How effective would your teaching be
if your hearing deteriorated?
What would happen to the quality of your
life if you were no longer able comfortably
to listen to the music of your choice?
Those questions could be of immediate concern to you if you are exposed
to a daily personal noise dose of 85 decibels. As a brass or percussion
player you would be at more risk than most other musicians, not least because
"your own instrument generates more than half of your own noise dose".
Another graphic illustration of the implications of excessive exposure to
noise is that exposure to an average of 90 decibels each day for 40 years
leaves one in three people in difficulty talking to others; indeed one in
five finds conversation almost impossible.
So, are you at risk?
received wisdom is that by sensible averaging of your noise dose over
a day and longer periods, it is possible to minimise longer-term damage.
That may sound like commonsense. Yet there is a booby trap within.
The trap takes the form of the Stereocilia, the last mechanical element
in the hearing mechanism. They are located in the cochlea, surrounded
by fluid and embedded in 'hair cells'. They act as narrow-band amplifiers.
about 140 decibels, the Stereocilia are irreparably damaged; you will
be able to hear sound, but making sense of it will be a problem. A
serious matter for musicians. No amount of averaging over a period
can help. Percussion players have exposures in excess of 140 decibels.
Most people's ears hurt at noise levels of 120 decibels. A violinist's
dynamic range, as received by the player's ear, is between 80 and
Moderately damaged stereocilia
Severely damaged stereocilia
Association of British Orchestras' (ABO) commissioned exploration
of noise damage in orchestras*, "A Sound Ear", acknowledges
that its findings do not take account of the full range of an orchestral
musician's musical activities. For example, in addition to orchestral
performance, including rehearsal, there may well be individual practice
and instrumental teaching/training, not to mention "extra-curricular"
music-making, all of which could take the daily dose into risk zones.
on pictures for larger (approx. 30kb) versions
Photo Credits: The above images are reproduced
with kind permission of Dr J.O. Pickles, University of Queensland.
© copyright MusicEd 2002.