Music Education Liaison
HEARING HEALTH REPORT
I. Frequently, research conducted by researchers who are not musicians or music educators result in unrealistic recommendations regarding sound-level exposure controls. For example, one researcher recommended the limitation of brass instruments in bands, and the use of mutes for brass instruments during solo practice sessions to reduce sound levels. While such recommendations are respected, they seem impractical and unrealistic relative to music learning, performing and teaching.
II. Additional research needs to be conducted on music educators and students. Most hearing and sound-exposure research has been conducted on orchestral and rock musicians. We need to conduct. research on sound-level exposures of music educators and students in K-12 and university/college music programs. Currently, faculty and students of the Music Research Institute in the School of Music at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (MRi@UNCG) are conducting research on the sound-level exposures of K-12 music educators (i.e., general, choral, band, and orchestra educators), university/college performance study faculty, drum and bugle core students and conductors, and university/college performance ensemble students/conductors via dosimetric measurements. The dosimeters are being set to ISO/NIOSH standards of measurement, and are being compared to OSHA standards of measurement in terms of sound-level exposures and dose percentages experienced during the sampled, typical days of music learning, performing, and teaching experiences. Additionally, these measurements are being analyzed by learning/performing/teaching activities, music genre, number of students/performers, and years of music participation. The MRi@UNCG researchers also are assessing music educators/performers/students' hearing thresholds. Results of such research are essential to preventing hearing losses among music learners, performers, and teachers. Conducting hearing research on participants in marching bands, drumlines, drum and bugle corps, and electronic music ensembles is essential and definitely seem to provide opportunities for fundable projects relative to preventing NIHL.
I. Music educators and students typically do not like to use earplugs because they produce "unbalanced" frequency responses relative to the music being performed or practiced. In other words, conventional earplugs do not have flat frequency responses. However, musicians' earplugs with embedded acoustic filters are available that provide a flat response over a wide frequency range. Even the inexpensive ER-20/HI-FI musicians' earplugs offer a very useful amount of sound-level attenuation across a wide frequency range that will help to prevent NIHL among music educators and students.
II. Rooms in which music is taught are often unsuitable. Frequently, the rooms are ordinary classrooms that are too small and highly reverberant spaces that are unsuitable for music teaching and learning activities. The introduction of sound absorption materials in unsuitable music rooms definitely reduces sound levels, however, such materials and room treatments are quite expensive. How should music rooms used for teaching, rehearsing, or practicing be treated with sound absorption materials in a cost-effective way, and also maintain the desired sound quality necessary for what music educators/students' perceive as essential for effective music rehearsal and practice?
III. To provide suitable rooms for teaching, rehearsing, and practicing music, it is essential that music educators acquire an understanding of the maximum allowable room capacities of their individual situations relative to sound-level exposure by activities occurring in rooms. To acquire this information and to determine the suitability of music teaching-and-learning spaces, rooms must be measured for acoustical conditions. Such monitoring must continue even beyond initial measurements. Perhaps music educators should be provided a dosimeter to measure sound-exposure levels in their classrooms relative to the OSHA and NIOSH/ISO regulations. For monitoring purposes only and to acquire basic sound levels occurring in rooms used for music teaching and learning, inexpensive sound-pressure-level (SPL) meters may be used. However, SPL meters are not configured to provide information according to either OSHA regulations or NIOSH recommendations.
IV. Music ensembles and programs experience growth over time. Noise-induced hearing losses (NIHL) may not only happen as a result of the types of music teaching and learning spaces; but also, NIHL may occur as a result of increased numbers of students in music programs. Preventing music educators/students' hearing losses requires attention to not only providing or adding suitable facilities/rooms, but also, to adding ensembles and reconfiguring schedules. Communicating with school administrators and parents/guardians is essential – a must – in terms of facility needs, growing music programs, and preventing hearing losses as a results of music education.
V. Requirements established by OSHA are estimated to protect only 80-90% of the industrial population, with minimal focus on music educators and students. This level is judged to be an acceptable risk by the United States, and by the industries typically governed by OSHA. Adopting no more than 85 dB with the recommended 3 dB exchange rate as suggested by NIOSH, and as applied by the ISO would be prudent and is warranted. The NIOSH/ISO recommendations result in halving the exposure time in an attempt to prevent hearing loss among persons participating in music as consumers, professionals and students. The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) also recommends no more than 85 dB with a 3 dB exchange rate. The website for ACGIH is: http://www.acgih.org/home.htm.