Sound level of a violin and potential for hearing damage
(This topic came up as an offtopic side discussion in a different thread; better give it a thread on its own.)
Statement: violins are loud enough to cause hearing damage. Do you agree or disagree? Do you take precautions?
With my violin (student-grade rental), a decibel meter held close to the left ear measures 90-95 dB(A), while I play ff in 1st position. If I play mf, it's about 85 dB(A).
This is measured with a dedicated sound-level meter. I don't trust decibel meter apps on my phone (Android; one decibel meter app flatlines at 78 dB, the other at 85 dB, even if I hold the phone next to the f-hole and play double stops.)
I think the dB meter registers higher sound levels than my ear, because the ear is in the acoustic shade of my head in my normal playing position, whereas the dB meter has the microphone sitting 25-50 mm (1-2 in) from my ear, with a better "view" of the violin body. If I turn my head so that the ear faces the violin belly, it feels much louder (uncomfortable, actually.)
I suppose that high-quality violins with strong projection might be considerably louder. (Let's not start a discussion on whether projection is equivalent to loud or not...)
In the European OSH guidelines, hearing protection is recommended in the workplace above 80 dB(A) and obligatory above 85 dB(A). These numbers are for averages over 8-hour work days. (Note that averaging decibels is tricky. For sustained noise at 90 dB(A), the maximum exposure would be 48 minutes per day, with negligble noise levels (<70 dB(A) for the rest of the day).)
Here are the numbers with a practice mute, measured the same way as above for ff:
- Rubber practice mute, all the way down (touching the strings): 80 dB(A), except open D string, 86 dB(A).
- Rubber mute, raised a few mm: 84 dB(A), without boomy D.
- Plastic-coated metal mute: 74 dB(A).
I bought the dB meter a few months ago, and after the first measurement, without being aware of the acousting shading due to my head, I decided to practice with a mute most of the time. Now I'm doubting whether that's really necessary for my 1 h/day practice, although my wife would probably disagree. :-) I'd need to figure out a way to measure the true sound level as registered by my ear. Maybe I'll ask my wife to hold the sound meter microphone against my ear and take the readings.
I got similar readings with someone holding the sound meter next to my ear.
Hmm, dB(C) is for loudness perception at high levels. For the risk of hearing damage, dB(A) is the one you need to use. The frequency-dependent of the sensitivity of the ear is related to the filtering effect of the cochlea and the resonance of the ear canal (from pinna to eardrum) around 3 kHz, so there is really less acoustic energy being dumped into the hair cells at frequencies that you're less sensitive to. There is a good reason that both the US and EU OSH guidelines specify allowed sound levels in dB(A) and not dB(C).
Due to an unrelated (to the violin) health condition, I have to have my hearing tested every year. Despite 51 years of playing the violin, I have, according to the audiologist, "the hearing of a child." No damage.
It really depends on you. If you believe that your violin is screaming in your ears (that's me), I would wear an ear plug in the left ear. I just use an ordinary one, and I use it for practice because I'm sensitive and feel like my violin screams in my ears sometimes.
Mary Ellen, I'm glad for you; it's quite surprising actually and perhaps not the norm. Hearing damage amongst orchestral players is well documented (average -6dB earing loss). I for one wear a musician earplug (-15dB) in my left ear most of the time. If I don't, after an hour of practice I can definitely notice some deafening in my left ear and some ringing. That can't be a good thing.
Does Samvel Yervinyan wear an earplug on his left ear when he's playing?
If I play loud when practising (if I try a run on a violin concerto mostly) I can feel my left ear ringing and some kind of pressure feeling on it for about 2 hours after I stopped.
On practicing with a mute, both my teacher and Menuhin in his book ‘Violin and Viola’ recommend it. There’s an urban legend that says practicing with a mute is bad and is ‘harmful’ for the sound, I personally don’t know.
I use on of those and they are a bit better than the other ones. I have to say they distort less, but they still do.
Last time I checked (maybe 10 years ago) my HF threshold was raised by about 6dB in the left ear. I'm not aware of it though, so I hope my hearing will survive a couple of hours playing a day for another 10 years. I'd hate to use an earplug or a mute!
Steve, hearing damage is cumulative. The loss due to noise exposure comes on top of what you would lose anyway due to the normal process of aging.
My "rule of thumb" is to gently rub it with my middle finger an inch or two from the ear canal and pay particular attention to the high-frequency rustling noises. There's no apparent asymmetry left vs. right so at 67 I reckon I'm doing OK, hearing-wise at least.
I'm wondering whether the amount of hearing damage depends on whether the violin's sound is more "directional" or more "3D". If the former, you could arrange your chin rest so that your violin's sound mostly misses your ear.
Great, now you have given me something else to think about. I thought about how loud the violin was in a room, ie., how loud the instrument is to others, but not to myself. Normally, and after eight years under fighter jets I just don't think about my hearing. Guess I better start thinking about it now.
Will Willy, I don't know which of the violinists is Samvel, but for example at 4:31, you see something in the
It makes sense that thousands of hours of a violin 4 inches from my left ear would cause hearing loss, but it is my right ear that has suffered more loss than my left.
That sounds about right, Andrew - ask a fiddler with hearing loss whether he has any fsmily history, and usually either the answer is Yes, or he did something else much louder at some time, whether occupational or musical (e.g. electric guitar or loud amplified fiddle).
I have slightly lower hearing in my left ear, not from violin but from being with my dad when he shot shot guns. He never wore ear protection, so I didn't think it was necessary either until later. Then another incident happened when I was in close proximity to an engine that backfired. It was similar to setting off a large firework right at my head.One other thing I remember is riding my bike along the road and for kicks someone threw out a handful of firecrackers which went off right next to me.
Etymotic makes earplugs for many uses. They have an entire line of earplugs for musicians that reduce sound energy (the dB) and retain the frequency spectrum. I use their low price $25 product while practicing and it sounds much like having a mute on the violin, but low and high notes are still distinct.
Han, thank you for your precise comments.
Adrian, that is actually a difficult question to answer, but I will try. Indeed, those OSH guidelines are for broad-spectrum industrial noise. If you were exposed to 1 kHz sine waves all day long, which stimulates only a small number of hair cells, the exposure limit in dBA should be much lower.
Ah, hearing loss...just one of the reasons why I like to rock it old school as much as possible--gets the fiddle considerably farther away from the ears.
A most interesting picture!
Milstein used to play with the violin like that if I’m not abused
Fancy spending days and days painting a picture of someone holding violin & bow
I tried the Etymotic ear plugs but prefer Vater's - they fit better, last longer, and are designed for musicians as well. I only use the earplug in my left ear, and I actually prefer the stronger red filter ("reduces about 20db between 125-500 Hz; 24db @1000 Hz and about 30db between 2000-8000 Hz"). The green filter only reduces 16-20db, and my left ear will feel abused after an hour practice session.
I practice a lot of explosive pieces (loud af) and i think my ears just tune out. I only notice when i finish playing and the residual ring from the last note is sounding out how loud my violin is. But the thing is, when i picked my violin , i picked it exactly for its loudness and brightness XD.
I have expensive, computer controlled hearing aids. Orchestra musicians think they immune from hearing damage because none of the instruments are amplified. Violinists don't realize how loud the sound from the top plate is, only three inches from the left ear. Use something in your left ear, even the cheap foam plug, and use your orchestra mute for some of your practicing. The culprit is the hi-frequency peak impacts. In the back of the second violin section I am directly down-wind from the piccolo. In the back of the viola section I am right in front of the trumpets. When we did Rite of Spring I had the honor of sitting next to the timpani. And, I suppose working on a black-powder cannon crew didn't help! Most people gradually loose the top octave, 10-20 K Hz. When the next octave, 5-10 K Hz goes, we start loosing speech comprehension. It is very gradual and insidious. jq
Joel, I can't tell from your post: do you need those hearing aids due to damage from violin playing?
I do have hearing loss, nothing left above 3000 Hz. Plus tinnitus. I don't think that this is caused by the violin because my left and right ear are the same. But worse, if I play without an earplug in my left ear, the ear "burns out" - after 10 minutes my hearing is distorted, useful but not right. If I play with a band (acoustic), the earplug (Etymotic molded earplug, -9 db I think) cuts out so much that I can't play well with the band.
Han,-- I don't know if my hearing loss is from the violin, the other instruments like trumpet, piccolo, playing in a very loud band when I was younger (Don Ellis band), percussion, or black powder shooting(!), or all of the above. I use them all the time. It has two settings; speech or music. It boosts the frequencies I need and clamps, dampens,anything too loud. If you just need protection there are less expensive options. My ear doctor offers sets designed for musicians, restaurant workers, swimmers, etc.