Musician reconsiders hearing protection

Image copied from the Etymotic Research website

Image copied from the Etymotic Research website

In a recent post I talked with a singer about the importance of hearing protection. Shortly after, I talked to a different musician who said: “I can’t wear earplugs when playing music. I’ve tried, but I find it disorienting and detaching – not allowing me to hear what’s really happening.”

Jim (not his real name) is 45 and has played guitar in jazz and rock bands for 20+ years. He’s not the only musician who dislikes conventional earplugs. His sentiment is echoed in A Review of Orchestral Musicians’ Hearing Loss Risks from WorkSafeBC’s Hearing Conservation Section, which describes how “conventional hearing protectors are often unsuitable for musicians.”

Conventional earplugs “attenuate high frequencies more than lows, resulting in distortion of the music. The occlusion effect (an enhancement of low-frequency, bone-conducted sound due to plugging the ear canal) causes an ‘echoey’ perception of sound unacceptable to musicians,” reads the review.

Earplugs for musicians

Fortunately for Jim, there’s another option that can prevent hearing loss before it’s too late. Custom earplugs – made by a US company called Etymotic Research Inc. – are an industry standard, described in this info-sheet from WorkSafeBC.

“Luckily I haven’t (yet!) experienced any noticeable deterioration in my hearing,” Jim said. “However, most veteran musicians I work with wear earplugs when they perform. The more serious among them wear the ‘good’ ones – considerably more expensive than the $1 sponge cylinders now offered in most clubs – and they are custom made by an aural specialist to fit the user’s ears and to attenuate user-specific frequency ranges. I’ve been told they’re really effective and can make a cacophonous stage sound serene.”

These Musician’s Earplugs “reduce sound levels evenly so that music and speech are clear and natural, not muffled as with other earplugs,” reads the ER website.

“Perhaps I should reconsider it before I end up like a drummer I know, who after 30+ years of playing drums, started noticing his hearing was deteriorating,” Jim said.

For around $200, the earplugs sound like a good investment, and here’s more info that might convince him and others who depend on their hearing.

Listen While You Work: Hearing Conservation for the Arts – from Actsafe (formerly SHAPE, Safety and Health in Arts Production and Entertainment)

Musicians & the Prevention of Hearing Loss
From the Musician’s Clinic of Canada

H.E.A.R. (Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers)


3 thoughts on “Musician reconsiders hearing protection

  1. Reid Jamieson

    Although my music is the tender acoustic type, I definitely wear ear plugs to any and all electric shows. I have custom ones and generic ones, but I wouldn’t dream of endangering one of my most precious assets – my ears. Have certainly played many shows where the soundman had clearly not looked after his hearing, and worked with other musicians who were unable to notice subtleties in the sound…its tragic really. And so easily preventable.


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