Returning Beginner & Tinnitus

Edited: December 26, 2018, 10:01 AM · I am returning to the violin at 59 after a much longer hiatus than I like to admit. I do have a very good teacher for which I am very thankful. One difference between me now, and my childhood/early teen violin years "back in the day" is I've learned the value of patience and taking one step at a time no matter how much I might want to rush ahead.

I've significant tinnitus in both years - have had for at least 23 years (24/7), and some hearing loss in my left ear (right ear is great outside of the tinnitus). Can't blame the violin for either! That being said, I'm so used to the tinnitus that I just accept it as being "normal", and my "ear" is still pretty good overall - all things considered. Not what it used to be back in the day, of course. I am not, thankfully, sensitive to loud or high sounds.

I've been reading some archived posts here on the topic, and some of you with tinnitus at the time were using earplugs in the left ear. I am interested to learn if you still do and if it has proved helpful. Any thoughts you might like to give on this would be most appreciated.

My teacher tells me that I currently am playing softly - while that will change as my playing/technique improves with his help, my practicing at home isn't currently loud enough to possibly make things worse.

Replies (12)

December 26, 2018, 12:03 PM · I do not have tinnitus, and I have no idea if earplugs helps it, other than protecting your hearing. For what it's worth, I do wear an standard noise reduction earplug in only my left ear because my violin can get loud at times, I'm sensitive, and I want to avoid hearing loss. You could try earplugs if you want. I see no real point in wearing earplugs in your right ear unless it's absolutely necessary.
December 26, 2018, 1:21 PM · Somebody told me a long time ago about a cellist with tinnitus who used it as a tuner. I don't know if all tinnitus goes at a consistent pitch, but I always thought this was interesting..
December 26, 2018, 1:34 PM · Use it only if you need it. I have had the reverse problem-less hearing on the right ear, tinnitus since childhood due to sea wave/sand accident whrn I was a young kid. Don't plan on using any, as I do not need them.l, and if I ever lose more hearing, I'll blame it on age, not my dear violin.

Never play permanently softly for being afraid of hurting your hearing. Let it be a technical deficiency even, rather than a loudness-coping mechanism. If it hekps you play louder, do try and see if a left ear plug is for you.

Definitely disagree with that being a standard solution for all violin players in the world, as it's often made to sound. Niche solution to be used as needed, in my opinion.

Edited: December 26, 2018, 3:24 PM · I used a left ear plug for years. My left ear is my better ear - has been for at least 50 years and the violin tended to overdrive that ear. The result of that was that I sensed the pitch as higher than it was and since it was my better ear I tended to play slightly flat*** compared to incoming signals from other instruments. I did not notice this problem until I notice difficulty tuning to the orchestra's oboe's A, since I heard he A as two close pitches or a spread of pitch.

** This is a known phenomenon (z.b. N.H. Fletcher & T.D. Rossing, "The Physics of Musical Instruments," 1998, Springer-Verlag, New York).
Before I found this in the literature it (unfortunately) had been pointed out to me by a personal friend, Tone-Master recording engineer, Stan Ricker (who had lots of professional experience of this phenomenon).

I used the inexpensive wax-impregnated ear plugs sold in every drug store - only in my left ear. I plugged it loosely into the ear trying to achieve about 12 - 18 DB attenuation. It worked very well for me and my open right ear allowed me to still hear much of my violin's important overtones for timbre sensitivity.

I did try the same ear plug idea on all the violinists in our orchestra at that time and it really improved overall intonation.

While I did suffer symptoms of tinnitus at times it was definitely not my main problem - becoming functionally deaf was. I now use digital hearing aids in both ears all my waking hours - especially useful when playing my instruments (violin, viola and cello - just not all at the same time).

Edited: December 26, 2018, 3:51 PM · Thanks for the comments, and if I were to ever choose to do anything like that it would only be the left. I don't think it is necessary at this point but as a "returning beginner" it is good to hear what others have experienced. I am always suspicious about a "one solution fits all", and had wondered if that were the case here.

I am not playing softly because of my tinnitus - it's just been over 40 years since I last played so it is a current technical issue rather than a loudness-coping mechanism.

My particular brand of tinnitus - in both ears - is not a single tone or pitch, rather than a revolving cycle of 2-3 notes (at all times) but it's usually the same unless I've a cold. So far, at least, my hearing loss in that ear doesn't seem to really impact how I hear music.

Andrew - your orchestra violinist ear-plug experiment sounds interesting. Hopefully my hearing loss won't increase, but it's encouraging to read of your experiences in dealing with it!

December 26, 2018, 4:29 PM · Catherine your post describes me very accutately! Same exact issue with significant tinnatus. I often wear earbuds. Honestly at our age I think it makes little difference but I would trust Andrew for his thoughtfulness (and sheer longevity). I often play along with chamber recordings for fun and I can hear myself easily well enough.

One good thing to do if returning is get new strings, bow rehair. And a checkup for sound post, bass bar, tiny cracks etc.

December 26, 2018, 4:29 PM · Catherine your post describes me very accutately! Same exact issue with significant tinnatus. I often wear earbuds. Honestly at our age I think it makes little difference but I would trust Andrew for his thoughtfulness (and sheer longevity). I often play along with chamber recordings for fun and I can hear myself easily well enough.

One good thing to do if returning is get new strings, bow rehair. And a checkup for sound post, bass bar, tiny cracks etc.

Edited: December 26, 2018, 6:57 PM · Thanks for your comment Paul! I was curious if what I've read here and other places was actually a common practice - we all know what internet research can be like. Tinnitus is a difficult thing to describe, so was glad to see what there were regulars here who had posted about it.

I've a new (to me) lovely intermediate level violin, it has been a very long time and am finding my return both humbling and joyful at the same time! Eventually would like to play with others, but that won't happen anytime soon - everything in it's own time!

December 26, 2018, 6:47 PM · I also have tinnitus on both ears. I can only sense it if the surrounding is very quiet and when I am calm. Over the years, I have made it my friend.

It has no impact whatsoever on my violin playing.

December 27, 2018, 12:38 PM · Now I would be very concerned if I had tinnitus and were still playing violin. Tinnitus is a sign of damage in the inner parts of the ear and further exposition to lound sounds can accelerate the damage as your ear has been proven sensitive to sounds allready. So definately you should wear musicians earblugs. Probably on both ears. Violin is a very lound instrument and you will be sorry if you develope hearing loss and cannot hear the sound of your violin,
December 27, 2018, 1:54 PM · I'm in the same boat as David. I have high pitched tinnitus. I only notice it if I am somewhere super quiet. It used to drive me crazy, now I accept it - it's the result of many years of enjoying music: loud headphones, dance clubs, rock shows.

I use a musician's earplug in my left ear, and switched to a violin that is less loud under the ear (and adjusted my setup to reduce the incoming sound).

December 27, 2018, 2:21 PM · I am always aware of it, but that cycle of 2-3 notes has been there for so long that it's just part of the usual noise of life - it's not from listening to loud music (though it should be) but from a very bad double ear infection long ago so am not overly concerned about the violin making it worse. The only time I am NOT aware of the tinnitus is when I am playing the violin, singing, or listening to music - the tinnitus seems to be canceled out at that point. When I am able to play for a longer duration of time then a musicians's earplug may well be a wise choice.

I appreciate your thoughts and comments on this, thank you!

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