'Violinist's Ear'

May 17, 2016 at 01:32 PM · Are there any renowned soloists (past or present) who have admitted to having "violinist's ear"? I've read the testimonies from orchestral musicians and seen the stats. It's a huge concern for me but I find it strange that none of the big names (soloists/recitalists) have come forward and opened up "hey I've experienced some hearing loss in my left ear from playing over the years".

Replies (23)

May 17, 2016 at 02:38 PM · Not everyone experiences hearing loss. I have been playing the violin for nearly fifty years, forty of which have been as a professional or a serious student. Due to an unrelated medical condition, I must have my hearing tested every year. I not only have no hearing loss in either ear, I have the hearing of a younger person or at least this was true as of my last test eleven months ago.

May 17, 2016 at 02:45 PM · Yes, hearing loss is endemic among violinists, but it doesn't have to be. Wear a musician's ear plug while practicing. Practicing is where the hours add up. These ear plugs are specially made to have the same frequency spectrum, but reduced volume. Etymotic.com has a range of them from $25 on up to hundreds of dollars for custom fitted. There are other vendors, as well. $25 is a very small price to pay for ear health. Don't be hugely concerned - just buy a set.

May 17, 2016 at 03:35 PM · You really only need to wear the one plug in the left ear.

May 17, 2016 at 04:33 PM · I don’t recall any soloists reporting this condition; but I’ve often read or heard of symphony players suffering from it -- and have personally known one player who retired from the CSO -- before his time, I believe -- because of it.

I’ve used foam earplugs for several years while practicing and playing. I currently use a Thomastik A-D-G combo on two of my three fiddles -- Vision Solo, Peter Infeld, Infeld Red. These strings definitely give more ring and power on these instruments than I got from wound gut, and I don’t like having 100 dB of sound originating 4-5 inches from the ear.

I’ve researched Eytmotic a little online; but so far, I’ve used only the foam plugs that you can pick up at the pharmacy or order online -- typically 10 pairs for around $5 USD. They reduce the dB level by about 32, and I can still pick up everything I need to hear.

I personally prefer equal dB reduction for both ears to maintain a realistic aural balance. So I use both left and right plugs.

May 17, 2016 at 05:49 PM · I try to discuss this with colleagues, but they change the subject immediately! My intruments, played loudly, give 100dB measured at the left ear (much less to the listener.) And this for many hours a day: way above the health and safety limits, and all this is concentrated in one note at a time.

Im glad Mary Ellen is not affcted, but I suspect many known soloists prefer not to broach the subject..

Can I just add that high-street audio tests seem to stop at 8kHz, which is stingy. The shimmer and bloom of a fine instrument is in the octave from 8 to 16 kHz. Even a (good) mp3 goes up there (but not my old ears, alas!)

May 19, 2016 at 01:00 AM · I suspect this problem is more prevalent than many are aware...

For obvious reasons, professional musicians might be reluctant to talk about hearing loss. But I remember having to literally shout at Mr. Galamian in order to be heard! It seemed disrespectful, but--- it was necessary. (Funny.... he seemed to hear EVERYTHING coming out of the violin)

I do think this is a topic that should be discussed because we never really think about it until we have already done the damage. Important to know that the violin can cause damage over time-- so protect your ears in the best way possible!

May 19, 2016 at 02:18 AM · By the time I was in junior high, I had characteristic violinist's mild hearing-loss in my left ear, and I was still playing a half-size instrument at the time. I'm guessing some people are just more sensitive to the damage.

May 19, 2016 at 08:16 AM · The sound is a bit unnatural having an earplug in my left ear but I'll compromise with some cotton in my left ear. Not very effective but better than nothing I suppose.

May 19, 2016 at 08:37 AM · David Russel (you are my guitar hero;), thank you for sharing the insight about Mr Galamian. That is very interesting indeed.

I think the case is very likely that the masters frown upon talking about it, those who experienced hearing loss and those who haven't alike.

May 19, 2016 at 10:16 AM · I understand the hair cells in the cochlea (many per semitone) do not grow back once broken. They form a sludge round the remaining cells so that even pitch differenciation is reduced. I suppose that cells wich are only "bruised" can recover.

What none of my books on acoustics and hearing mention is that two of the three little bones in each ear are held by tiny muscles. These tense when we anticipate a loud noise to reduce the transmission from the eardrum to the "oval window" drum of the cochlea. (With a hangover, they don't work, and every sound is deafening.) I suppose that for the lucky ones, these muscles are more efficient. (Maybe mine were affected by childhood ear infections?)

May 19, 2016 at 12:15 PM · I'm thinking of temporary deadness of sound, or a ringing effect, after a sudden loud noise; I imagine the hair-cells like grass blades we have walked on, but not destroyed (this time round..)

May 21, 2016 at 11:37 PM · When I went to the doctor's for a routine check up, their little hearing test device sounded quieter in my left ear. And I've only been playing violin for seven years so far....

May 22, 2016 at 05:19 AM · I thought many people, even with healthy hearing, hear a bit better with one or the other ear. May be wrong/misinformed, though.

My hearing is for sure not 100%, but I did have an accident at a beach when I was very young, in which a wave knocked me down strongly and I was thrown to the shore. I spent what seemed like a week with strong tinnitus and couldn't hear much at all. My ears got unclogged with time, but I have tinnitus now (no biggie), and hear less with my RIGHT ear. Moreover, I have heard a lot of loud music throughout the years, so my hearing is a bit shot-I am not nearly as sensitive as many of you seem to be to violin pitches under the ear. Louder is better, as far as I am concerned, as long as the tone is rich and nuanced. I need no ear plugs, though my left ear still rings a bit after practicing powerful bow strokes-I just feel no pain (and I still hear relatively well, though it is very likely not what it used to be when I was an infant.)

Moral of the story is-we are all different, and some people do fine without using ear plugs (for violin practice) even once. Some do need some attenuation, lest the loud high frequencies hurt them. I wouldn't mind people remedying such a situation, but am also hesitant to recommend to every violinist to use ear-plugs as a practice necessity, or worse-and of course no one has suggested this on this thread-avoid playing vigorously just to limit hearing damage and/or pain.

May 22, 2016 at 06:13 AM · If we are going to play vigorously, we have to practice vigorously.

I once asked my entire class ( with 1/2 or 3/4 violins) to play with a cotton-wool plug in the left ear. Some just played more loudly to compensate, while others, like myself, played differently, with a brighter, firmer tone.

But let's also remember that the decibels are there, even if we are not bothered by them.

May 22, 2016 at 06:18 PM · Krisztian, just sleep it off!?

May 23, 2016 at 04:30 PM · A concert master I've known for years told me that when he puts the mute on his violin the pitch "goes flat", and is quite definite about it. He once tried to show me but I couldn't tell the pitch difference between muted and unmuted. I think what may be happening is that when he tunes unmuted he is subconsciously influenced by, or perhaps tuning by, the string's higher harmonics as part of the tuning process, and when these higher harmonics become virtually inaudible when the mute is on, then his brain signals that the pitch has gone flat. Or something like that, perhaps.

May 23, 2016 at 07:52 PM · It is known that our pitch perception is somewhat affected by loudness, but differently for each individual. And a tone rich in harmonics is easier to tune than a duller, muted sound. And our two ears may not agree, when tested seperately.

I have a (very slight) flat spot from C to E, 2 octaves above middle C; I find this noticeable on the piano (playing single notes), but much less on the violin.

December 29, 2016 at 05:14 PM · We appear to have a spammer in "nasir DZ", who posted the same link to four different threads.

December 30, 2016 at 08:27 PM · All those who mentioned the db level of their violin and earplugs etc: How do you measure that?

I wear my regular ear phones (the kind that goes deeper the ear and blocks out other noises), and I hope it's enough... Can't afford more hearing loss; already I have have a little tinnitus and lower hearing ability in the left ear, from regular life, no accident or anything like Adalberto.

December 30, 2016 at 08:59 PM · There are apps for phones and computers that measure sound pressure levels. The issue would be how far away from the microphone to play the violin. But none of the previous responders actually gave a measurement of DB. Rather they either gave information from published graphs or talked of relative DB as a function of distance front the ear: for example just from the relative distances of left and right ear from the violin surface you can calculate that the difference between the two ears will be about 12 to 18 DB, depending on how the instrument is held (and perhaps how big the player's head is).

December 30, 2016 at 09:59 PM · Speaking of the "hair sludge" mentioned earlier, I have heard that some people with perfect pitch end up hearing everything sharp, sometimes up to a minor third, later in life. Not sure whether it is related to any sort of inflicted damage, or if it is just bound to happen to some people no matter what precautions are taken. I always wear either earplugs or headphones when playing in a group that uses amplified instruments. So far no hearing loss. I guess only time will tell, as to whether my ears are destined to be tuned several Hz higher.

December 31, 2016 at 12:47 AM · A friend of mine, taught by the same teacher that taught Manoug Parikian, had managed to buy a Maggini in favourable circumstances. When I knew him he complained that playing it, particularly on the E-String, was painful to his ear (although he sounded lovely in church), so he didn't play it much (His day job was initially photography, then enlarger manufacture, then, finally, computer imaging).

December 31, 2016 at 04:43 AM · About a week after a long sinus infection this April (which I cleared with antibiotics), I had to leave an LA Phil concert suddenly when I began experiencing a "sympathetic vibration" in my right ear. In other words, when I played, the same high G would ring in my ear, but only while I played. Luckily our president was able to get me in to see the "American Idol" ENT the next day (this being Hollywood and all) and a steroid cleared it within 90 minutes of taking the first dose.

My condition was an after-effect of the sinus infection and has not returned since that first dose of steroid. In many cases, according to this doctor, the steroid is only effective if administered within 48 or 72 hours of the onset.

To more directly answer the question in this thread, I had my hearing tested as part of this whole deal and I have above-average hearing across the board (for my age) in my right ear, normal high-frequency loss for my age in the left. Possibly violin-related I would have to guess.

In Chicago, sitting on various parts of the stage as a rotating section member, I frequently wore foam earplugs. In LA, sitting in one place only, I rarely need protection. Most of the time, that's at the Hollywood Bowl, where we play more often with amplified acts. For those occasions, I wear the custom-fitted earplugs that the orchestra provides. Mine are supposed to cut 30 dB in the most damaging frequency range.

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