Hearing is important for everyone. It’s a vital sense that we probably take a little for granted, because we don’t realize how important it is to us until we start losing it.
But that’s even more true for musicians. Most non-musicians don’t realize that musicians really do hear things differently than the rest of us.
In fact, according to a study done by the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University, “Musicians demonstrate a perceptual advantage for understanding speech in noise that is thought to be driven by auditory-related cognitive enhancements (e.g., verbal memory and auditory attention) and heightened auditory abilities.”
Their hearing is almost like a super power!
It’s true, musicians DO expose themselves to a lot of sound.
A musician’s exposure is rarely to a stable, consistent signal. Natural modulations in both pitch and intensity are inherent to most musical sounds, resulting in variable levels of exposure over time.
The intensity of any given song raises and lowers as the song progresses. Thus, it is quite different from working in a job that entails long-term industrial noise exposure, so should be assessed and managed differently.
This does not mean that musicians don’t experience hearing loss. In fact, because they are exposed to intense sounds, and often forego hearing protection, musicians are four times more likely to develop some degree of hearing loss or tinnitus than the general public.
But what can they do to prevent hearing loss?
Most importantly, we would recommend seeing a hearing specialist. Even if no hearing loss has been noticed, an assessment provides a starting point. Should hearing loss already have begun, your hearing care provider can make recommendations to prevent it from worsening.
Next, we would encourage anyone who makes or regularly listens to music for long amounts of time to invest in molded earplugs. They are custom fit to your ears and your situation, and contain filtering technology which preserves the music without creating distortion. Custom fit in-ear monitors are another great option for performers; these come in a variety of technology levels, styles, and features to suit the needs of many different types of musicians.
Finally, using a smartphone sound level meter app is a great way to make sure noise levels are acceptable. Prolonged exposure at high intensity is what most commonly leads to hearing loss. Monitoring levels and managing exposure times can significantly reduce the associated risks.
Hearing loss is difficult to deal with for everyone who experiences it. But hearing loss for a musician can be devastating.
That’s why a musician’s best friend should be their hearing care professional.
Not hearing as well as you used to?
Stop in and have a chat with us. The hearing loss you are experiencing just might be treatable, but you can’t know until you determine the underlying causes of diminished hearing.