Recommendations on ear plugs

December 21, 2014 at 01:57 AM · My daughter plays viola and violin. She plays soloistically on the viola, but is having trouble doing the same on the violin. She is well aware that there is a big difference in how you play the instruments; but she can't bring herself to play with intensity on the high strings of her violin.

Her hearing is very sensitive and it has been suggested that it may be the sound of the violin itself that is preventing her from playing like a soloist on the violin.

Ear plugs seem like a good investment, and there is a possibility that it may be part of the answer to her difficulties on the violin. If nothing else they will be useful when she plays in the orchestra.

What are the differences between Etymotics three levels of ear plugs. I'm also looking for the website for custom fitting earplugs where you make the mold at home.

Are there some things to watch out for?

Replies (23)

December 21, 2014 at 02:21 AM · I use an etymotics earplug in my left ear only when playing. Seems like a prudent thing to do.

December 21, 2014 at 02:28 AM · i purchased custom molded earplugs from EAR inc. you can contact them to find a local place that will mold them for you. they are about 150.00. you can purchase different filters that vary the attenuation. The price includes a set of max attenuation, and whatever you order. I purchased 9db filters. I am very happy with them, i wanted something that had as flat a frequency response as possible. most earplugs will attenuate the high frequencies more than the lows......good luck

December 21, 2014 at 02:36 AM · When i have to play loud, i put an Etymotic ER-20 in my left ear only (exactly as Seraphim does).

December 21, 2014 at 05:34 AM · Can you give me some more specifics.

From what I'm seeing on-line, there is a molded ear plug and then an insert that filters sound; am I correct?

What was the process for the Earinc insta-mold? I'm looking at the Perfect-Fit on Earplug Superstore. Does anyone have experience with those?

What is the cost of going to an audiologist? Is it a lot more expensive?

December 21, 2014 at 10:34 AM · I have a pair of 20dB silicon moulded plugs (with no frequecy-selective filter). I find that with the slightest movement of my jaw (or my violin) they are no longer air-tight and thus useless. The semi-stiff silicone does not adapt to minute changes in the shape of the ear canal. So I use the more universal earbud types: 30dB during concerts for the deaf, and 15dB for practicing or orchestra.

But I generally use a ball of cotton wool, which filters some of the high-frequency "grit", to give me a better idea of what others are hearing when I play.

And despite finding that young people don't articulate as well I used to, my left ear is in good shape for my age!

December 22, 2014 at 01:37 AM · I think hearing protection is pretty important for young people. Maybe if Laurie is watching this thread she could plan for an interview of an audiologist who has helped string players especially with Etymotic type devices because there is a lot of curiosity and genuine need, but in some areas, like mine, one has to travel about 3 hours to find an audiologist who carries and fits those.

December 22, 2014 at 08:41 AM · Try Westone custom earplug.

December 22, 2014 at 10:13 AM · I measured the dB output of my violins, using a €100 sound meter: not enough to take my neighbours to court, but enough to compare different sources. I used the dBC curve, as I wanted the "real" rather than the "perceived"(dBA) power.

In my living room, playing ff at 12ft, 70dB. At 6 inches from my left ear, 95dB!!

And unlike street noise etc, which contains many frequencies, my 95dB is concentrated in one note at a time! And for several hours a day!!

Cochlea hair-cell destruction guaranteed!!

Its taboo, but doctors know that violinists left ears are near deaf by the age of 30.

Don't say I didn't warn you!


Violin vs viola?

The E string produces freqencies to which the ear is particularly sensitive. Also our ears are as individual as faces, and often our own two ears do not match. I'm sure this governs our tastes to some extent: my hard-rock colleagues detest the violin, while I cannot stand bass guitars at high volumes.

December 22, 2014 at 06:08 PM · Sharon, for Ear inc, there are two parts. the custom molded earplug that inserts in your ear. and the filters then are inserted in the earplug. the price includes a filter pf your chosing and the max attenuation filter. call up ear inc, and they will tell you of audiologists in your area that can do it. they cost about 150 a pair. you make an appt, and they take in impression of your ear canal. two weeks later you go back in and they make sure they are ok. i think there is a 90 day fit warranty.

December 22, 2014 at 07:02 PM · I called the local audiologist and they do musicians earplugs for $100 an ear. They make the impression and put in the inserts. It sounds very similar to what I've been reading about on-line.

I got an appointment for tomorrow morning.

Lindan, my daughter, was a violinist long before she started the viola. It isn't a problem of technical expertise. It really surprised me that she wasn't able to play soloistically on the violin. She is very adaptable.

She is 15, went to the Perlman Program last summer and is playing on a Maestro Foundation viola. If you wish to see her play she's on YouTube under Lindan Burns, viola.

This post was read and edited by Lindan.

December 22, 2014 at 07:58 PM · Hi Sharon,

I had some custom ear plugs made, and here is a blog that has a lot of details about that.. They are specially made for orchestra musicians, to attenuate certain registers but still allow you to hear enough to play. Really great for loud gigs!

December 23, 2014 at 05:40 AM · I must ask, if not for curiosities sake, what you think is her problem, Mr. Voll? Especially since she has been in the Perlman program, which is fairly advanced. Some people actually do have sensitive hearing, so am unsure what your professional opinion could possibly be, unless you're an audiologist or even a professional violinists suddenly? Violinists and Violists, especially tend to have more issues with their hearing due to the instrument being right there than most other instruments.

In any case, to the OP I'd highly recommend etyomotic earplugs. Have used the ER15 version of And if I ever lose track of them, I've got a bag full of over the counter earplugs I keep in my bag, which have saved me more times than I care to remember.

December 23, 2014 at 06:40 AM · Thanks Laurie, I checked out your blog on getting earplugs.

I am getting a better idea of what the musicians earplugs are.

Whether or not they improve her playing on the violin, they should protect her hearing in the long run.

Lindan would be the last one to ever think she has nothing more to learn.

December 23, 2014 at 10:52 AM · To my 95dB mentioned earlier, can I just add that even if we are not bothered by this high level, the cells in th cochlea are demolished anyway...

And Mr.Voll, you may be right, but from personal experience, it is hard to develop satisfactorily a technique which causes pain! My bowing technique and tone improved noticeably once I filtered the sound in my left ear..

December 23, 2014 at 02:02 PM · Just watched (and listened to!) the Brahms and Zelter.

Lovely playing. As a fellow violist (who "moonlights" on violin), I don't see anything wrong wih her "technique". She stays near the bridge when appropriate; the bow is not always parallel to the bridge, but then she is a "petite" violist on a large viola! Any stridency on the upper strings, come from the instrument, or from the choice of strings. For example, folks will insist on a steel-cored A when there are some lovely, singing synthetic-cored A's on the market: Tonica, Aricore, Pro Arte.

However, good A-string technique on the viola will not make good E-string bowing on the violin! High notes on the violin need firm but light strokes, nearer the bridge. And may I strongly recommend a wound E, e.g. Pirastro No1, or the wound versions of Tonica, Eudoxa, even Dominant.

Filtering the sound to the left ear will allow Lindan to explore all this.

Lindan is off to a good start!

Edit. N.b. a violin bow is often about 10g (1/6 oz) lighter than the viola bow, for the same player, to allow for the more responsive smaller instrument without disturbing one's bowing technique.

But I dare say you know all that!

December 24, 2014 at 05:59 PM · Yesterday Lindan had an appointment with the audiologist. I'm glad we did that because he looked in her ears and one is plugged with earwax. In order to make the mold you plug the deeper part of the ear, then put in the material that hardens to form the mold. We wouldn't have known that her ear needed to be cleaned out.

Unless there are hidden charges, the price is quite reasonable, $100 an ear. The audiologist is going to check on the price of the different inserts. If they aren't too expensive Lindan can try the various levels.

If the price they are quoting me is correct it will be cheaper going through the audiologist than on-line.

December 24, 2014 at 08:25 PM · Sharon,

Is it the Etymotic brand you decided to go with? I've had it in mind to get some for several years now & I think I'm going to finally take the plunge.


December 25, 2014 at 08:52 PM · OP: "Her hearing is very sensitive and it has been suggested that it may be the sound of the violin itself that is preventing her from playing like a soloist on the violin."

I can relate to this. Some people have not just greater physical sensitivity but also greater mental and emotional sensitivity to loud noises or high-pitched ones. Whatever -- I definitely recommend ear protection for violin and viola players.

I've long used foam earplugs in both ears during practice. In public performance, I'd opt for custom-fitted ones. Bottom line: Bring the decibels down to a safe level. With ear protection, my own playing sounds to me more the way it would sound to an audience.

I personally find loud noises, especially high-pitched tones, just plain annoying. They get on my nerves -- long before they reach the danger zone. At the gym, I'd estimate that the music dB level doesn't go over 70; yet I've had to ask the attendant several times: "Could you please turn down the music volume one notch? The workout is the main attraction. I need to hear myself think."

Others have thanked me for this. Evidently, I'm one of the few who isn't too timid to speak up. It's the treble tones, especially the higher-pitched female pop singers' voices, that really grate on me. In case all other measures fail, I always pack a pair of earplugs to shield my ears -- and nerves.

December 27, 2014 at 07:27 PM · The Etymotic brand is what I am reading about the most, I think there are other options. I don't think this audiologist knows a lot about the specifics of musicians earplugs. ( the merits of one versus the other) My inclination is to go with the Etymotic, though others have given other suggestions, which I'll certainly keep in mind.

It is an interesting unscientific experiment.

First to get the earwax out!

January 1, 2015 at 03:42 AM · Lindan got the molds made for her earplugs today. The audiologist doesn't really know much about musicians earplugs. However, I'm glad we went there to have the molds made there and didn't try to do it at home. It looked more complicated than I would want to attempt.

The earplugs come with one set of inserts. At this point we're going for a 9 and a 15, Etymotic. The inserts can be purchased for $25 each.

If anyone has a comment on something else to consider, we're still at a point that we can make changes to the inserts.

January 16, 2015 at 05:31 AM · We got the earplugs this week. She has a 9 and a 15 Etymotic. The inserts pop in and out easily.

The ear protection seems to be making a difference.

She is using them for solo work, but is afraid to use them with the orchestra. She isn't sure about volume control and is afraid that she won't be able to play PP properly.

Yesterday she used them in a small group ensemble when she needed to play out. There was a marked difference with the earplugs in. The coach said she sounded like a different player.

January 16, 2015 at 08:49 AM · "The coach said she sounded like a different player."

Using small balls of cotton wool, some of my young pupils just played more loudly to compensate, others (like myself..) played with a distinctly more "foreward" tone.

Ears, (and minds,) are as different as noses!

January 17, 2015 at 01:31 PM · Based on my experience, she'll eventually be able to evaluate her volume from the bone conduction she'll get through her jaw bone on the chin rest. What she will lose is the nuances of sound quality...which is why, for solo practice, it's often better to use the left ear plug (the one over the 'f'hole) and let the right ear hear the 'true' sound.

In orchestral playing, she SHOULD wear the plug esp. on the side where other instruments are--if she's in the 2nds, for instance, the business end of flutes or brass may be seriously loud. Even percussion.

More and more orchestras are placing plexi-shields between sections in order to offer some protection from the blast. It helps...but it costs, takes up space, and some believe the shields are not aesthetically appealing. Me, I'd rather have had my need to hear now respected back then.

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