Musician Earplugs

September 13, 2018, 12:00 AM · Hi everyone, just curious, does anyone use musician earplugs when practicing for long durations on the violin? Apparently it can be quite damaging to practice for long periods of time, especially for the left ear which is in close proximity to the violin. Personally, I use downbeats earplugs, and they not only have a protective function, but also help to improve tone.

Replies (22)

September 13, 2018, 12:18 AM · hi Joel, I surely do! I use ALPINE MusicSafe Classic.
September 13, 2018, 1:55 AM · "also help to improve tone"

Please explain this.

September 13, 2018, 2:27 AM · I use an Alpine musicsafe earplug with the 'heaviest' filter for my left ear, as I'm a migraine sufferer and it is the only way I can stand playing the violin. I play with my right ear unplugged. If I don't use it, my head will start aching at just 10 minutes of normal playing.

Erik, what I think he means as he says that it helps to improve tone is that by plugging your left ear, you hear your own 'projected' tone, as you eliminate some under ear scratchness or overtones. In other words, what you listen is closer to what the public is listening to. I've been using an earplug since my 2nd month of violin playing and it has never caused me problems with intonation. In fact, my teachr says I have a good intonation (for my beginner amateur Vivaldi A minor concert level, of course...)

Edited: September 13, 2018, 3:47 AM · Thanks Miguel for helping me explain -- @Erik yup apoarently they help to improve tone becauae you get a better sensing of the acoustics of the space that you are playing in. Basically you hear yourself from the audience's perspective and not the player's perspective. For me I think it is helpful in improving projection too, because when I hear myself softer, I will instinctively increase my sound projection.
September 13, 2018, 8:51 AM · I only use earplugs in small rooms with low ceilings. Occasionally, I have the opportunity to play in an exceptionally large garage with the acoustics of a church and the earplugs are entirely unnecessary.

I use cotton balls.

September 13, 2018, 9:06 AM · When I used an ear plug (20 to 35 years ago) in my left ear I used a low-cost wax earplug from the local drug store, fitted loosely so that the amount of sound into my left and right ears was equal. This was probably 12 to 18 DB attenuation.
September 13, 2018, 9:46 AM · I keep a set of "Earasers" in my case, -19db peak. They are very discreet and probably wouldn't be noticed if you wanted to wear them in public. A few seasons ago we played a modern percussion concerto and I slipped them in for that. They are a godsend in situations like this.
September 13, 2018, 11:02 AM · I always use a musician earplug in my left ear when practicing. When I don't I always feel some minor deafening afterward,this can't be a good thing over time. I think you can become desensitized to it though, but the damage occurs nonetheless. Studies have shown loss of hearing in many violin players left ear.
Edited: September 13, 2018, 12:23 PM · I use D'Addario "Pacato" ear plugs. They work well. I really can't do without them. The sound level is too uncomfortable. If you doubt that you should be using ear plugs, I'd recommend getting a db meter app for your mobile phone. Then measure your violin's sound output. When I place the device the same distance from my violin as my left ear, I can easily exceed 120db. Don't delude yourself. It really is dangerous.

Another alternative when practicing is to use a mute. I'm not recommending a practice mute unless circumstances require it. But a performance mute can take the edge off. I have a box containing over two dozen different mutes, so I can speak with some authority about them. One of my favorites is the currently available Heifetz mute, because unlike many other designs that are either on or off with no gradations, the Heifetz mute can be pressed onto the bridge to a greater or lesser degree, with a resulting range of effects. It also has an adjustable steel clip that gives it still more adjustability. Therefore you can mute "just enough" to make it comfortable. And I like the sound of the Heifetz mute too, though that's entirely subjective. (I have no financial interest in Heifetz mutes.)

September 13, 2018, 12:08 PM · I would not recommend them to students unless they have a real problem perfoming without them-which should be a minority of the whole playing population. It may be helpful for some that are highly sensitive to be sure, but violinists have dealt with this for hundreds of years without necessarily going "left ear deaf". So yes, they can be useful for a select few, but I fail to see how a general recommendation is advisable, at least for most.

Some violinists should get used to this "shrillness/loudness" under the ear, IMHO.

Best of luck, unplugged or otherwise.

Edited: September 13, 2018, 4:26 PM · "...violinists have dealt with this for hundreds of years without necessarily going "left ear deaf.."

Actually they have to varying degree. You may wish to read the following article

https://theconversation.com/highway-to-hearing-hell-musicians-and-the-danger-of-deafness-5598

When you "get used to it" you've actually may have lost some earing. Others have developed an hypersensitivity rather, which could jeopardize the ability to play altogether.

September 13, 2018, 5:27 PM · I have indeed lost some, but cannot attribute it to violin playing, but more to an incident at the beach when I was young and small. Tinnitus since, but still hear highs well nonetheless, above 15k at least.

(Maybe also loud music has affected my hearing-the violin itself doesn't bother me, and I still hear better from my left ear than the right, perhaps due to the aforementioned crashing waves incident.)

Of course I cannot claim that you won't lose hearing over time, but going truly deaf *because of not using ear plugs* is what I have my doubts about. I doubt elderly great violinists like Mr. Rosand hear as well as a teenager, but not sure if he's currently deaf
(of course, I do not know if he uses/used ear protection, but doubt it.)

That said, I have no valid reason to state that avoiding them at all costs is the right choice for *you*-mine is just an opinion, stating that it should be a niche product for those who do need it, rather than being sold as a "must" accessory for violinists in particular. If you use them, they make you happy, and help your playing, I have nothing against that-all I know is that *I* would not like playing with them, and it is OK for both things to be true.

No disrespect meant, as always. Best wishes.

September 13, 2018, 11:51 PM · I would urge every violinist to start using some passive inexpensive ear protection for the left ear, so you avoid the expensive versions later in life. I now must use expensive, custom, computer controlled hearing aids. Orchestra musicians think they are immune because the instruments are not amplified. But in the back of the viola section I am directly in front of the trumpets. At the back of the second violin I am next to the percussion department and directly downwind of the piccolo. If I were a better player I could be in safer front row of the first violins. O, right, doing black powder rifles and artillery crew probably didn't help either.
September 30, 2018, 5:04 AM · Under the ear, a good violin produces up to 100dB, and that for many hours everyday. This would never be allowed in a non-musical workplace.

Even if we are not upset by these levels, the sound energy is still there.

September 30, 2018, 7:26 AM · ha, ha, thanks for getting rid of my earplug guilt. I started using 'earasers' a month ago... about 5 months in to my senior violin adventure. It sure attenuates those beginner squeaks and encourages me to experiment with using more bow real estate.
September 30, 2018, 8:06 AM · There is an excellent chapter on this issue by Janet Horvath in “Playing (Less) Hurt”, a monograph on musicians’ health and injury problems. Chapter 15, Hearing is our Business” generally endorses use of having protection to avoid long-term, gradual hearing loss. I bought the book because I was having neck arthritis problems that seemed provoked by violin playing (very informative on that too) and highly recommend it. I now use an Etymotic musician earplug in my left ear (no proprietary interest). It is designed specifically for musicians to attenuate evenly across the hearing spectrum. If your hearing seems a little dull after an extended practice, you likely are doing long term damage. My teacher also recommended baseline audiometry to compare to any future testing, though I confess have not done that yet. I practice with a mute when I must, but I get the sense it masks flaws in my playing when it’s better I hear them, and makes me play “differently” than without it.
September 30, 2018, 9:01 AM · "up to 100dB, and that for many hours everyday. This would never be allowed in a non-musical workplace."

The relevant metric is not "up to" but rather time-weighted average. For example, 1 minute at 100 dBA is equivalent to 30 min at 85 dBA and the daily total should not exceed 8 hours at 85 dBA-equivalent in a workplace. (To be really safe you'd probably want to set 80 dBA as the limit, or 2.5 hours at 85 dBA equivalent.)

That's not to deny that a violin may be loud enough to cause hearing loss. Just don't look the peak value by itself.

September 30, 2018, 9:10 AM · Fair enough, Han, as usual!
Edited: September 30, 2018, 10:28 AM · According to the headline segment on today's CBS-TV Sunday Morning (still being broadcast here on the West Coast as I write this), hearing loss eventually affects 2/3 of humans. (but only 20% of them ever wear hearing aids). We all know only a small fraction of them play the violin. My paternal grandfather suffered from severe hearing loss in his old age. My sister's hearing loss is so profound that she has a cochlear implant. My own hearing loss became noticeable to me about 25 years ago, shortly before I was 50. Our father did not live long enough to suffer hearing loss, but his 3 sister did. Obviously, my hearing loss was inherited.

The hearing in my left ear is better than that in my right ear - so much for blaming it on a lifetime of violin playing! I balanced things for over 10 years by using a 12 - 18 DB block in my left ear when playing the violin. Next step, I bought a mail-order "sound amplifier" (over-the-counter "hearing aid"? - ~$100) to wear in my right ear when playing the violin and in my left air to better hear speech. I finally also wore it when playing cello, because I was loosing to much violin sound from the violinist in my piano trio. After about 10 years of that I finally graduated to real digital hearing aids (I bought mine at CostCo for about 40% of the usual audiologist charge) I'm quite happy with them.

A number of the other 80-ish musicians I play music with also have hearing aids. It is fairly easy to test your own hearing on line and get results similar to those you would get from a professional audiologist ( https://hearingtest.online/ ) - if you do not have a real pathological condition.

I offer this only as an introduction to possible future hearing problems that 2/3 of you are likely to encounter.

September 30, 2018, 9:30 PM · This is a great discussion!

I do wear protection in my left ear if I know I'm going to practice more than half an hour and will be playing at full volume. My current favorite is D'Addario Plante Waves Pacato, which provides 12db of protection and is super comfortable, unlike many. In orchestra I sometimes wear them in both ears, for obvious reason. In the pit I wear something stronger :) I have found that a little bit of protection makes me more likely to wear it often, as opposed to taking them in and out. I was never very motivated until I downloaded the NIOSH sound meter app (on IOS) and measured the sound levels. Then I was sold. Also, I feel like it improves my posture as I don't turn my head so far left to get away from the loudness.

SInce hearing damage (loss or tinnitus) is that is not reversible, better safe than sorry. As others have pointed out, hearing damage comes about through a mix of decibel level, distance to the noise, and amount of time exposed to it. So when I know I will be playing a lot or have a lot of rehearsal, I try to cut down on the decibel level by wearing a plug. 35-60% (depending on what study you read) of professional musicians will suffer hearing loss in their lifetime, and all of it I think is preventable. A good layman's resource:
http://www.hearnet.com/at_risk/risk_aboutloss.shtml

The left ear averages for violin are 85-105db, the peaks are 116db
The right ear averages are 80-90 db, the peaks are 104db

Symphonic music averages are 86-102, the peaks are 120-137. Of course this varies greatly according to where you sit :)


September 30, 2018, 10:52 PM · I wear an earplug (just a plain old foam earplug) in my left during practice because I find that the violin or viola screams in my ears when I play loud. It works well.
Edited: October 1, 2018, 3:35 AM · I carry them in the case, but to be honest I only use them when I feel very much the need of them such as in "boomy" practice rooms or with some pieces.
Other than that, I feel very disoriented with them... Like a dog walking with shoes. I tend to change my sound to compensate for the sound loss.

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