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Musician Hearing Protection: Classical Performers Need It Too

28 April 2010 - Aalto University - Musicians have hearing problems caused by prolonged exposure to sound. This also applies to performers of classical music, who are exposed to high sound levels. Hearing problems also affect the musicians’ experience of their working environment. Stress and experiencing the working environment as noisy are associated with hearing problems. Although musicians are worried about their hearing, the use of hearing protectors is rare. 

A recent dissertation by D.Sc. (Tech.) Heli Koskinen notes that while the EU noise directive requires that a new hearing protection program be established for the field of entertainment in addition to industry, the needs and attitudes of classical musicians have not been examined from sufficiently many viewpoints. Previous studies indicate that musicians are exposed to sound levels that may damage hearing. The study of Koskinen confirms that musicians do suffer from hearing loss, but not to the extent the predictive models would give reason to assume.

‘The use of hearing protectors is rare among musicians. Only musicians who have problems with hearing wear protectors on a more regular basis’, says Koskinen. ‘Hearing problems are connected with stress and decreased job satisfaction. While improving acoustics in small rehearsal rooms and classrooms did not significantly reduce the musicians’ exposure to noise, it did improve their job satisfaction’, Koskinen continues.

‘The first priority is taking measures which reduce exposure to noise. These include ensuring appropriate acoustics for all spaces (during performance and in rehearsal spaces for orchestra and individual players), increasing the distance between players and relocating players, which is possible in at least rehearsal spaces’, Koskinen explains. It is also possible to enhance the musicians’ motivation for hearing conservation. The incidence of various hearing problems (ringing ears or tinnitus, hypersensitivity to sound etc.) has been found to be higher among musicians than among the general population. Since hearing problems may cause serious problems for musicians, occupational medical examinations should pay particular attention to these symptoms and take preventive measures.

The doctoral dissertation of D.Sc.(Tech.) Heli Koskinen on hearing protection and the related problem areas for performers of classical music was publicly examined at the Aalto University School of Science and Technology on Fri 9 April 2010. The study measured and defined, for the first time, musicians’ annual exposure to sound, including exposure during individual practice sessions, while also extensively examining the problems associated with the use of hearing protectors. The dissertation gives tools particularly for developing new approaches and technical means of hearing conservation and for their implementation in hearing conservation programs for musicians performing classical music.

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