V.com weekend vote: What kind of ear protection do you use (if any)?

August 5, 2023, 4:43 PM · Do you use ear protection when you play? If so, what kind, and how frequently do you use it?

mutes and earplugs

This topic came up in a recent discussion thread from a member who has started practicing with earplugs, due to hearing loss.

It is a serious topic, and we play an instrument that sits right next to the ear, making a rather piercing sound. Violinists can also experience situations in performance where the surrounding decibels get to damaging levels - whether it is from sitting in proximity to a piccolo or horn or drums in a large orchestra, playing an amplified pops concert or being in a band.

Long ago, I had myself fitted for musician earplugs from etymotic - they attenuate the sounds so I can hear myself play, without having damaging levels of sound exposure. I use them on a pretty frequent basis for particularly loud orchestra concerts.

But you don't need fancy musician earplugs to derive a good amount of protection - foam earplugs do block out the decibels pretty effectively. They just also make it hard to hear yourself play!

If you are practicing by yourself and the main problem is the sound of your own instrument, then a heavy practice mute might do the trick, without needing earplugs.

Do you have a way of reducing the decibels and protecting your ears, when playing? Is it something you do frequently? Or have you never felt the need to use ear protection? Please participate in the vote and then share your experiences in the comments section.

Thanks to Jim Hastings for this weekend vote idea. If you have an idea for the weekend vote, please e-mail me. I welcome your ideas!

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August 5, 2023 at 10:27 PM · I simply wear a dollar store ear plug in my left ear during practice. I also wear one in my left ear for orchestra if the music is loud.

August 5, 2023 at 10:39 PM · I have special filtered ear plugs prescribed by my audiologist because my hearing is normal up to about 1880 Hz, and then it drops off precipitously above that point.

August 5, 2023 at 10:45 PM · I never used earplugs, and I have a 70% hearing loss in my left ear!

I didn't know about this issue...was too late when I find out

August 6, 2023 at 01:26 AM · I use foam earplugs, L/R. I can get 10 pairs at the pharmacy for about $5 USD. Mine have a 33 dB reduction potential. I don’t push them all the way in, though - just enough to get about 20 dB reduction. This way, I still get a full sound that suits me - it isn’t muffled but no longer has the irritating edge that comes with not using plugs.

I started doing this about 12 years ago, when I first tried the Thomastik Infeld Red A-D-G strings. I’ve always liked the Reds; but I could tell, as soon as I installed them, that I would need to shield my ears - they were more powerful than the gut-core strings I’d previously played on. Other A-D-G combos I’ve used in the last few years are D’Addario Xyex, Pirastro Obligato, and Warchal Amber. Most of my E strings are Optima Goldbrokat, either medium or heavy.

Nowadays, whatever the make and model of strings, I will NOT practice or play without earplugs, whether the music is unaccompanied, violin/piano, or small chamber. No ill effects, no ringing in the ears. BTW, since 21 y/o, I haven’t done any orchestra playing. The high decibel levels were just one factor that made me turn away. Loud volume gets on my nerves - well before it reaches the danger zone.

August 6, 2023 at 05:40 AM · I currently use a pair of hi-fi earplugs with 19 dB reduction, mostly to protect my ears from brass or percussion rather than my own viola. I play with my viola half-centered, so it's not really under my ear that much.

I first got earplugs in the fall of 2022, when I was continuing to play in an orchestra with long-haul post-COVID symptoms. One of the symptoms that bothered me most in the fall was hypersensitivity to bright lights and loud sounds. I no longer need the earplugs for most orchestral repertoire now, but I still use them if there is a piece on the program involving a lot of brass or percussion.

August 6, 2023 at 06:01 AM · A few years ago, perspex 'blast shields' were quite noticeable in professional orchestras here, particularly between brass and the rest of the orchestra. I don't seem to see them nowadays. Were they ineffective?

August 6, 2023 at 07:30 AM · I “voted” musician’s earplugs from Lori’s list of possibilities, but we were only allowed to choose one. In fact I’ll use practice mutes and performance mutes too, though not simultaneously. I’ll use one or the other of these depending on the circumstances. But I always use something. I find my violin’s volume to be uncomfortable without some hearing protection.

It didn’t used the be that way in my teens and earlier adulthood. Maybe I was lacking in common sense then, and infused with that sense of immortality in all my parts that accompanies youth. Fortunately my hearing remains good though I’m in my seventh decade, better than average for my age by audiologist testing. I’d like to keep it that way!

August 6, 2023 at 06:28 PM · Etymotic -- when I remember to use them at all.

August 9, 2023 at 03:05 AM · I'm glad this is being talked about now. In all my years of learning, nobody ever said anything about how the violin can damage your hearing.

One thing that's really helped me is that I use a sling with a modified shoulder rest. This means I can support the violin without using my head and can get some distance on the instrument. Otherwise I use a variety of things from musician's earplugs to tissue paper. I have recently purchased some Flare Calmer ear plugs which take the harshness of the violin away:


August 10, 2023 at 01:14 PM · I shave with a safety razor.

(I have never painted sunflowers, so this may not be too relevant to my needs, but I thought I'd better mention it)

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