Musicians & Hearing Loss

Musicians & Hearing Loss

Leanne E. Polhill, LHAS, BC-HIS, BA Uncategorized

Leanne E. Polhill, LHAS, BC-HIS, BA
Latest posts by Leanne E. Polhill, LHAS, BC-HIS, BA (see all)

It does not come as much of a shock to hear that musicians experience a higher rate of hearing loss than the rest of the population, but the sheer numbers can still raise an eyebrow. According to the Hearing Health Foundation, working musicians are almost four times as likely as the general population to experience noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). And 57 percent of them are more likely to develop tinnitus — a constant ringing in the ears.

Why is this the case? Their regular exposure to loud sounds. Over time, loud noise irreparably destroys the inner ear’s hair cells, which are the sensory receptors we use to send sounds into the brain to be processed.

Rock stars who suffer from hearing loss.

The long list of superstars reporting tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hearing loss includes household names from all over the world. Here are just a few:

  • Neil Young: Over the past several decades, Rocker Neil Young has spoken out over his struggles with tinnitus. The ringing condition shaped the sound of his mid-1990s album “Harvest Moon,” where Young deliberately crafted a softer tone to soothe the tinnitus symptoms and to be gentler to his ears.
  • Brian Wilson: The creative powerhouse behind The Beach Boys has had difficulty hearing since he was a kid when he found hearing problems in his right ear. This hasn’t stopped Wilson from creating some of the sixties’ most iconic pop songs. 
  • Pete Townshend: The Who’s Pete Townshend has been dealing with severe hearing loss for a long time, primarily due to the constant touring. Hearing loss means Townshend is more cautious about how often he sings, and the condition poses challenges to his ability to write new songs. Townshend is wearing hearing aids these days, and still performing live.

Although the list of live rock musicians could no doubt continue, you may be surprised that classical musicians are more susceptible to hearing than rock stars.

Classical musicians and hearing loss

While concerts by rock musicians are louder than shows by traditional musicians, the rockers stand behind the main speakers that reach the incredibly loud volumes. Although they still get a heavy dose of sound, it’s not as loud as many members of the audience experience it.

Classical musicians tend to practice and rehearse more frequently than rock musicians, and they tend to teach lessons. So, while volume levels are never as extreme as they are at rock concerts, with the frequency of exposure, classical musicians compensate for that. 

Even levels as low as 80 dBA (70 decibels A-weighted, as a measurement of ambient sound level) may cause hearing loss over long exposure periods. Add up the hours spent by classical musicians with sound at or above that level, and it’s easy to see why damage can quickly occur. 

This was precisely what happened to violist Betty Hauck. At age 65, she retired from professional music because she couldn’t hear enough to perform anymore. 

“I didn’t want to have anything to do with music whatsoever. If I couldn’t play up to the level I was used to, I wasn’t going to do it.”

Now 74, she has started playing again for fun and uses it to help those with compromised hearing enjoy the sound of music still. 

Apart from the personal stories, recent research also supports the issues that classical musicians face – A recent study found that almost 60% of all classical musicians have problems with their hearing. 

Prevention or cure

So, what can professional musicians do to guard themselves against hearing loss?

Protection is the first step in preventing a loss of hearing. This is essential for all those whose work, or leisure pursuits expose them to repeated, powerful sound. 

Musicians who use amplification can use hearing protection to preserve their hearing into the future. A hearing specialist can even design custom hearing protection, which sits in the inner ear crevices, reducing the loud sound during rehearsals and concerts. 

When the damage has already been done, hearing aids are an option. No longer the sole preserve of your grandfather, they can work surprisingly well during rehearsals and performances. Although they don’t restore the hearing ability to an unassisted ear, they can amplify and replicate the sound in incredibly sharp and precise ways. 

Treating Hearing Loss

Whether you’re a music lover or a hearing-loss musician, visit us to find out what hearing aid options are available. Some devices come with special programs and settings designed with musicians in mind, improving sound quality and clarity to help you experience music the way it was meant to be heard.