Quitting the violin because of sensitive hearing

January 9, 2017 at 05:33 PM · Hello, my name is Kate. Today I decided to quit the violin. I've been playing the violin for only two months, but even though it was only a short time I grew so attached to it that quitting the violin breaks my heart. I want to learn the violin so bad, but about a week of playing the violin I noticed a soft ringing in my left ear. I searched it up the internet and found out that it's called tinnitus. I didn't want to tell my family about it because I know they'll make me quit the violin, so I continued practicing even though it was hurting my ear. Tinnitus isn't only the problem, actually the ringing doesn't bother me at all. What bothers me is my sudden sensitivity to everyday sound. The sound of people talking loudly irritates me and I unintentionally snap at them, which makes me feel bad. And worse, I can't explain myself to them at all. Loud and high-pitched noises hurt my ear, like the sound of cars, loud music, etc. I also get headaches after hearing such noise and it usually lasts the whole day. Sometimes I can't get rid of it even after I sleep at night.

Since I started the violin, I can't listen to music anymore because it just sounds wrong to me. I can't even play the violin without a practice mute and ear plugs. My left ear isn't only the problem, my right ear usually hurts too and gets 'tired' easily.

I decided to read stories about violinists with tinnitus, but the stories I've read didn't help at all. I'm scared that I'll be like some of them, so I'm deciding to quit. I am totally in love with the violin but I don't want to damage my ears any further. I'm only 18, and the thought of hearing loss and extreme case of tinnitus and hyperacusis frighten me. I know I should probably tell my family about what I'm experiencing right now, but having a sensitive hearing isn't the only health issue that I'm dealing right now. I'll go see an ENT soon though.

What should I do? Am I doing the right thing by quitting the violin? If so, can I switch to another musical instrument that won't hurt my ears?

Replies (27)

January 9, 2017 at 05:52 PM · Please, please plug yout ears! Try balls of cotton wool; then try swimmers earplugs. For something in between there are musicians plugs that let some sound through.

Don't listen to folks who tell you to "come out of your shell" (cheap amateur psychology), or "strengthen your ears" by getting used to the noise-level: you will only be getting used to the destruction of the hair cells in the cochlea (grievous bodily harm?)

Hyperacousis can be due to insufficient response of the tiny pair of muscle in each ear which reduce the motions of the little bones in the middle ear when exposed to loud sounds. This could be inherited, or the result of past infections. Seeing the ENT doctor sound like good idea. But first plug your ears....

January 9, 2017 at 05:59 PM · I would go to an specialist to check it out. It's not an universal problem, but your situation may be unique.

Would never quit myself, but I have had tinnitus for a while, and am NOT sensitive to its sound or high pitches. I can't relate to the need of some in here "needing" ear plugs to even practice-not that they are wrong for their needs, of course. The difference is I have been at this point a violinist for many years, and am used to loudness from most sources as well-not to mention, I may have had tinnitus since I was a young kid due to a traumatic situation at the beach.

(Note that tinnitus doesn't impede my life in any way or fashion-I ignore it, and rarely am aware of it.)

Best wishes. Don't feel "shamed" into leaving the instrument-leave it only if it makes you unhappy or for genuine medical reasons (which is why I recommend professional assistance.)

January 9, 2017 at 06:19 PM · I second Adalberto's opinion. Violin playing brings priceless joy to our lives, but your health is your #1 priority.

Someone else on this forum have reported over-sensitivity before, so you may want to use the search engine to find previous discussions.

There are many components in our hearing (that could go wrong) and that is why you ought to see a specialist (or different specialists). As a starter, you could go for a hearing test and talk to an audiologists. The results of a thorough test will show immediately your hearing thresholds on different frequencies. If they are indeed way lower than in average population of your age, or the profile is perplexing, you ought to see an ear doctor, and possibly a neurologist.

In any case, get yourself a pair of custom-made ear plugs for musicians and also consider changing your strings to pure gut or wound gut core strings (such as Pirastro Eudoxa or Lenzner Supersolo). Also, some violins are also much louder than the average pack; I once had a "Jérôme Thibouville-Lamy" (a.k.a. JTL) hard-pressed factory violin which was so terribly loud that I had to sell it.

The phenomenon of "loudness" in psycho-acoustic is complex; it may not only be due to sheer physical power, but also the timbre of the instrument. (Ask yourself: why are there only a few flutes and 2x12 violins in the orchestra? Well, because the flute is louder but also has a unique timbre.) Therefore, switching to viola may work for you.

Lastly, the very fact that you are saying a public good-bye is telling me that one tiny little part of yourself does not want to let go of violin playing.

I will root for that part.

January 9, 2017 at 06:26 PM · Dedicated earplugs :)

January 9, 2017 at 06:35 PM · Kate, I commend you for being so in tune with your hearing. Your sensitivity to noises doesn't sound like the norm, and I'd definitely have it checked out. Especially if you have always been playing with plugs and a mute,I wouldn't think it enough to have caused such sensitivity after two months.

Although I don't like saying this, it may be a decision between playing your passion and your hearing, with the latter obviously winning. There are plenty other instruments to go for, of course.

I hope the best for you, and please please don't join those of us in the tinnitus-club'!

January 9, 2017 at 07:08 PM · Go to an audiologist before you do anything. Get your hearing tested.

I have tinnitus, which really really bothered me when I developed it a couple years ago. If the tinnitus persists, meditation helped me out a lot, just listening to the sound and accepting it. If it is a persistent thing, you will eventually get used to it - I don't even notice it anymore unless I get used to it. Also, be aware of any medication you take - Some medications can cause tinnitus as a side effect.

Finally, when you have taken care of this baseline physiological stuff, consider getting some earplugs. I've been slacking, but I've been intending on getting some molded ones. Look up Etymotic. You only get one pair of ears, at least until they figure the stem-cell stuff out.

January 9, 2017 at 10:46 PM · My tinnitus was caused by a fungal infection on the ear drums. It took about 6 months to get rid of the infection and the tinnitus slowly went away after that. Go to the ENT doctor and get things checked out.

I second the idea of switching to a viola ; it is much 'softer' on the ears.

January 9, 2017 at 11:37 PM · I agree with the above. If you find that your violin screams in your ears, either plug your left ear with any old ear plug (I use a regular earplug while playing for my left ear only) or get a mute.

January 10, 2017 at 12:27 AM · Kate, There is a free on-line hearing test on line with which you can measure your hearing sensitivity over the typical frequency range before going to a professional. I have taken it and gotten pretty much the same results as with a professionally given test. It won't solve any problems, but it is a starting point.


January 10, 2017 at 12:33 AM · I think that if you tell your family about your hearing problem, they will take you to an ear nose and throat specialist, as quitting violin is not really a "cure." I hope you have already made a Dr. appointment, and I am glad you are open to exploring the possible causes of your tinnitus. You are totally sensible in asking, and in trying to alleviate your pain in any was possible, including suspending playing until you are well! We all wish you a speedy recovery!!

January 10, 2017 at 12:41 AM · I'd consider the cello as an alternative in these circumstances. Unlike the violin and viola, where the sound is directed from the instrument into the player's ear just a few inches away (hence the 90+ dB sound levels you hear talked about in this connection), the sound made by the cello is much further away from the cellist's ears and is directed away from the cellist. The high harmonics therefore don't get close enough to the cellist's ears to do significant damage. Anyway, the cello's harmonics aren't as high as the violin's.

Don't practice with a mute unless it is specifically required for the piece you're learning. A composer indicates the mute when he wants a particular tone colour, and not to get a quieter sound, although that happens naturally. This is because a mute damps the natural resonances of the instrument. A really quiet sound (ppp and quieter) is, and should be, obtainable by the bow without a mute, and still keeping the natural resonance of the instrument.

Using a mute all the time to play softly will not help you to learn the important bow control that is necessary for really quiet playing.

January 10, 2017 at 03:49 AM · I have had tinnitus since I was a child. My ears ring constantly, and it's about 75% left and 25% right, just to estimate that. I'm pretty sure practicing the violin without hearing protection had something to do with causing my tinnitus, but I also had a lot of ear infections as a child, which were treated by antibiotics. But I certainly don't think my tinnitus came on in a matter of several days. The manifold symptoms you describe sound like they could be caused by some other type of problem, and a thorough medical exam is definitely in order. I have found warm compresses to be helpful. Never anything extreme, of course, and don't go digging in your ears with Q-tips or introducing fluids into your ear without proper medical advice.

January 10, 2017 at 05:51 AM · Hi OP,

Do you happen to listen to loud music or use the earphone/headphone a lot (or both)? If you do, then you should stop doing it immediately.

If you attended a heavy metal concert, it could cause a permanent damage to your ears, if it is only a one-time event.

You have played the violin for only two months so it is not the most likely source for the sensitivity, although it could have been a contributing factor.

Good luck.

January 10, 2017 at 02:45 PM · Good point Sung.

January 10, 2017 at 03:03 PM · Hey everyone, thank you for your kind advice. Right now I'm still deciding on what to do since I can't really bring myself to let a day pass without playing the violin. I've been feeling really down since I considered quitting, but your kind words have cheered me up a bit. I kind of feel a little frustrated when I think of those who quit the violin just because something becomes too hard, and then there's me who actually wants to learn but can't because of my hearing issue. I really had no big dreams whatsoever before until I stumbled upon a music store and saw a beautiful violin. That was the moment I first considered learning the violin. I instantly fell in love with it and I was happy because I finally found something that I love to do, so it's a little depressing that this is happening right now. I just wanted to share my feelings haha thank you everyone!

By the way, I do listen to music before but I never listen to it loud. I've never been to a concert as well or any place that is extremy noisy.

January 11, 2017 at 10:26 AM · As others have said, go and see a medical professional, just in case there is some underlying cause of your sensitivity that can be fixed, like an infection.

However, my experiences concur with yours, in that my left ear was very sensitive to sound, making playing the violin painful in every session. I gave up for about a year, and was really quite unhappy because of this, but then bought a series of earplugs, firstly Etymotics ER20 (which took out too much sound), and then some ACS Pro 15 plugs. I can practice and perform fine with these, and feel now that I could safely play the violin for a lifetime. So, there is a simple solution, and there are a variety of inexpensive plugs to try, so it should not need to cost you too much money.

Having seen a doctor about his issue, by belief is that my overly-sensitive left ear was caused by the long-term effects of multiple perforated ear drums as a young adult, caused by severe allergic reactions. However, some people are probably just born with sensitive ears.

By the way, now and again you will encounter people on forums who loudly deny any possibility that the violin can cause hearing damage. Please ignore them if you come across them in the future, you are doing really well in looking after your ears.

January 11, 2017 at 03:15 PM · In my earlier post I said that I have had tinnitus since childhood and it's mostly in my left ear. That said, I should also point out that since taking up the violin again several years ago, my tinnitus has remained basically constant, even though I practice without any hearing protection.

January 11, 2017 at 03:20 PM · Just to be clear (and sorry if it has caused confusion), the last paragraph in my previous post wasn't being critical of anything said in this thread. Rather, I have seen very aggressive responses to discussion of hearing loss amongst violinists in other discussions, mostly not on this site.

January 12, 2017 at 04:29 AM · Sefan, I have been considering getting musician's earplugs, so thanks for the recommendation.

I used to practice a lot with a mute, but I have to say that it isn't ideal because it will change technique...it does work for some types of practice.

I also have a sensitive left ear and slight hearing damage in that ear (I'm 51 so should be expected) probably due to an ear infection from a few years ago, or maybe because of the violin.

I agree with Stefan that if you want to play you can protect your hearing and keep going, or could practice on a silent violin with the volume turned down.

If you really want to do something you will find a way to make it work for you. If not, then it wasn't meant to be. Good luck.

January 12, 2017 at 09:20 AM · Hi April

If I was purchasing them again, I might be tempted to go for the ACS Pro 9, rather than the Pro 15, as I mostly play in a quiet folk music setting, and would appreciate just a little bit more volume getting through.

The filters on the ACS line are interchangeable though, so I can still buy the ones from the Pro 9. It's just that their quite expensive.

January 12, 2017 at 01:33 PM · I can't believe no one has recommended an electric violin, with no amplification or very little amplification, there also something called?? a mute violin which has no back and heavy internal bracing to be used as a quiet practice instrument, the top looks just like a violin and it has sides, but the back is missing.

January 12, 2017 at 03:44 PM · Hi Lyndon, I've also been thinking of switching to electric violin but I don't exactly know how it works. Does it produce sound only when connected to a speaker or amplifier? Thanks!

January 12, 2017 at 03:58 PM · Very quiet sound when not connected, just how quiet probably varies a bit from model to model. You should be able to trial one in a store.

January 12, 2017 at 04:00 PM · Think of the sound an electric guitar makes when not plugged in compared to a regular acoustic guitar.

January 12, 2017 at 04:02 PM · With the amp and speaker hooked up you can set the volume no louder than you listen to TV or radio and you should be fine, plus the speaker isn't right under your ear.

January 12, 2017 at 05:24 PM · An electric violin will be better soundwise for your ears, but you will miss the bowing response of an acoustic violin. I am waiting to hear that you have gotten in touch with a medical professional for a diagnosis and hopefully a path to relief from your debilitating condition.

January 12, 2017 at 09:02 PM · Playing an electric violin is nothing like playing the acoustic violin though, and the OP already has an acoustic she likes. £20 earplugs seem like a simpler solution.

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