Music Practice

When I was at Mom 2.0, my friend Ellen gave me a pair of Etymotic earphones and told me to wear them on the plane ride home. Holy cow! They are like magic — with my headphones in, I could hear the movies on my iPhone beautifully, and I could hear the Pilot’s announcements clearly too! Everything else was blocked out. (How in the world does that work?)

I was thinking of the headphones today, because Ellen also told me I should have my kids use ear plugs during music practice. Apparently it’s common for musicians to lose their hearing. Isn’t that awful? Ralph is practicing trombone as I type. We haven’t tried the earplugs yet, but I think I should get some. The trombone is loud!

Do your kids play instruments? Are you concerned about hearing loss? Or am I just being a worry-wart?

46 thoughts on “Music Practice”

  1. I’ve played instruments for years, trombone being my primary instrument and I’ve never experienced any hearing loss that I’ve felt was related to playing. Just make sure that your son isn’t playing in a small room all the time. If the sound has enough space to travel and not reverberate around him, he should be fine. Good luck to him. I’ve had so much joy and pleasure with my trombone, I hope that it does the same for him!

  2. As a professional musician, I am very concerned about hearing loss. While I do not wear earplugs while I perform, I see many colleagues in the orchestra with them in, especially in the brass section. (I sing in the chorus at the Met in NYC) I would say that if your kids play a loud instrument for LONG periods of time, earplugs may be a good idea. If they are playing in an orchestra in front of the timpani section, again, they might be a good idea. (monitoring the volume on their i-pod…now thats something I would always be concerned about!) And earplugs for you while said kid is learning to play the trombone? a must have. :-)

  3. I don’t know if they’re still available, but a friend of mine used to play the trumpet and had a thing called a ‘silent brass’ that fits in the end of the instrument like a mute. You can attach it to headphones so only the person playing can hear the instrument (and adjust the volume).

  4. Our youngest son will be taking percussion lessons in school this year. I think he has dreams of being a rock-star drummer! I never thought of using ear protection for that but I guess it couldn’t hurt (especially with drums). My husband is a firefighter and also does construction on the side. Between the loud sirens and the power tools, I can tell he has some hearing loss. I wish he would’ve used ear protection more throughout his work.

  5. I’m guessing this would depend on what instrument you play. I’ve played string instruments for years and this is not a concern for us. If we wore earplugs we wouldn’t here ourselves!

    1. Apparently, there are earplugs that are made especially for musicians which allow them to hear their instrument (and the other instruments in the band/orchestra) clearly, but prevent damage or hearing loss. Magic I tell you! : )

      1. Yes! Etymotic makes ETYPlugs for musicians and music lovers. ETYPlugs reduce volume evenly without muffling. Music and voices are clear, just quieter. We are the Official Hearing Protection company of Drum Corps International. You can learn more about our efforts to educate and protect musicians everywhere through our Adopt a Band program.

        1. sounds reputable to me! Hearing loss prevention is very worth it – just being in a loud band rehearsal for a couple of hours a day can contribute to loss. I would also recommend the Yamaha Silent Brass system – it includes a practice mute and headphones that makes it possible for the musician to hear himself play, while everyone else around hears very much less volume.

  6. I have played bassoon in the orchestra for 15 years. While the bassoon itself is not too loud, our place in the orchestra is directly in front of the brass section and that is where my hearing loss came from. I wouldn’t be too concerned unless he is practicing continually in a tight space or if goes on to play with the orchestra and has continued exposure to the brass and percussion sections.

    In the meantime, my mom would suggest that you use those earplugs for yourself in the early years of learning an instrument. Apparently first year bassoon students sound something like a dying moose.

  7. Ack, I hadn’t even thought about that! My soon to be 6th grader is going to be in band this year. Instrument has not been determined yet…maybe the rest of us will need the earplugs, heh.

  8. very concerned. My son is not allowed to even fool around on the drums without protective headphones or earplugs. My husband carries earplugs in his pocket along with his wallet since he listens to bands every night.

  9. We’ll actually be fostering an upright grand piano for my relatives who will be doing a stint in a far off country for several years. This is a timely subject since I’m hoping to get my 5-year old started with piano lessons now that we’ll have access to a piano — the opportunity is too good to pass up. I guess I’m wondering how other parents approach music lessons? Is it expected or something the child expressed interest in? I’m really torn. I think it’s a good discipline to have. I’ve also heard some of my friends say that while they hated it sometimes, they’re grateful their parents made them take lessons.

    1. My daughter started taking piano lessons when she was eight. I told her that she was taking them, and we had a small argument about it, and then she wrote up a contract for me to sign that said “Symphony (her name) will take piano lessons” and then in fine print “… and get a donut.” In the end I gave her a coice between taking piano once a week or karate twice a week, and she chose piano.

    2. Early music study is so good for a child! The fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and discipline are just the start of how much your 5-year-old can gain from study. Though it was sometimes a struggle to practice as I grew up, I never regretted taking lessons. It became a creative outlet, a time to think, imagine, and explore myself through the music of others. It does help with the motivation if the child is interested in music, though!

  10. so my question is how did you hear the iPod —did you wear your earbuds over these ear plugs? or is there a plug into these ear plugs for the iPod…so confused.

    1. Sorry for the confusion, Sarah! On the airplane, I was using Etymotic’s earPHONES that plug into any standard earphone jack, but they also offer earPLUGS that you can wear at a loud concert or when you’re playing an instrument or if you have a loud job like construction.

  11. Ben played (and still plays a little) the trumpet for years and is fine. And you’re right. Horns are loud. Trombone is so fun! I asked Oliver the other day if he was excited to start piano lessons and he looked at me in all seriousness and said “but what about the tuba?” I told him he could take tuba lessons later!

  12. I think it is a significant risk! We are in our mid fifties and had a college reunion recently. 2 out of 6 of us who gathered together one night wore hearing aids. Both had been in rock bands, just weekend players. Enjoy your blog – got here through my daughter, mom of three boys!

  13. Hearing loss is irreparable. I work with several audiologists and attend an annual convention for speech and hearing – everyone says hearing loss is shrugged off by so many people and it’s so critical! For related articles, go to or you can email me and I will send you some links to research articles.

    I would get earplugs for Ralph – the worst case scenario is that he will have good hearing throughout his life!

  14. I played the drums growing up (5th grade through college) and I have experienced some hearing issues since college. I have no idea if it’s related, but it’s quite possible. It’s a good idea and definitely doesn’t hurt!

  15. So neat that you mention Etymotic! I know the man behind Etymotic Research; he taught my hearing aids course in graduate school. He is a genius (and a musician, too)!!
    I also played trumpet all the way through undergrad and once I started learning about the ear and hearing, I was never without my musician’s plugs.

    1. I know. It sounds totally impossible, but the right earbuds, you can hear clear conversations, but you don’t hear any whitenoise or background noise.

      Yay for trombone players! : )

  16. how interesting. I played the saxophone and piano all growing up (still play the piano). I have never had my hearing formally tested, but I swear I don’t ever hear as well as those around me. I wonder if that is why. And I also wonder if I should go get my hearing checked…

  17. Blimey with a trumpeter, saxonophist and a violinist… so far… I had never even thought of it… what about general background noise… We didn’t think we had any until we took a video of one of our kids and then we couldn’t hear the him!!! Hmm time to address the riot we call home!!!

  18. The cumulative effects of loud instruments, rehearsals and personal practices are very damaging. We can all look at Pete Townsend from the Who and his devasting hearing loss. Protect those precious ears!

  19. I am currently a music student in Denver, and we have full class discussions about ear plugs. The lectures are geared more towards the audio engineering students, who must have impeccable hearing in order to pursue a career in their field, but the benefit of wearing ear plugs are emphasized as well.

    Personally, I wear ear plugs to every concert I attend, especially at smaller venues. Although I am not an audio student, I’d still like to keep my hearing!

  20. Thank you for posting about this! I’m glad you love the earphones and definitely get Ralph into the habit of protecting his hearing. Etyplugs ROCK. They bring the decibel level down to a level that won’t damage his hearing, but he’ll still be able to hear the music purely and conversations around him. Etymotic has a cool slide rule that shows the decibel level of each instrument and how long they can play it with and without earplugs before the daily exposure limit is reached. Just have to throw in one link because I cannot WAIT to get these earphones for my kids when they are released…brilliant!

  21. I can attest to the hearing loss! My husband is a (rock) musician and already has some noticeable hearing loss at only 33 years old! I think the type and volume of instrument definitely has something to do with it.

    I’m digging Etymotic, I want to learn more about them!

  22. What? Huh? I had both my kids playing trombone at the same time in High School and College. I remember when they first started, it sounded like an angry elephant in the house. I asked them to practice outside or in the basement.

  23. Etymotic has some material that is more than likely available on their website about the noise levels of instruments. For the most part, instruments (brass or wind) can put out a sound as loud as 100 dB or more. If bands were governed like factories, we’d only be able to play our instruments for a few seconds or less because of the danger of noise exposure (which damages hearing). Etymotic has wonderful products and I would be all for protecting my child’s hearing (cheaper than hearing aids!). You can even adopt your child’s band!

    BTW, I love reading your blog and have visited quite often, just have never commented. This post hit home with me because I’m an audiologist :)

  24. Maria Ortiz-Cintron

    I have two violinists at home, (ages 12 & 15) I never thought of the need for earplugs, I really never considered their playing volume required it. Hmm…I’ll have to look into this.. Thanks for the info…

  25. I am SO glad I read this post yesterday. My husband and I went to see a movie last night and the volume was deafening. I am definitely getting a pair of the earplugs for loud movies.

  26. I’m a musician and it has effected my hearing a lot! I’m willing to guess it’s part genetic and part sound induced, but you never know if you have a predisposition to loose it more easily. My husband is a recording engineer and has perfect hearing. I have to wear hearing aids and I’ll tell you it somtimes is only harder to hear with them in…it’s nothing like what putting on a pair of glasses is for your eyes.

    Musicians earplugs are a bit pricey, but extremely worth it because they dont block the sound from just the high frequencies (you know that muffly sound when you where them), but all frequencies equally…so it litterally sounds like you just turned the volume down. I only find them difficult to wear when I’m singing. If he’s serious about playing you should get him a pair.

  27. Something I also wanted to mention about hearing loss…it’s depressing. litterally. It effects every aspect of your social life and one can feel very left out. There are more suicides from deaf than blind. It’s really important to protect it cause you can’t just fix it.

  28. My 2 year old screams in my ear often. Oh, I wish I could carry earplugs around all day to protect my hearing!
    Hearing aids are getting better, but as stated, there’s nothing like good old fashioned natural ears. My husband knows all about cochlear implants (he’s a research scientist in the cochlear implant field) and tells me about implantable hearing aids and all sorts of futuristic sounding technology. I’m sure some sort of hearing aid is in my future. and for many of us!

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