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Violin and hearing loss


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Oh, and I don't play violin anymore, only viola. I used to feel ringing in my left ear occasionally after playing violin. Now the left ear is ok but my right ear gets hit hard by blaring brass and percussion instruments, much louder and worse on my ears than any sound I make from my viola. I generally played both instruments facing the scroll.

The problem with wearing earplugs is that I can't hear what I'm doing anymore; I could be really out of tune or be playing with terrible sound/bowstrokes and I wouldn't know it. Maybe I need to try the custom made and fitted kind. They are made from some special material that claims to only block the highest db levels and highest frequencies. I don't know how this is possible but I know people who say they work.

BTW, neither Heifetz nor Zukerman ever used a shoulder rest.

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In addition to the earplugs that are molded to your ears, etymotic also sells plugs that are supposedly acoustically neutral (even suppression across the audible threshold) but considerably cheaper, and not needing professional fitting. They run about 10 bucks a pair, and provide around 20 dB of suppression. I'd wear one in my left ear for practice, and in both ears if I sat in fromt of the brass.

I bought a dozen pairs for the family when we went to a bunch of weddings; made the noise level tolerable from the various bands & DJs. Didn't help conversation much, but even without them conversation was nea impossible without shouting.

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what you mean and what you wrote are two very different things.

Please be careful.

-Also PLEASE stop trying to belittle a very serious issue.

 You are going against a large amount of documented research,

so just give it a rest before you (literally) hurt someone.


Concerning earplugs:

be aware that the $15,  'fits all" type sold in music stores

does not work at ALL like the expensive, custom-fitted ones.

 The difference is not just the fit, the internal mechanism is

completely different.

the cheap ones are almost worthless, because when volume reaches a

certain level they just close off.  Thus, they are no better

than 50-cent foam plugs.

The good ones knock-down 15 db (or whatever insert you use) all the

time, and also always pass some HF information.  I also agree

that you can get used to them fairly quickly, since there is SOME

HF information available to your brain.

Get the ones made out of surgical silicone, it is well worth the

extra cost for the comfort they provide.

-And BTW, should you have a need for custom sleeping / swimming

plugs, or custom ear-buds (iPod type) then you can re-use the same

molds, so the total cost goes way down.

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Plugging the left ear alone has another advantage. It can be used to bring the same sound level to both ears and this can improve intonation if you are a loud player because an over-driven ear hears sharp and since it is the "louder ear" that is over-driven it generally results in flat intonatiion by violin players - it can even result in difficulties tuning the instrument.

A violin held close to the left ear can result in 12 to 18 DB higher sound pressure level hitting that ear than the right ear, so at least that amount of attenuation is desirable.

However, if the player has suffered more right ear damage than left-ear damage (as I have - high-frequency hearing is shot in my left ear), using an ear plug will attenuate all those wonderful overtones that we play the violin to hear. For the past 10 years, I've been using a right ear hearing aid and no plug in the left ear - love it! But I did use a left-ear wax plug (drug-store purchase), loosely fitted (for the amount of attenuation I specified above) for about 10 or 15 years.


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What do you mean when you say, "the cheap ones are almost worthless, because when volume reaches a certain level they just close off." Close off?

Does this mean the cheap foam freebies my orchestra keeps in the wings do not help at all when things get loud? It *felt* like they helped...

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Like anything in life: " Don't over doing it"

I believe one should do practice as long as one feels comfortable (without a mute). After

a long piece, to restore your energy,(or to recharge) take a short break.

Your ears have a chance to recover. (close your eyes for a while I recommend it) When you lift weight, swim , etc. you take breaks. Right?

Why not violin practice.

Always check your body if you are in good shape. (hearing ability, breathing, blood presure, included

mental condition self examined, no kidding )

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I'm trying to figure out how in the heck to buy a set of those

etymotic earplugs.  I've looked at their list of

dealers...there aren't any anywhere near me.  

Any tips from anyone who uses these?  Or were you lucky enough

to live near one of the few dealers/approved audiology labs?

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I seem to recall their website having links to audiology labs, if you're motivated to drop a couple hundred bucks on a set molded to fit your personal ears. These have advantages: you can vary the inserts to get a range of suppression, and get differentdB levels for each ear.

If you want to go cheap, the so-called "high fidelity" plugs can be ordered directly from etymotic, online or thru a phone call, and seem to work well. However, you're looking at a 20 dB cut, which may bo ok for your left ear if your fiddle is a screamer, but using them in both might be a bit much.

I bought several sets, as mentioned, and encouraged my granddaughter to use one in her left ear - her fiddle is scary loud. Sh plugged both ears during practice the other day, and told me that while it was difficult to hear herself with the acuity she's used to, it did have the positive effect of minimising her awareness of minor mistakes, which in turn gave her the confidence to really belt out some music.

I did notice that her playing seemed to have more fire, somehow, during that session. I did notice it was loud enough to cause me some mild discomfort, sitting 10 feet away.

Given her reactions, I suspect the molded plugs would be best for a mature professional. For a typically absent-minded 14 year old, however, I suspect the cheaper plugs will have to do. SHe's lose body parts if they weren't attached.

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I saw the list on their website.  But how can I get custom

earplugs when the nearest lab on that list is hundreds and hundreds

of miles away?

Hence the difficulty illustrated in my previous post.

My fiddle likewise is scary loud, something that makes me smile

from ear to ear...save when I think that it may damage my hearing.

 In fact, one of the reasons, on top of all the others, that I

chose my violin is because I was positively floored by the power

behind that clarion voice.

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Originally posted by: 4strings Allan, What do you

mean when you say, "the cheap ones are almost worthless, because

when volume reaches a certain level they just close off." Close

off? Does this mean the cheap foam freebies my orchestra keeps in

the wings do not help at all when things get loud? It *felt* like

they helped...[/Q

Of course those help. Anything that lessens volume

helps.  My point was that the $15 type are no

better than the 25 cent foam ones because when they shut off, they

pass no high frequencies at all. You CAN play with

them, as the brain will compensate somewhat.  Heck I used to

SING with them, but it's not a very rewarding experience.



I don't recall which company I bought mine from, as it was long ago

and I bought a lifetime supply of all three types (sleeping plugs,

hearing protectors, and dual-driver in-ear monitors)

 However, whichever company you choose, they will provide you

with a list of audiologists in your area that can take the molds.

If there isn't one on that list that is close, you can use ANY

audiologist. It's a very standard procedure and should

only cost about $50 or so. You then send the molds to

the company.

These protectors are WELL worth the investment.  They are much

more comfortable (esp if you get the surgical silicone) they give a

more accurate tonal picture (not perfect, but better than the cheap

ones) and they don't open-up when you swallow or turn your head


If you need plugs for sleeping or plane travel, you can have them

made from the same molds, and these plugs blow away the cheap foam

ones in every way.

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  • 1 month later...

Oh, I hope all the Suzuki teachers and school band teachers know

about this.  I can't imagine what it does to those little

kiddos ears. I've always blamed my hearing on growing

up in the era of deafening rock bands - never thought it could have

been because of  band practice.


Jen Ford

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An excerpt from a response I got from Bob Schulein, director of the

Audio Engineering Society:

"Dear Allan,
There are ample documented cases to indicate

that sound levels associated
with playing musical instruments

can result in permanent hearing loss.
Violin players often

suffer the most from this problem.  Please note the attached

document with several cited references"

I won't bother to post the entire publication.  Suffice it to

say that it's pretty scary.

Wear ear plugs or practice with headphones on.  End of story.

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