Hearing | Music | SIU

Southern Illinois University



College of Liberal Arts


What ALL Musicians Should Know and Do

The School of Music wishes to thank Dr. Kathleen Campbell, PhD, Professor and Director of Audiology Research, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.


• Hearing health is essential to your lifelong success as a musician.
• Your hearing can be permanently damaged by loud sounds, including music. This is called Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL). Such danger is constant.
Noise-induced hearing loss is generally preventable. You must avoid overexposure to loud sounds, especially for long periods of time.
• The closer you are to the source of a loud sound, the greater the risk of damage to your hearing mechanisms.
• Sounds over 85 dB (your typical vacuum cleaner) in intensity pose the greatest risk to your hearing.
• Risk of hearing loss is based on a combination of sound or loudness intensity and duration.
• Recommended maximum daily exposure times (NIOSH) to sounds at or above 85 dB are as follows:

- 85 dB (vacuum cleaner, MP3 player at 1/3 volume) – 8 hours
- 90 dB (blender, hair dryer) – 2 hours
- 94 dB (MP3 player at ½ volume) – 1 hour
- 100 dB (MP3 player at full volume, lawnmower – 15 minutes
- 110 dB (rock concert, power tools) – 2 minutes
- 120 dB (jet planes at take-off) – without ear protection. Sound damage is almost immediate

• Certain behaviors (controlling volume levels in practice and rehearsal, avoiding noisy environments, turning down the volume) reduce your risk of hearing loss. 
• The use of earplugs and earmuffs helps to protect your hearing health.
• Day-to-day decisions can impact your hearing health, both now and in the future. Since sound exposure occurs in and out of school, you also need to learn more and take care of your own hearing health on a daily, even hourly basis.
• It is important to follow basic hearing health guidelines, and to stay informed about hearing loss issues.
• If you are concerned about your personal hearing health, talk with a medical professional. If you are concerned about your hearing health in relationship to your program of study, consult the appropriate faculty member at SIU.

A long-term problem associated with being a musician is hearing loss. Loud sound can actually damage the organ in your ear that is responsible for you to hear. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health devised two excellent guides to understand if you are being exposed to an unsafe level of noise. If you have to raise your voice to be heard by another person, then you are being exposed to a potentially hazardous amount of noise. Also, after engaging in activity, if your ears are ringing at the end of the day or at night, you were probably exposed to a hazardous level of noise. The best way to prevent long-term hearing loss is to modify the acoustic environment and reduce the amount of exposure. At times this is not possible and as a last resort, earplugs may be needed. It is our recommendation that you discuss this with your instructors or a hearing professional. There are now several types of high fidelity earplugs designed specifically for musicians. (Dr. James Daniels, M.D., SIU School of Medicine)

Dr. Kathleen Campbell, PhD, Professor and Director of Audiology Research at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine recommends the resources of the National Hearing Conservation Association for further information regarding hearing preservations. Please see the website at:www.hearingconservation.org

This information is provided by the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) and the Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA). For more information, consult the other NASM-PAMA hearing health documents located on the NASM website at: