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Home » Resources » Health » Hearing Aid Q&A for Musicians

Hearing Aid Q&A for Musicians


Most musicians know that they should protect their hearing, but what can they do if some damage has already been done? Omaha, Nebraska, audiologists Kendall Simmons and Joel Edwards, who both work with the national hearing healthcare provider network EarQ, answer some questions.

I play violin in the orchestra, and when the brass plays it hurts my ears. What can I do to prevent this discomfort, and still hear my violin?

It is important for anyone with consistent exposure to loud sounds to obtain a baseline audiogram, or hearing test, in case there is decreased hearing in the future. An audiologist will review options for custom-fitted, filtered earplugs that reduce damaging sound levels, but also allow you to hear music.

My ears ring after I play a bar gig. What should I do?

Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, can be in an indication of hearing loss and/or a sign that you have been exposed to loud noise for too long. Stepping outside during gigs for 15-minute noise breaks provides some relief. Contact an audiologist to discuss hearing protection options for your gigs and to have your current hearing evaluated. One option is to use in-ear monitors (IEM) that act as a filter for loud amplified noise. Simple measures can make a huge difference in hearing health and minimize hearing loss.

I have hearing loss and trouble hearing the conductor. Is there anything that can help me without being too noticeable?

First of all, it is excellent that you have come to terms with the fact that you have hearing loss—that can be hard, especially for musicians. Hearing aids may be an effective option. Visit an audiologist to review amplification (hearing aid) options. Technology has come a long way over the years. Most people are pleasantly surprised at their small size, and to learn that hearing aids can be programmed for specific listening situations. For example, they can be programmed to reduce interference as you listen to the ensemble when performing or rehearsing. Some hearing aids actually process speech and music differently so there is less conflict while wearing amplification in a musical environment.

I play in a big band, and the trumpets are blaring behind me. After a night of that noise, my ears ring, and I am afraid of losing my hearing. What are my options, other than quitting the group?

It is important to protect your hearing, without sacrificing activities that are important to you. In addition to seeing an audiologist to discuss hearing protection, talk to other band members about setting up in another configuration so that you are not right in front of the trumpets. Also, sometimes it’s possible to use on-stage baffles to block the sound.

I hate singing with earplugs, but I need to protect my hearing because I make my living as a musician. Is there another option?

It can be difficult to monitor your performance while wearing traditional earplugs. Talk to an audiologist about filtered earplugs and be sure that you are monitoring your hearing sensitivity. Additionally, let the audiologist know that you sing, and/or play, because the length of the earplug can make a difference while performing. A slightly shorter earplug makes a good cheap monitoring system for vocalists.

I heard wearing hearing aids and playing music is not a good combination. Is that true? Won’t they cause further damage?

Adjusting to hearing aids can be challenging, and takes a few weeks, but they can be programmed for use when playing music. Your brain may have to be trained on how to listen to music again, but this happens quickly, especially if you are exposed to music on a daily basis. Some hearing aids have a program to make music sound as normal as possible. When you schedule a hearing aid evaluation, bring recorded music and your instrument to listen to.

An audiologist programs a hearing aid so that it has a “maximum output” that cannot be overcome to prevent amplification from reaching levels that could harm residual hearing. Ask the audiologist to create a specific listening program for performances—one that will provide the correct level of feedback amplification during a performance. Hearing aids will not cause further damage as long as they are programmed correctly by an audiologist.

Will a hearing aid allow me to hear pitch accurately while I practice at home?

The short answer is yes. The audiologist sets the hearing aids based on your hearing loss and listening needs. You then wear the hearing aids for a little while to give your brain time to adjust, before meeting with the audiologist again to fine-tune the programming. Hearing aids are not an instant fix, but they do help if you are dedicated to wearing them.

I have a hearing loss in both ears, but need to be able to monitor sound through in-ear monitors on stage, what are my options?

This is one of the biggest challenges we see. An option would be to use an in-ear monitor in one ear, and then put a filtered earplug the other ear for protection. This may allow you to hear other musicians on stage since the in-ear monitors typically do not allow this.

—About EarQ: EarQ strives to revolutionize the hearing healthcare industry through innovative business and marketing practices, national public awareness efforts, and advocating for excellence in private patient care. Through its 1,400 nationwide hearing healthcare locations, EarQ works to shatter the stereotypes surrounding hearing loss and empower the millions of Americans who suffer from it to take control of their hearing health.