Hearing Damage Prevention

Edited: November 17, 2017, 2:16 PM · Greetings,

I usually play with a big fat earplug in my left ear, a practice that I have started a few years ago due to ear pain post-practice, around the time when I got a really good violin.
Today, in my search for better listening abilities, I tried as an experiment to play without the earplug for some time. As far as I was concerned, I was able to hear my sound much better, and my playing subsequently improved by a whole lot, as I was much better able to control the sound with my ear.

I then got inspired by the dB experiments on the recent thread about the Russian hold, and decided to make my own dB measurement. Downloaded a dB meter app, and placed my phone with the bottom resting on the chinrest, near my ear. I got an average of 100 dB(Z) and that number alarmed me quite a bit.
With the phone placed on a stand, regardless of the distance (my violin has very good projection), the average was still about 85 dB.
Now 30 minutes later, after a few minutes of playing without the earplug, my left ear is ringing badly.

So obviously playing without the earplug leads me to much better results, but is also the highway to deaf-land, so I wondered, have any of you tried the ‘high fidelity’ earplugs that are on the market, and do they actually work?
If not, what else could you possibly recommend me?

Replies (11)

Edited: November 17, 2017, 2:51 PM · If you havent already, try a practice mute. I use a rubber one, and the volume went down to about 60/70. Without it, my violin was at around 80 decibels. I have never used earbuds, so no idea about the more expensive ones.
Edited: November 20, 2017, 5:19 PM · The ringing is definitely a warning sign. I would heed it seriously and take steps now to prevent it from happening again.

When I was using wound gut for all four strings, I didn't find the volume objectionable; but once I started playing on composite cores + steel E, some years ago, the sound was definitely too loud. I've used foam earplugs ever since -- left and right -- 33 dB reduction. I can get mine, 10 pairs, at the pharmacy for about $5 USD. I won't practice or play without them. I highly recommend them.

I still have wound gut A-D-G on one instrument. But I still use the earplugs -- can't tolerate the sound now without them. Over time, the mind can become dulled to loud noises -- e.g., when you run a blender for 30 seconds. But then walk out of the room, leave the blender on, and re-enter. Notice how intolerably loud the motor is now?

Haven't tried the high fidelity plugs -- they don't sound to me as if they're worth the money. What I have now gives ample protection -- no after-ring from playing -- and I can hear everything I need to hear during a session. To me, my own playing sounds more like it would if I were listening from 10 feet away. Not quite like being out in the audience but at least tolerable, for me, volume-wise.

BTW, hearing loss in musicians is well documented -- notably among symphony players. I quit doing orchestra at 21 y/o -- for a multitude of reasons. The decibel levels of some modern symphonic repertoire got on my nerves. That's how it is for me with loud noises -- I find them intensely annoying, well before they reach the danger zone.

FWIW, these are the composite core A-D-G combos I have now: 1869** fiddle has Infeld Red. 1921 fiddle has A - Vision Solo; D - Peter Infeld aluminum; G - Infeld Red. I had tried Dominant A-D-G before Infeld Red. I found the Reds more effective for my purposes, but they definitely were more powerful on this same instrument.

Hope this helps.
**Corrected from "1883." The 1883 instrument is the one that has wound gut A-D-G.

November 17, 2017, 3:11 PM · Hey Jim, thanks for the great advice!
I do play on sound gut now, but the sound doesn’t seem any less powerful than steel and synthetic strings, only more beautiful :)
Yeah I have those 35 dB earplugs as well, I usually use them all the time, both in practice and performance, but only in the left ear though, I don’t seem to have any problem with the right one.
What I noticed when trying to play without the earplug today was that the sound I heard was much richer, especially in terms of overtones, and I just seemed to listen better, compared to the sound I usually hear through the earplug. So I was wondering if the high fidelity earplugs keep all those overtones while lowering the volume.
If so, it would be the best option: you hear the same sound you would without the plug, except without any risk for your hearing.
November 17, 2017, 3:40 PM · Playing solo, a musician's earplug in my left ear works well for me. Playing in a band, it doesn't - I don't hear other musicians well.

The best solution that I have found is to use a hollow body electric violin (Bridge Aquila) with no earplugs. It saves my left ear and lets me hear the band. Of course electric is only good for certain situations.

I posted a thread here about the possibility of a violin that has a lower sound level at your left ear, perhaps by moving the f holes, but got no encouraging reactions. If still think it's worth investigating, but I do not have the expertise.

November 20, 2017, 2:38 PM · I would like to correct my decibel measurements. I put on a new set of strings and now the loudest I could play without a mute was 100 decibels. With my practice mute on it only reduced the sound by about 5 decibels. Not a huge difference, but it does help. I should also note that these measurements where taken from about a foot away.
Edited: November 20, 2017, 3:40 PM · Last night I was deputising at short notice in a rehearsal with a community orchestra I'd never played in before. The program was Brahms 2 and Dvorak's Carnival Overture, both of which I'd played as a cellist in the distant past but never as a violinist, so I'd be sight-reading.

The first half was a depressing disaster as far as I was concerned. I was asked to play in the seconds, so there I was in the 5th desk immediately alongside 4 horns to my left. Seeing this, I put wax plugs in my ears, which reduced the dB of the horns to just about an acceptable level, but then I could not hear myself amidst the cacophony around, nor identify much that was meaningful in that cacophony, nor hear the conductor.

During the coffee break I had a word with the leader whom I know from another orchestra we both play in. She counted up the first violins behind her and said she really needed me there. So I promptly moved to the back desk of the firsts. In the second half I was sight-reading the first violin parts like a dream, and with no ear plugs could hear everything clearly. The brass and woodwind were as far away as possible and were no problem, and I could hear what the conductor was saying (usually sensible stuff directed at the brass/woodwind and their dynamics). So I was a happy bunny!

November 25, 2017, 8:56 AM · I begin to notice ear discomfort after several days of playing a lot. Less and less time as I get better at making a good sound more and more. I bought a pair of attenuated ear plugs. They take a mould of your ear and then shape the earplugs to those moulds. They are somehow electronically attenuated to reduce dB In my case by 17 dB. But you can get them more or less. They work great for both solo play and concerts. The sound is reduced without being muffled so you still hear everything the same just as though it were not quite as loud.
November 25, 2017, 9:18 AM · Jessy, those earplugs sound really cool! Can you tell me where you bought them?
Edited: November 26, 2017, 2:06 PM · Roman, This blog has some links and descriptions of musician ear plugs.
November 26, 2017, 2:20 PM · Thanks Laurie!
November 30, 2017, 3:37 PM · I have a pair of custom westone ear plugs. You can obtain filters of various attenuations, and the frequency response seems somewhat flat. I found an audiologist that sells these, however it looks like the whole thing can be done on line. They cost on the order of 150.00 .
Well worth it

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