he thinks he does.
But a battery
of sophisticated, highly sensitive hearing tests shows that the
20-year-old double bass player has slight hearing loss in high frequencies.
tests on a handful of other student musicians reveal varying degrees
of the same result, according to Miriam Henoch, audiologist and
UNT associate professor of speech and hearing sciences.
the students we are seeing have no significant losses, but some
have trace losses in high frequencies, which can be a warning sign,"
other College of Music students are participating in a study that
Henoch and Kris Chesky, UNT research assistant professor, are conducting
through the Texas Center for Music and Medicine.
is a collaborative effort among faculty at UNT and the UNT Health
Science Center at Fort Worth who are concerned with all health issues
related to musicians. Chesky and Dr. Bernard Rubin, chief of rheumatology
at the Health Science Center, are the co-directors.
the medical director and is in charge of the medical clinic, which
is in the Health Science Center's Patient Care Center. Although
the researchers are currently focusing on musicians, they may expand
services to all performing artists. Rubin, as a rheumatologist,
is interested in overuse syndromes (for example, carpal tunnel syndrome)
and is involved in much of the research related to musculoskeletal
as the center's director of research and education. Currently, musicians
and hearing are an important aspect of that research. It is funded
in part by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences,
the organization that awards the Grammys.
Chesky and Henoch are working on a series of studies that will lay
the groundwork for developing nationally recognized standards of
allowable noise levels for musicians.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration set standards for
sound exposures in work environments, it completely overlooked the
music profession," Chesky says.
now, the only music groups really being studied are rock bands and
orchestras," he says. "So the majority of working musicians, including
the thousands of serious student musicians who practice for hours
and play gigs almost every day of the week, are disregarded."
very nature of what they do, musicians could be putting their hearing
at risk. And, since the ability to hear well is critical to being
able to perform well, it is particularly important that musicians
protect their hearing.
first studies have measured sound in relation to musicians in various
ways. One examines ear-canal resonance as a factor in music-induced
hearing loss, and another considers the implications for musicians
of hearing loss and aging.
is contributing data that will be used to establish the allowable
is a lot of background work that has to be done to determine accurately
what musicians experience," Henoch says.
studies look more directly at musicians' sound exposure.
an instrument-specific report of hearing loss, compiles data gathered
from more than 3,000 professional musicians. It shows the percentage
of performers by instrument that report a perceived hearing loss.
which describes sound exposure experienced by a college jazz band
ensemble, directly compares the sound exposures of college musicians
to the risk criteria outlined by OSHA.
are not completely translatable because a musician does not spend
eight straight hours performing in the same way that a construction
worker is exposed to the sounds of a jackhammer all day," Chesky
they are a valid starting point, and what we found shows definite
cause for continuing the studies," he says.
measurements were taken during rehearsals of one of UNT's jazz ensembles
over a three-day period. The results show that during the 50-minute
rehearsal, some players were exposed to 50 percent of their daily
levels were adjusted for a three-hour exposure, some of the performers
exceeded 100 percent of the allowable noise dose. And when translated
to eight hours, every performer exceeded 100 percent, with some
exceeding 300 percent of allowable levels.
exposed to the loudest level was the lead trombone player, who stands
in front of the lead trumpet player. The next most affected player
was the lead alto saxophonist, who sits in front of the lead trombone.
with the least exposure were in the rhythm section, with the string
bass performer recording the lowest level of exposure.
down the volume
plays string bass in the band that was measured, and he says that
he doesn't think the noise levels during rehearsals are excessive.
get pretty loud at times when everything is clicking and the music's
really hot, but compared to the sound in the gigs I play outside
of school, the jazz band rehearsals are mild," he says.
the preliminary data was enough for Chesky to begin education efforts
with UNT's musicians. Students are being told about appropriate
sound levels and advised of ways they can reduce the risk of hearing
was concerned enough to volunteer for one of the center's studies
that will be measuring the effectiveness of musicians' earplugs.
The manufacturers of the plugs, which are made specifically for
musicians, say they lower decibel levels without muting the range
of sound heard.
to participate because I know my hearing is important, and I sometimes
have ringing in my ears after particularly long days at school and
some gigs," Wigton says.
to Henoch, the ringing is an indication of a temporary threshold
shift — in effect, a temporary
hearing loss. If the ringing persists for an extended period of
time, it may indicate a permanent threshold shift, which means irreversible
damage has occurred.
earplugs are supposed to decrease noise levels by 15 decibels, which
could make a significant difference, Henoch says. But the plugs
will only help if they truly do preserve the quality of sound while
lowering the quantity, because they can only work if musicians wear
them, and the plugs won't be used if they distort the sound.
our goal in conducting this research is to educate musicians about
how to protect themselves and preserve their health," she says.
"And if we want to recommend that musicians wear earplugs to lower
their sound exposure, then we have to make sure the plugs really
she points out, the purpose of the center and its research is to
that advising musicians not to perform is not a viable option,"
now, that's what doctors recommend when a musician shows signs of
hearing loss. We want to figure out real ways to let them keep performing
while staying healthy at the same time."
information about the Texas Center for Music and Medicine and its
research, visit its web site at
an appointment at
the clinic, call (817) 735-5442.