Jonathan Hutcherson is a musician born with hearing loss who was featured in the Summer 2016 issue of Hearing Health.

Jonathan Hutcherson is a musician born with hearing loss who was featured in the Summer 2016 issue of Hearing Health.


Professional musicians are almost four times as likely to develop noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) as the general public, reveals research. And they are 57% more likely to develop tinnitus—incessant ringing in the ears—as a result of their job, the findings show. NIHL can be caused by sudden very loud noise, such as an explosion or gunfire, but it may also develop gradually as a result of repeated exposure to loud noise, suggest the authors of study published in British Medical Journal.

The reason: frequent subjection to loud sound. Over time, loud sound will irreparably damage the hair cells of the inner ear, which a sensory receptors responsible for sending sound to the brain.

NIHL is permanent and most common cause of hearing loss resulting from prolonged exposure to high levels of noise. The damage caused by noise—sensorineural hearing loss—can be caused by several factors. However, NIHL is preventable, which is why protecting our ears and hearing is so important.

The National Institutes of Health reports that about 15% of Americans ages 20 to 69 have high-frequency hearing loss related to occupational or leisure activities. Evidence suggests that loud rock music along with increased use of personal listening devices with earphones may be further contributing to this phenomenon.



Get a hearing test.

Baseline hearing levels are important to obtain for anybody exposed to loud music on a regular or even semiregular basis. Ask to be tested on a range of 125 to 20,000 hertz, as the very high frequencies often show a loss first. If you’ve had ringing in your ears, consider including a tinnitus assessment.

Know your range.

If you are mixing in the studio, use in-ear monitors and the equalizer to adjust for any frequency bands you may be missing. You can also use equalizer controls to adjust the sound to offer some sound cues that you may not be otherwise getting because of a hearing loss.

Use in-ear monitors.

In-ear monitors allow musicians to hear the music mix directly in their ears. Work closely with your audiologist to choose in-ear monitors appropriate for your needs, and learn to use them properly for maximum protection.

Musician’s earplugs do more than protect hearing.

You can hear your own voice or your own instrument more clearly when wearing musician’s earplugs. This helps you better hit notes without straining.

Source: Melissa Heche, Au.D.



Musicians (and fans!) can significantly lessen their risks of hearing loss and tinnitus through the use of protective measures that preserve the sounds and harmony of the music. A hearing specialist can recommend custom musicians’ earplugs or in-ear-monitors to protect your hearing without compromising your musical performance or experience.

Some reasons to consider custom-made earplugs: Typical foam earplugs mute speech and music, and by lessening noise primarily in the high-frequency range, rather than in the mid- to low-frequency range, music and voices can sound unnatural and unclear. Custom-fit earplugs lower sound more smoothly across frequencies, while also reducing decibel levels, thereby maintaining the all-natural quality of speech and music.

In addition, with foam earplugs, the user will hear a hollowed out sound in their speech when speaking, singing, or playing a musical instrument. This unnatural, muffled sound is referred to as the “occlusion effect.” Custom-fit earplugs are molded to the ear, producing a seal that helps prevent this distracting sound.

For more tips from music enthusiasts with hearing loss, see Hearing Health magazine’s Summer 2016 article “Music Gear From the Pros.

Source: South Shore Hearing Center




For a person with hearing loss, music sounds much softer, especially in the range where people sing and where most instruments are heard. Not only does music sound muffled and dull, but it loses a great deal of its excitement.

Lost is the general texture of music, such as the way a particular instrument or combination of instruments sound. It can be hard to pick out a specific instrument or singer from the background; some people lose the ability to hear musical pitch properly, making it hard to sing or even recognize a melody.

A hearing loss also creates a serious problem with loudness, or the subjective impression of the intensity of sounds. Many people with hearing loss simply hear nothing at all if the sounds are not intense enough; sounds that would be at a comfortable volume for people with typical hearing are barely audible.

However, as sound levels increase, sounds are heard as becoming louder at a rate much faster than they do with normal hearing. The change in intensity between “barely audible” and “unbearably loud” is reduced.

Problems with pitch, texture, and loudness perception are not really separate problems. Because hearing loss is often greatest over the frequency range where most instruments sound, that is also the area where the greatest problems with loudness occur. For people with hearing loss, this messy interaction can make listening to music—let alone playing music—very challenging.

Hearing Aids and Music

A 2016 report from British hearing researcher Brian Moore, Ph.D., entitled “Effects of Sound-Induced Hearing Loss and Hearing Aids on the Perception of Music,” implies that while modern hearing aids can help to some extent, there is much that needs to be learned to improve their musical effectiveness. Everyone’s hearing is different, of course, and some will get more benefit from hearing aids than others. But there are some problems that no technology has yet been able to correct.

Hearing aid technology that improves speech understanding and loudness perception does not work so well when it comes to music. For instance, low frequency sounds are not amplified at the same level as high frequency sounds, so a tuba or cello sounds soft and tinny and lacks the impact it should have. Music also gets distorted when heard through hearing aids designed to improve understanding speech in noise.

Many hearing aids provide specific presets for live music listening, but Moore’s research confirms my own experience that they are often not that helpful. And when streaming recorded music into a hearing aid via Bluetooth, the sound, to me at least, resembles an old transistor radio rather than a high-fidelity system.

While there are speech-centric techniques that could transpose, say, high flute notes, to a lower range, Moore reports that in practice this produces mixed results. Electronically transposing music significantly distorts both the content and texture, making it sound increasingly distorted, robotic, and unpleasant with greater amounts of transposition. As for those hearing losses where musical melody becomes unrecognizable, unfortunately, there is no current technology that can correct such a problem.

Source: Richard Einhorn. Content is adapted from “How Does Hearing Loss Affect the Perception of Music?” which appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Hearing Health.

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