Ear protection during practice?

May 11, 2012 at 04:43 PM · I'm also interested in what made you start doing it. For me, two factors came into play: 1) chin rest type; 2) string type.

In 2005, I switched to center-mounted chin rests and noticed right away more volume and resonance. While two fiddles do very well with wound-gut A-D-G, the third one comes to life with composite-core A-D-G -- notably Tomastik Dominant, Infeld, and Vision -- in a way that it didn't with wound gut. I use steel E's on all three fiddles.

The tonal result with this third instrument, I found very pleasing. It now had what I would describe as a bigger, more warm-bright sound than before; but the increased volume and tonal ring were a bit of a jolt, so I decided to put in earplugs. I don't push them in too far -- just enough to cut the decibel level to something manageable and still get a good idea of overall sound quality.

What are your experiences?

Replies (37)

May 11, 2012 at 05:04 PM · More power to you! I have the opposite problem of having age-related hearing loss.

One problem with using standard ear plugs is that they selectively reduce the high frequencies that carry the charm and beauty of the violin's overtones.

There are special earplugs for musicians that are claimed to reduce the sound from all frequencies equally.

One manufacturer of these is Etymotic Research.


May 11, 2012 at 05:07 PM · There is an 85-yo violinist in my orchestra who has been playing violin about 80 of those years. She played semi-pro when she was younger, says she played with the Boston Pops in the 1960's. She is almost completely deaf in her left ear from all those years of playing. Her right ear is still pretty good though.

Anyway, ever since I had that talk with her I've been wearing a foam earplug in my left ear when I'm practicing at home, especially when I practice something loud, high, and repetitive. I don't always remember to do it, but when I do it might even help me hear pitches better because it takes the edge off the sound.

I also wear earplugs for really loud orchestral pieces. I started doing that a few years ago when we played the 1812 overture. My teacher, who has played that piece outdoors with real cannons, said everyone wore them and it was a good idea.

May 11, 2012 at 05:13 PM · I do the same... Especially Playing as soon as I wake up in the morning. However , I only have ear plug in the ear next to the violin, not in both ears. It kinda feels cool to get that extra feel on the vibration of the instrument.

May 11, 2012 at 07:03 PM · One of my students with very sensitive hearing wears a Hearos Ear Plug in her left ear when playing violin. It doesn't block out everything, but reduces the sound to a comfortable level and does not appear to mess with the pitch.

May 11, 2012 at 07:09 PM · I use an partial-block ear plug in my left ear as I am prone to noise-induced tinnitus (and worry about my hearing - my mother was deaf by age 55).

However, what I've noticed is that the sound improves. You loose the scratch noises that the bow makes with little loss of the note - I think I am hearing a closer version of what the audience gets.

May 11, 2012 at 07:20 PM · That gives me an idea. Maybe I should wear noise cancellation headphones when I practice. Of course, the way I play, it might cancel out everything.

May 11, 2012 at 07:35 PM · Thanks for bringing up this often-taboo subject!

A good violin produces, say, 60 decibels at a distance of a few yards, but up to 100dB right under the left ear. And this for several (enjoyable) hours a day..

I use a plug of cotton wool to filter the aggressive high frequencies - as if I were hearing the violin from a little further away while leaving the "body" of the sound: and my hearing is still intact, (or at least normal for a 63-year-old: as in "What did you say? Hey, don't shout, just articulate!")

For marathon practice sessions I use the Etymotic plugs.

Those who are not bothered by loud "scratch" are the ones who will lose their hearing, since they take no precautions.

May 11, 2012 at 09:03 PM · I really try to remember to wear hearing protection when I practice. What made me start doing it was reading this statistic: Violinists who practice 5 hours or more a week begin to lose their hearing by age 40. This shocked me...especially since many days I am playing for close to 5 hours (so that's way more than 5 a WEEK). The problem is getting the hait to stick...but I have been unsing them on and off for about 3 years.

May 11, 2012 at 09:47 PM · I don't use earplugs, but have recently started with a Tourte mute when practising after 10 pm. This has less to do with hearing loss than with avoiding complaints from the neighbours in the flat above mine, but it would seem also to be valuable in terms of safeguarding hearing. I wouldn't practise with a mute at other times, though.

May 11, 2012 at 10:11 PM · I always play with a mute. Learned that from Milstein.

The only time I play without a mute is in rehearsals.

I have occasionally used ear plugs so my new violin can get played in, but my intonation isn't as accurate.

May 11, 2012 at 10:57 PM · I agree with Elise. I use a cotton bud in my left ear sometimes when practicing, a lot of the time when playing in folk sessions, and even more frequently when in orchestra. It really does help me to hear what's going on around me, without the distraction of short-range noise from close-up strings under my left ear (I tend to hold my violin high).

In orchestral rehearsals I also keep handy a cotton bud for my right ear, for when the conductor addresses us ;).

May 12, 2012 at 02:41 AM · Switching from a chin rest on the side of the instument to a center mount does change the sound that "hits" your ear. I just switched to a more balanced, darker instrument. I think if I had kept using my old one my ears would have suffered eventually. I was uncomfortable playing it...too loud. Maybe someone can speak to this however, the old "loud" violin did not have the depth or power from 10 feet away that my new one has...the new one is much fuller...yet, quieter and smoother under the ear. My daughter's violin is the same way. Funny little creatures, they are....

I don't use ear protection, but I am an adult student, and I WISH I could get in an hour a day...trying....

May 12, 2012 at 04:21 PM · I always play with a very heavy practice mute in my apartment (paper thin walls), and if I'm somewhere I don't need to worry about the neighbors, I still wear earplugs if I'm playing for an hour or more, or with a good sized group.

May 12, 2012 at 05:27 PM · I always use cotton wool in both of my ears. This reduces the overall volume just slightly and it makes practicing and playing much more comfortable. It takes about 30 seconds to put it in in the morning and I usually keep it in my ears until I go to sleep. Everything we hear around us has gotten so loud, our hearing is not adjusted to this.

All the noise from the street when we are outside (in a city of course), even talking to others in a noisy environment or simply the noise from running water in the bathroom, it all adds up. You ear can just take a certain amount, do not bother looking it up: We are exceeding the amount without playing the violin already. Simpy living in a big city usually does the job.

Now what is there to do? Give your ears as much rest as possible, every 5 quiet minutes that you can fetch in somewhere do help. For some reason sleeping is another big bonus. If you love to sleep a lot instead of getting up and doing actual work, this should be your number one excuse for doing so, it helps.

Finally, one example: You are on a bus, with your headphones in your ears (those small earbuds). The bus is not too quiet, you need to turn up the volume a little bit to ignore the outside noise. The motor of the bus produces loud low frequencies which reduce your hearing capabilities greatly while you are on the bus. Therefore you turn up the volume of your earbuds once more.

One hour listening to music on a bus with those small earbuds as I described is more than your ears can take... for the whole day. Now add all the other noises and finally add practicing the violin. Now it should be quite understandable why I never leave my ears without some sort of protection throughout the day. Every single one of you (including me of course) will have noticable hearing damage at some point. Please do yourself a favor and protect your ears, especially since a lot of you (again including myself) could not imagine a life without playing the violin anymore.

I am not trying to sell anything, cotton wool does the job. Besides that I am not talking about unproven stuff like radiation from mobile phones or something like that. Hearing damage is something you can look up in books or online and make up your own mind about.

May 13, 2012 at 12:55 AM · As I said before useing an ear plug in my left was my 'Ah Ha moment'.....

When jamming with my friend I was holding back the volume because it sounded like to me that the violin was louder than the guitar, but my friend said to me...'I can't hear you'!! The ear plug in my left ear balances the volume levels in my ear. I have actually got a plug in my ear as I play in that video I recently posted...

I continue to do my individual practises with the ear plug, in both ears some times, especially when in a small room. The scratches then don't intimidate me and I continue to 'dig in'. And I am able to gain more practise useing my heavy bow knowing that my ears are protected.

May 13, 2012 at 02:18 AM · I was always told that playing without earplugs would make my ears stronger so they resist damage. Is there any truth to that or have I been lied to?

May 13, 2012 at 06:04 AM · Michael, please read what I wrote. Your ear does turn down its sensitivity to protect itself, but that does not make it stronger.

May 13, 2012 at 07:58 AM · Michael - I'm not entirely sure if you there can be such a protection but its likely that you will still get ear damage even with it. there are two levels of adaptation for hearing, one in your ear and the other in your brain.

Thus, when sound is loud the small muscles in your ear contract to reduce the vibrations transmitted from the eardrum to the sense organ. This is an 'acute' adaptation.

However, most of the sound processing (and adaptation) occurs in your brain. If someone has surgery to improve their hearing they have to wear ear plugs as all sounds seem too loud but gradually the brain adapts.

Thus both brain and ear adaptation protect your mind from loud noise. I do not know if you can train your ear muscles to be stronger and hence reduce vibration more. This would really protect your sense organs (which is where the damage occurs). Somehow I doubt that the effect would be large. Thus, if most or all the adaptation takes place in the brain then the sense organs in your ear are still being subjected to the loud noise - you just don't know it.

Indeed, one could argue that a person who has undergone loud noise (brain) adaptation is MORE likely to loose their hearing because they are less likely to protect their ears.

Thus, my analysis (for what its worth - and this is my opinion) is that you are better off living in a quiet environment and using ear protection if you want your hearing to last than trying to adapt to it. On the other hand, if your brain is adapted too much to low noise you may have a hard time playing in an orchestra!

May 13, 2012 at 05:08 PM · Elise, I agree:

Some of you are tougher than others, but "getting used" to 95-100 dB under the left ear does not "strengthen" the ear, it progressively destoys the cells in the cochlea.

Micheal, a teacher who tells you to "strengthen" your ears with loud sounds should be sued for encouraging grievous bodily harm! And i'm not kidding!!

May 14, 2012 at 01:17 AM · OK, thanks for the information. I don't like wearing earplugs though so I think I'll practice with a mute on. I haven't noticed any hearing loss in my life so far, but I intend to keep it that way so I'll take some precaution.

May 15, 2012 at 11:41 PM · Thank you all for your input. Just went to Etymotic Research Web site -- "High-Fidelity Hearing Protection" --and read some of the info -- thanks.

Two reasons I prefer earplugs to mutes:

1. From experience, I feel that the earplugs give me a better, clearer simulation of what an audience actually hears -- at the same time that they shield the ears from high decibel levels.

2. The neighbors across the street are about 200 feet away, and the ones on this side of the street are about 100 feet away on either side. They and the passers-by keep telling me that they like the music; so adding a mute would probably cut these listeners out.

I find that most loud sounds get on my nerves well before they get near enough or loud enough to make my ears ring. I don't know how so many people -- even most of the very young, it seems -- can nonchalantly walk down a city street and not shield their ears from a piercing ambulance siren. I seem to be one of the few who winces -- and then plugs both ears with the index fingers.

As previously told, one reason I don't do orchestra anymore is that the volume level in some modern symphonic scores -- even some pieces I'd always enjoyed as a listener -- grated on my nerves as a player. Earplugs might have helped, but the long evening hours put me off, too -- just not a night person.

May 16, 2012 at 12:55 AM · I often keep an earplug wedged between the strings in the pegbox. This is good because it's always available and it's visible for students who ask what it is. I tell them how it is important to protect your ears, if not with an earplug, with a piece of tissue paper, cotton wool or whatever. I also keep a pair on my keyring so that they are always with me. I have some hearing loss in the higher frequencies and I don't want to lose any more.

May 16, 2012 at 01:51 AM · I use Etymotics, the otc ones, not the special order type, when I practice. I don't like practicing with a mute when I'm at home and bothering no one because that deadens the sound coming out of the instrument, rather than simply lessening the sound coming into my ear. With a (practice) mute, I don't know how well I'm using bow speed/pressure to make a good sound.

Started using the protection when I went for a hearing exam; I used to have absolutely fantastic, off-the-charts hearing. Now I'm "low-normal" in my right ear, and "low" in my left. And I have tinnitus.

November 28, 2013 at 09:37 PM · I know this is an older post but here is my story! I was in a professional rock band and at the age of 25 (40 years ago) I developed tinnitus. I immediately started wearing ear plugs EVERY time I played. I then became VERY sensitive to noise. Any load sounds, plates in the sink while washing up etc just killed me. I practiced in pain, then I thought my violin was the problem, too load, too shrill etc. Now, please don't laugh!, I practice wearing those headphone hearing protectors. I had tried every ear plug available and none of them gave me the hearing comfort I now have.Of course this has caused me to rarely play outside of my home but there you go. I think they call this condition "recruitment" where the cilla in the ear are super sensitive and self protect themselves from further damage. It is curious than most of us suffer from some form of tendonitis. No one understands this but I am "coming out of the closet" so to speak.....looking forward to reading more posts here!!

November 29, 2013 at 02:05 AM · I've stopped playing violin, in favor of piano, but I can relate to this. I am 15 years old - about a year ago, I noticed that playing the violin seemed more comfortable and less "loud" than before. I immediately realized that this was not a good thing, and that I was probably getting hearing damage, so I got various Etymotic, Hearos (Rock), and 3M earplugs.

The Etymotics weren't effective enough at blocking sound. The Hearos were great and comfortable and blocked more sound. the 3M were the most effective at blocking sound, but the 3M also blocked the most high frequencies - Hearos was good at maintaining those.

Finally, I got tired of having to wash earplugs and bought a relatively light but bulky pair of 3m peltor earmuffs ($25). They block more sound than the others and are convenient to boot. What is surprising is that it seems to actually block slightly more bass than it does high frequencies. A drawback is that its bulk requires one to be careful while playing violin (or viola) to not bump the earmuffs into the instrument and transmit unpleasant buzzing sounds - once you get used to it, though, that only happens rarely. The drawback doesn't apply to me anymore, now that I only play piano, so I would never go back to the inconvenience of earplugs.

edit: I have similar experiences with the above writer. Louder sounds, such as those in the kitchen, that I would have been fine with before now make me cringe with their volume. Also, I was concerned that getting used to playing with earplugs/earmuffs would make me distracted and unable to perform without them, but that turned out not to be a problem.

November 29, 2013 at 02:51 AM · As an adult (perpetual) violin student, at 66, I've begun to lose some highs in my left ear. So I've begun, belatedly, to use a common foam plug in my left ear while practicing. I've also tried the Tourte mute or a heavy practice mute, but I prefer using the earplug. I used to think that using a mute so much of the time would affect the tone of my violin, but that could be my imagination.

December 1, 2013 at 10:26 AM · Muting the violin radically changes its response, and this affects our bowing.

If the neighbours are out, I use an over-the-ear industrial headset. The fiddle seems a mile away, but I stiil hear every nuance (and squeek!)

December 2, 2013 at 01:08 PM · Since I got a new bow earlier this year, I have been using a Hearos ear plug in my left ear -- anytime the practice mute is not in use. This bow really projects. If I play full bore without the earplug, my left ear rings afterward.

Aside from protecting hearing from the violin, there are some other advantages...

In orchestra, I can get a better balance and tone quality between myself and the rest of the section.

It blocks out the chatter from the 2nds. :-)

I can hear my section better, when trumpets and horns are playing.

In our Christmas concert series, the venues call call for creative real estate management. That means the xylophone is about 3.5 ft from my left ear. The chimes are about 4 ft away. The earplug is my very good friend at those times!

December 2, 2013 at 03:04 PM · I "hear" you, John! I have a gig this weekend with, among other things, 3 amplified electric guitars and full percussion set. The conductor is handing out earplugs to all the other musicians...first time that has happened.

December 4, 2013 at 03:15 AM · Marjory,

I can't hear you...

Oh, wait, let me take this thing out of my ear. Oh, that's better. :-)

BTW, last night, the chimes moved in even closer.

December 4, 2013 at 04:21 AM · Ear plugs are quitte common. Sometimes that decibel level puts you just over the pain threshold and it's important to protect your ear drums in order to hear the music correctly. when it's too loud, it sounds like a lot of chaos, even though it isn't. It almost scrambles the sound, because your ear drums are vibrating so hard. Ear plugs are a lifesaver.

June 23, 2016 at 03:17 AM · Hello,

I have had my current violin since September 2015, and it has yet been the best violin I ever held in my arms to date. While its sound is beautiful, what really got me addicted to it was how powerful/loud its sound is.

Either I have lost the noise tolerance, or the instrument opened up, the original set was Obligato set, more and more, I am having trouble playing this instrument indoors, without earplugs.

Reading this:

this poll

and this:

and this

makes me to start wondering if this would have to be a permanent thing. I mean, I love the sound of my violin 100%, and I do keep earplugs in the case, and previously, I would be wearing the earplugs seldom, now I am finding that I am refusing to bow properly sometimes, because it hurts my ears to do so. I now regularly wearing one earplug in my left ear.

Did my instrument "open up", or did my noise tolerance drop down?

Also, should I start seeking quieter strings? Any recommendations? It's a little bit of opposite of what musicians like, but as a hobbyist, the only and most important audience in my case is me, and under my left ear.

December 10, 2016 at 03:11 AM · Eventually left ear plug has become a regular thing for me indoors. I was able to find a decent combination of string, rosin and tailpiece that gave me a soft-quieter tone, but I seem to really like Andrea Solo, has anyone tried Andrea Concerto?

As for earplugs I am using these now: https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B00RM6Q9XW/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&th=1

December 10, 2016 at 06:42 PM · I use two foam 33 decibel nr earplugs but only slightly stick them in my ear to cut down on the shrillness next to my ear. They are inexpensive and one pair lasts me a week. Yes, I do know that you are not supposed to reuse them but I do try to think and live green.

December 19, 2016 at 12:40 AM · I've had my left earplug on a 3 hr practice today.

An odd experience. I am experiencing ringing in my right ear.

I REALLY DO NOT wish to plug my right ear at the very least. That pretty much turn practice into muted play.

Either my ears are getting more sensitive, or my violin is getting louder. Any suggestions?

December 19, 2016 at 09:11 AM · If you plug (very wisely) the left ear, you will play more loudly, which will make your right ear ring!

Try plugging the right ear, but less than the left?

December 19, 2016 at 10:55 AM · I had custom ear protection made that reduces the volume by 17 decibels. you can get different variances. what I find us that it really allows you to hear the overtones better. I usually only use a left plug. The big thing for me is that they are so comfortable I often forget that I have one in. Honestly, as far as ear protection goes I will never use anything else. These have no muffle-ing quality, simply and only reducing the sound. Don't ask me how it works, I have no idea but it is certainly true.


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