suggestion works, of course, but is also expensive. Alternatively you can find an old set of over-the-ear headphones at a garage sale and cut off the wire.
February 19, 2018, 3:38 PM · Could be tinnitus.
One solution is to use a sliding mute but slide it near the bridge instead of over it. A rubber band around the bridge can also temporarily reduce volume.
Personally, I use one of those Happynex slings and can move my head away from the violin.
Edited: February 19, 2018, 4:15 PM · Ear plugs are the easiest way to solve the problem and still allow others to hear you beautiful full sound.

Simple, cheap wax earplugs fitted into your ears will provide sufficient attenuation. You can adjust the amount of attenuation by varying the tightness of fit. You can sort of calibrate the attenuation by plugging your left ear first; when it hears the same level as your right ear it is attenuated about 12 DB (assuming hearing in both ears is the same).

You can test your hearing on line with this test: https://hearingtest.online/ . I have used that test and it agreed as well as can be expected with the audiologist's test at Kaiser Permanente.

Edited: February 19, 2018, 4:13 PM · Paul, and Andrew, the earplugs I'm using are only around $12 to $18 a set. They're made for musicians, work fine and I don't think I need custom made ones.

And yes, Christopher, I do have mild tinnitus, though I'm not sure why that would make my hearing more sensitive.

I'm seeing an ENT in a few weeks for a follow up exam about another issue, but I'll ask him about this, and report back here if I learn anything interesting. Thanks for the replies so far.

February 19, 2018, 4:25 PM · I would recommend Eargasms. They do not need any custom fit and are affordable.
February 19, 2018, 5:07 PM · I use cheap 33 decibel noise reduction ear plugs and they cost about a quarter a pair. The less I push them in my ear the less they block the sound so in other words you can vary how much sound you want to actually hear. The ear plugs do not affect my bowing as does the use of a mute.

In other discussions on ear plugs I have been surprised to learn that most players say they do not need feel the need for them for hearing protection.

February 19, 2018, 5:44 PM · I have been extremely sensitive to sound for a long long time.
I used to practice in the bathroom but with a mute (for acoustics and visual feedback in mirror).

Eventually I tired of the sound and wanted to practice without it.
But I couldn't do it in the bathroom any longer because it was far too loud.

So it was out to the living room or kitchen.

But one thing still confuses me to this day about the violin.
How can an instrument (played exactly the same way)
fill both a concert hall and a small room?

I know acoustic design plays an important role in building concert halls, but still.

I think a violin is on par with a horn in terms of sound potential.
I'm sure horn players constantly struggle to keep their sanity and hearing intact.

I don't practice with ear plugs but never leave home without them!
I use them at concerts, rehearsals, in stores, restaurants, you name it. Anywhere it's noisy.

I use the ER-15's and ER30's custom fitted Musicians plugs.

Edited: February 19, 2018, 6:03 PM · I started using -33 dB foam earplugs years ago -- I can get 10 pairs at the pharmacy for about $5 USD. Today, going without earplugs is, for me, unthinkable. I can't tolerate the volume without them. How anyone else can tolerate it, I can't fathom -- especially with the instrument's sound originating about 3 inches from the ear. And I use the plugs in both ears. The effect is somewhat like hearing myself play from 10 feet away +/ -- not quite the same but similar. What I hear is, at least, more like what the audience hears.

I don't do orchestra anymore -- I abandoned that at 21 y/o -- one reason among several being the volume levels in some modern symphonic repertoire. I quit going to the movies, too, back in the late 20th century -- again, several reasons, one being the unpleasantly loud volumes.

As for bars and nightclubs -- I don't go to them, but not just because of the decibel levels. I guess that's for another discussion.

Edited: February 19, 2018, 7:20 PM · I always wear at least in my left hear a custom fit ear plug (ER-15). They are expensive initially but would never go back to cheap ones. Still cheaper than a hearing aid! It's not so much volume that is most damaging (to a point) but total length of exposure. Several hours a day is a lot of exposure. I just ordered a new pair today. The current pair lasted 10 years, and I wore them practically every day. That is an average cost of $2 per month (even less in the USA), so why bother with cheap COTS ones?
February 19, 2018, 8:00 PM · have you tried thin gauge of the same string combo?
have you tried using gut strings?
February 19, 2018, 8:44 PM · Does this sound familiar?
https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/hearing-problems-reduced-tolerance-to-sound
February 19, 2018, 8:51 PM · I'm with Jim about movies. I take earplugs to the movies. I thought Mark was talking about those special earplugs that cost hundreds of dollars, sorry to have misinterpreted.
February 20, 2018, 12:11 AM · Very interesting, Michael. I read and bookmarked that page. I don't think my problem is quite that severe, but I'm going to keep that on my radar screen. A violin really is very loud and just a few inches away. It shouldn't surprise anyone that it can sometimes be uncomfortable. In fact the whole modern world is pretty darned loud. Thanks for calling that to our attention.
Edited: February 20, 2018, 2:01 AM · There's nothing wrong with using plugs-but be aware that what may be unfathomable to some, may be normal to others. So I would only recommend them to those who *really* need them. Some (if not many) professional players do without any said tools for many years and do just fine.

Again, not casting doubts on anyone's special needs. Just that "loud" is subjective to the listener's ears and individual tolerances. I know they would not work for me, making my instrument sound "strange" by virtue of it sounding too "far away." If your violin tone causes you a headache or even pain, then it's perhaps good you get something that helps you enjoy the process of music-making.

February 20, 2018, 3:05 AM · As an active professional performing violinist and teacher I think the best few hundred I've ever spent on something is on musician's earplugs. The custom fit at any audiologist appointment and ability to attenuate cleanly at -9, -15, & -25 db. Swapping out attebuaties is extremely useful for a wide range of applications from prolonged practice or teaching days to concerts with amplification or loud percussion. It also helps lessen airplane jet engine noise well too with the -25db plugs!
February 20, 2018, 7:54 AM · I use a ear plug in my left ear, and in my right if I am working on double stops (the sound waves are very uncomfortable in my ears). My violin is very loud under the ear where I practice. Interestingly, at my teacher's studio it is not an issue.

I was so concerned about this last year that I went to the audiologist to have a hearing test done, everything was fine/"normal".

February 20, 2018, 8:09 AM · Especially in the small room I use for practice the sound volume of my violin exceeds comfort level. Until now I used simple earplugs (foam, wax, or simple cotton wool), the left one tight fit, the right one a bit loose. But I cannot deal with the sound distortion done by them. Now I found those "Alpine MusicSafe Pro" and consider buying them. Has anyone experience with these?
What attracts me (despite the price: €22 approx.) is the fact that it comes with three different interchangeable filters with an effect between 12 and 18 db, and as they say without much sound distortion. So one could customize your own plugs depending on room, situation etc.
February 20, 2018, 4:00 PM · Jim have you tried Musicians' ear plugs? ER-15's or ER-25's?
If not I would highly recommend you give them a shot. They are well worth the investment.

The only time I use foam ear plugs (30+ dB) is for maximum ear protection from very loud sounds/noises.

The beauty of the ER-15's and ER-25's is that they are designed to let in all the sound frequencies, they simply 'turn down the volume'.

In contrast, foam ear plugs, while the most effective in reducing
overall sound level, also filter out various sound frequencies.
The net result is a muffled sound and also a stuffed feeling in the head after a short time.

February 20, 2018, 8:05 PM · Funny to read this discussion now...for the last week my ears have been ringing, to the point where I turned off the radio and fan in my car to see if that was it but no, still ringing. I've been practicing almost 3 years, why ringing NOW?
February 21, 2018, 9:08 AM · @Mark W. - Haven't tried ER 15's or ER 25's yet. Not sure they'd give the level of protection I like. I thought to myself, during yesterday evening's practice session, using the -33 dB plugs: "I wouldn't want the volume any louder than what I'm getting right now with these." Even Hearos, which I tried for comparison once, didn't provide as good a shield for me.

Can't quite describe the sound I get, except to say I like the effect very much. I wouldn't describe it as "muffled" -- just more distant, something I can tolerate. Never experienced a stuffed feeling in the head.

@Will - So many ill effects -- e.g., from drinking, smoking, street drugs, poor diet -- don't make themselves obvious right away. Some can take years. The effect of loud volume on the ears is cumulative. Since you are experiencing ringing, if you're not already using some kind of ear protection, I recommend that you start now.

February 21, 2018, 10:26 AM · Will, that is a secret code message for a privileged circle of very advanced violin players!
February 21, 2018, 8:20 PM · Agree to disagree-IMHO, "poor diet", drinking, smoking, et. al. are not in the same level of not using ear protection while playing the violin. The latter is individual-dependant, even if it's a strong opinion of yours because you have more sensitive hearing. Plus I bet some violinists who do use ear plugs and the such may have a "poor diet", etc.

No reason to "fight" about this, however.

February 22, 2018, 6:59 AM · Yes, no need to "fight" about this; but all the activities I mentioned, including not wearing ear protection, are potentially damaging. Not all individuals will suffer the ill effects, but the risks of all of these activities are well documented. And they are, as I said, cumulative. They don't show up all at once. My position on this: Why take the risk?
February 22, 2018, 7:49 AM · I always wear musicians's earplugs when doing longer practice sessions in my cellar practice room with my loud violin. If I wouldn't, my ears would really hurt. I also use an old, not-so-loud violin in the living room or in the bedroom for shorter flash practice. For these short stints I typically do not bother with the earplugs, but even then sometimes my ears hurt a little bit afterwards. I am 50 years old, yes, after some age you really have to be careful with the violin! But what I have always wondered about is the following. In orchestra rehearsal, I never have a problem and I don't wear the earplugs, it would be awkward, I have to communicate frequently with the conductor, the other violinists, the cellists. Anyway, I don't have a problem with my ears, although I use my loud violin, and there are all the other instruments as well! How can that be? I was thinking it may simply be because the rehearsal hall is much larger than my practice room. But perhaps it could also be some kind of interference? So the sound of the other instruments kind of interferes with the sound of my own instrument and somehow neutralizes it somewhat? I was thinking by analogy to those noise-canceling headphones.

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