My Poor Ears!

July 3, 2004 at 04:06 AM · Dear fellow violinists,

Lately my ears have been getting irritated by the loudness of music. Basically, when I’m in a closed space such as a practice room, an orchestra pit, or even a living room, my ears start feeling sore. It’s not even louder music than normal, just the usual. It’s also not just my instrument; when others play I have the same reaction. Now I often use earplugs, and they make a huge difference (I don’t even put them in all the way, just a little so that I can prevent the loudest noises from getting in). However, I didn’t need earplugs in the past.

Why is it that I seem to be the only one using earplugs anywhere I play, and the decibel level doesn’t seem to bother anyone else? Do I just have sensitive ears, or do others’ ears automatically block excess noise, or have they already become a few notches deafer? Please tell me I’m not the only one being bothered!

Our ears are very delicate, and I seriously think that as violinists our hearing can easily become impaired in our left ear, due to its proximity to the instrument. Think of when we become really old: we’ll all need hearing aides!!

Replies (21)

July 3, 2004 at 09:27 PM · William- You may want to go see a doctor, to rule out a low-grade infection. Those can go on indefinately, but will permanently damage your hearing. If no luck there, you could see an "ENT" (ear-nose-throat specialist) which the doc calls an "otolaryngologist". Tell him a musical nurse sent you, so you want a discount. (Just joking about the last part) Docs are high, but your hearing is precious.~AB

July 4, 2004 at 01:02 AM · Well, thanks for the concern, but I’m pretty sure it’s not that… I don’t exactly get an ache. Things just sound pretty loud to me and it makes me want to cover my ears.

Now, I know being in a pit orchestra is not louder than being in a rock concert, but according to




listening to sounds over 85 decibels for a prolonged time is damaging to the ear.

By the way, does anyone know how loud orchestra concerts can get volume-wise?

I guess what I want to know is, is it normal for musicians to wear earplugs when they perform?

July 4, 2004 at 06:36 PM · I wear earplugs too. Perhaps you need to practise less for a while, rest your ears a bit.

July 4, 2004 at 07:10 PM · Some kind of ear plug is highly recommended. Most orchestra players have significant hearing loss after years of pounding on auditory nerves (many of them don't recognize). There are many different kinds you can buy from Pharmacy, you can also have your plug custom-made for you.

July 4, 2004 at 07:37 PM · I believe I heard somewhere that a full orchestra is around 95 decibels

July 4, 2004 at 07:37 PM · William, I think, you must visit a doctor. Probably, you have liquid in your ear so, when sound waves reach your ear they contact with liquid, and you hear noise. Usually liquid causes ear infection. It is not always painful. If it's true, and you don't take care, it might become your chronic illness. Today doctors easy solve this problem in one-two weeks. Hope, you get rid of this discomfort. Good luck.

July 5, 2004 at 12:36 AM · Which brand of earplugs do you recommand?

July 5, 2004 at 02:40 AM · hmm a rocket launching is 180, so watch out for that

July 5, 2004 at 04:35 AM · This is a serious matter.

I had a baseline hearing test two years ago. All ok, but the slightest hint of damage which would worsen if I didn't protect them. The audiologist also checked the decibels reaching my ears from the violin: 115dB in the left ear at times. Just from normal playing.

We should definitely be protecting our ears with mutes or plugs or even both. I find it difficult to work on tone production with plugs in though and usually only wear a special musician's plug in my left ear. It's probably not enough, but wearing both makes the session so unsatisfying.

A session without the left plug (can't manage in quartets, just can't hear the cello well enough), is pretty harsh on my left ear, so I always wear it for practice at home.

July 5, 2004 at 07:34 PM · The kind of earplugs that I find are nice, are the foamy ones that you squeeze and let expand in your ear and are sold pretty much anywhere.

You do realize, Susan, and everyone, how dangerous it is to have 115dBs right next to your ear… The decibel scale is logarithmic, so if 85dBs are dangerous, imagine 115!

I encourage everyone to use earplugs while they practice (not necessarily plugged in ALL the way). Not only will your ears thank you in the long run, but you will also listen more closely to what you’re playing, and it eliminates distractions. Just try it, at least! But who am I to tell you? It’s up to you to take care of your precious hearing!

And I will go see a doctor soon, just to make sure.

July 5, 2004 at 11:13 PM · william lets practice

July 6, 2004 at 05:40 AM · Thanks William

I do realise it, thus I use earplugs. I'm pretty sure my violin would not be louder than any other violin.

July 6, 2004 at 07:36 AM · Ouch, and my violin is a real blaster! Louder than anything I've ever heard or played before! I don't find the sound in my ear particularly loud or annoying, though. Other people nearby cover their ears and cower though, hehe. Maybe it's also got to do with your violin setup where the sound is channelled.

I am sure I would find it very annoying and far MORE difficult to listen if I had plugs in as they tend to block a lot of the harmonics, don't they? I once tried a practise mute, and it's really not a good way to practise for any length of time. All sense of sound production and cleanliness in playing is lost. Once I took the mute off after an hour or so, my violin sounded so scratchy and terrible (either because my ears had adjusted to the muted sound or because I had been playing wrong without noticing due to the mute) and I had to stop playing for the day and come back another day, when my violin sounded fine again. It's very easy to sound like everything is perfect with a practise mute on....wouldn't it be similar with earplugs in?

July 6, 2004 at 04:08 PM · The problem is... Once your ears are damaged, they can not be repaired. So it is your choice which is more important to you.

July 7, 2004 at 09:02 PM · Hi Larry

Proper musicians' earplugs at least let you hear the full range - they don't just block some frequencies.

Don't be fooled by it not 'sounding' very loud next to your ear. The damage can still be done. An audiologist can check it for you, mine put the little wires right into my ears and I played, so we found out exactly what dBs I was getting.

Yes, hearing damage is permanent.

July 9, 2004 at 12:43 PM · Oh wow! Musician's ear plugs! Never heard of them! I will ask my audiologist when I get back home! (next month). I've never really thought about deafness from playing, then a Professor at the Academy told me that he's going a bit deaf in his left ear from all the playing. He recommended the practise mute, which I mentioned earlier didn't help me much.

Thank you!

July 9, 2004 at 09:51 PM · I played French Horn in concert and pep band all through school. Sat right in front of either the drums, trumpets or trombones most of the time. This was back when hearing damage was never even considered. If you complained that having a trumpet or trombone playing less than 3 feet from the back of your head, you were being "silly", and our director's favorite word was "LOUDER"!

15 or 20 years ago I remember reading articles about band directors (I was a music ed major back then) whose hearing loss was so bad they couldn't hear the flute sections at all anymore and had to retire in their 40's or 50's and find another job!

Plus the women in my family suffer from hearing loss as they age. So, although I tune and go to lessons without an earplug, when I practice I use a foam earplug cut in half (I don't want all the noise stopped, just the worst of it).

February 8, 2005 at 03:31 AM · William,

What you are experiencing sounds like the typical aging of the ear, though perhaps brought on more quickly from "abuse." As we age, we become more sensitive to the upper mid-range frequencies -precisely where a violin has its primary power (1K - 5K or so)

Tinnitus is, of course, much worse. I have a slight ringing in my ears that will never go away.

I recently started playing violin. My instrument is cheap, and not extremely loud, but I find it JUST on the edge of causing the ring in my left ear to go off. I imagine that a good instrument will be a problem for me. Thus, I have started wearing my (custom made) earplugs when I practice. I hate this, but have no choice.

You definitely want to get custom-moulded plugs, with the "full frequency" filters. 15 db should be more than enough.

You can find these online easily enough. I apologize but no longer remember the names of the several companies that make them. However, any good audiologist will know where to get them, and you have to have custom molds made by an audiologist anyway, so just pick up the yellow pages and start calling around.

Unfortunately, these "full frequency" plugs are not quite as good as advertised. They definitely scew the response somewhat, especially attenuating low frequencies more than mids. However, they are still FAR superior to cheap foam plugs.

Again, get the LEAST amount of attenuation available, as this will give the flattest response. (the filters are removable and interchangable.) With mine, 15 db is the lightest of the three.

February 8, 2005 at 06:36 AM · i doubt he is experiencing aging of the ear, i believe willie is only 19.

February 9, 2005 at 12:29 AM · Owen,

19 is indeed a bit young to be experiencing this phenomenon, but statistically it IS happening to younger and younger people. Our envireonment keeps getting louder.

I think that walkman and iPod-type music players contribute much to this. As with the violin in the left ear, an iPod type earplug doesn't seem as loud as it really is. I don't know what the technical explanation is, perhaps a narrower band of frequencies?

Anyway, kudos to William for being concerned about the problem at such a young age!

February 9, 2005 at 07:24 AM · well im twenty and i already have some hearing loss and tinnitus in one ear, although it may not be from damage from loud noises, doctors are working on that. i need an MRI i think.

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