F Sharp, above middle C.
No, it’s not the first note of a hit song, or the scale tone of a fancy altered chord. It’s the note I can hear clearly after I’ve been exposed to excessively loud music. Long after I leave the concert where the music was blasting, or leave a gig where I performed too close to a monitor or crash cymbal, that F sharp rings like an alarm bell, telling me I have made a bad decision for my musical future.
The medical term for “ringing ears” is tinnitus, and it is usually temporary, meaning the ringing of the ears subsides after a few moments of silence. But it also can become permanent if not corrected. Any one constantly exposed to sound levels above the limits of the human ear is in danger of permanent hearing damage.
According to the National Association of Schools of Music Performing Arts Medicine Association, 85 decibels is the maximum ‘safe’ level for continuous exposure to sound. Here is a chart for common environmental sounds and their corresponding decibel levels.
As you can see, MP3 players (while using headphones) and rock concerts are usually well above the safe level, yet we musicians expose ourselves to these levels of sound for many consecutive hours, over and over again throughout our careers. I know – we need to ‘hear’ ourselves. The problem is, unless we re-train our ears to operate effectively at lower volumes, we’ll continue to amp up the volume as we lose our ability to detect certain frequencies. Thus we make the problem worse.
Solutions include musician earplugs, which allow the details of a musical performance to come through clearly while dampening the overall decibel level; in-ear monitors that are fitted and adjusted specifically for each musician’s preferred levels (although they also can cause damage if used at a high volume); and positioning of instruments and monitors correctly to ensure all musicians can hear without having to play loud.
However, the most important solution is the musician him/herself. We must become protectors of our most precious equipment – our ears. Personally, I’ve recently ordered a set of musical earplugs and I intend to limit all of my musical devices’ volume levels. If I love my music, I have to be a better steward of my hearing – or else I risk losing that gift.
For more information, check out this guide from the National Association of Schools of Music.
Share this post with your fellow musicians and discuss how we can better protect our hearing and limit exposure to excessive volumes in our musical endeavors. #GodAndGigs