Strategies to Prevent Hearing Loss in Musicians

Musicians are four times as likely to have hearing loss than non-musicians. Skynesher/Getty Images

When one thinks of noise-induced hearing loss, musicians do not often come to mind. However, even though music is a pleasant sound, excessive exposure does cause permanent damage to hearing. This permanent cochlear damage can cause tinnitus and changes in the way a musician perceives frequencies (or pitch).

Musicians are four times as likely to have hearing loss and 57% more likely to suffer with tinnitus when compared to non-musicans in the same age group.

The good news is that with some modifications, music-induced hearing loss (MIHL) is 100% preventable.

Ear Plugs

Custom musician plugs come with specialized filters to decrease sound equally across the frequency range. They are available in 9dB, 15dB and 25dB versions. The 15dB filter is appropriate for most musicians, with 25dB being recommended for drummers. In contrast, a regular ear plug will cause muddiness or muffled hearing because it decreases the high frequencies more than the low frequencies. The musician filter is custom molded to the ear and fits deeply to reduce vibration that may create an occlusion effect.

Cello and bass players that have difficulty hearing the low frequencies of their instruments will sometimes lean against the pegs to feel the vibration, creating neck strain. An ear plug with large venting coupled to tubing that is placed in the f-hole allows the low frequencies to be heard correctly.

Custom ear monitors are electronic and provide attenuation and clear sound quality. They are used in an amplified setting and allow the musician to hear well while protecting their hearing.


The environment makes a big impact on sound perception. Different surfaces can absorb or reflect sound waves of various frequencies.

For this reason, violins and violas should not be placed under an overhang that is within three feet of the musician’s head. Overhangs absorb the high-frequency sounds and cause musicians to overplay to perceive the harmonics. In addition to hearing damage, arms and wrist strain may occur.

Brass should be seated on risers. High-frequency sounds from the bell of the brass instruments travel in a straight line. By raising the brass, it directs the high-frequency sounds over the heads of the musicians seated in front of them.

If amplifiers are used, a musician should position themselves parallel to the speakers, rather than in front or behind as the speaker enclosure wall offers some protection.

Mutes and Baffles

These recommendations are intended to be used during practice and not in performance:

Brass instruments have the option of a practice mute or electronic mute to decrease the sound exposure. An electronic mute does not change the air resistance a musician feels while playing and is often preferred.

String instruments can use a mute that fits over the bridge of their instrument to decrease sound. There may be a slight high frequency loss with these mutes.

Drummers should practice with the high hat cymbal in the closed position or use a muffling pad.

These recommendations are intended for use during practice and performance:

Plexiglass baffles can be attached to the back of a musician’s chair to deflect sound. These need to be placed within 7 inches of the musician’s head to receive benefit.  Baffles can also be used around the drummer as long as they do not come up as far as the drummer’s head.

All musicians should have their hearing checked regularly by an audiologist and protect their hearing to ensure years of beautiful music.


Morata, Thais (2007). Young people: Their noise and music exposures and the risk of hearing loss. International Journal of Audiology. Volume 46, Issue 3.

Chasin, Marshall. Hear The Music. Dan Diamond and Associates, Canada. 2001.

Schink T, Kreutz G, Busch V, Pigeot I, Ahrens W. Incidence and relative risk of hearing disorders in professional musicians. Occupational & Environmental Medicine. Accessed 07/29/2015 from 

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