UNT takes proactive steps to protect musicians from
Editor: We're just learning that musicians are at higher-than-normal
risk for hearing loss. I guess that shouldn't be a surprise, given that
they often rehearse and perform in loud environments for several hours a
Kudos to the folks at the University of North Texas for recognizing
this situation and doing something about it.
Texas 3/4 Dedicated musicians enclose themselves in tiny practice
rooms for hours, repeating excerpts again and again with the sound
bouncing off the walls. They play in orchestras in front of the
rat-a-tat of snare drums, the blaring of trumpets, and the booming of
For all this dedication, they could be slowly ruining one of their
most important assets as a musician -- their hearing.
The University of North Texas is setting out to change that.
Through the Texas Center for Music and Medicine at UNT, the UNT
College of Music is educating students about the risk of noise-induced
hearing loss in music ensembles -- helping them save their hearing for
longer musical careers and improving their quality of life.
"Hearing loss is a huge issue, not only in music education, but
for all of society," said Dr. Kris Chesky, director of education
and research for the Texas Center of Music and Medicine at UNT.
"Digital technologies have given us more opportunities to create
sound. We're exposed to noise from computer games, loud movies in
theaters, earphones, car stereos and more."
About 28 million people in the United States have some form of
hearing loss, and research by several organizations -- including UNT --
suggests 30 percent to 50 percent of musicians report hearing problems.
To combat this problem, UNT started distributing information this
semester to its College of Music students in ensembles, informing them
of the possible danger of noise-induced hearing loss and advising them
of resources to protect their hearing. Ensemble directors and teachers
are discussing noise-induced hearing loss and prevention methods with
In addition, Chesky developed and teaches a new course,
"Occupational Health: Lessons from Music," for undergraduate
students of any major. The class, which began in Fall 2006, focuses on
musculoskeletal, hearing and mental health issues associated with
Chesky hopes schools and musical organizations across the globe follow
"Raising awareness about hearing loss is an easy, efficient,
cost-effective first step that schools can take to prevent injuries, and
it has long-term implications for keeping students safe so they can
fully enjoy music for the rest of their lives," Chesky said.
Chesky has firsthand knowledge of noise-induced hearing loss. While a
music major at college, he played trumpet all day at schools and at
night in clubs. He couldn't wait to go to sleep at night to escape the
constant ringing in his ears -- known as tinnitus. Now he deals with
hearing loss, though he continues to play trumpet professionally. Given
the chance, he would have paid more attention to protecting his ears as
a college music student.
"My educators were uninformed and unaware. It was not part of
the educational culture," Chesky said. "If I had known, I
would have avoided sounds that hurt -- snare drums, horns. I would have
given my ears more rest after loud exposure. Especially as a music
performer, I would have turned down the sound."
Dr. Brian J. Fligor, chair of the National Hearing Conservation
Association (NHCA) Music-Induced Hearing Loss Task Force and director of
education for the NHCA, says recommendations such as UNT's are vital to
"Musicians, more than any other profession, rely on their
hearing for optimal performance of their art. It is therefore imperative
that good 'hearing hygiene' be promoted by schools," says Fligor,
director of diagnostic audiology for Children's Hospital in Boston and
instructor in otology and laryngology at Harvard Medical School.
"Instilling good hearing-health habits early will go a long way
toward combating potentially career-ending injuries."
UNT's hearing-loss education and prevention recommendations are the
result of a Health Promotion in Schools of Music project (www.unt.edu/hpsm),
funded by the National Endowment for the Arts; the National Academy of
Recording Arts and Sciences, the organization that awards the Grammys;
the International Foundation for Music Research; NAMM, formerly known as
the National Association of Music Merchants; and the Scott Foundation.
UNT's Health Promotion in Schools of Music recommendations were sent to
all college-level schools of music that are accredited by the National
Association of Schools of Music. NASM has more than 600 accredited
college programs nationwide.
UNT music students are given the following facts and tips to protect
Facts about noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL):
* As many as 50 percent of musicians have problems with hearing loss;
* Risk of injury is based on a combination of sound intensity and
* Listening to music, live or recorded, in performance or rehearsal, can
result in significant exposure to high sound levels;
* Hearing loss is cumulative: all sources (24/7) of elevated sound
* Permanent noise-induced hearing loss is irreversible;
* and Temporary noise-induced hearing loss is reversible with adequate
rest and recovery.
Tips for short-term prevention of hearing loss:
* Listen to recorded music at moderate loudness levels;
* Reduce exposure time to sound levels above 85 decibels;
* Reduce repeated or cumulative exposure;
* Protect yourself from exposure to hazardous sound environments;
* Use ear protection in noisy environments;
* and Rest the ears between exposures to loud sounds.
Tips for long-term prevention of hearing loss:
* Get a baseline comprehensive audiological evaluation (offered free to
UNT students on campus);
* Follow up with annual checkups;
* Know the symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss:
o Temporary threshold shifts
o Ear discomfort after exposure to loud sounds
o Ringing and buzzing in the ears
o Difficulty hearing in noisy environments.
Students are also directed to an informational video about
noise-induced hearing loss at: http://media.unt.edu:8080/ramgen/cdl/MUAG1500/video/hearing_exam.rm.
About the Texas Center for Music and Medicine at UNT
The Texas Center for Music and Medicine was founded at UNT in 1999 as
the nation's first center dedicated to studying, treating and preventing
musicians' health problems. Researchers and clinicians within the UNT
System, including faculty from the College of Music, the College of Arts
and Sciences and the UNT Health Science Center, conduct
interdisciplinary research and provide clinical treatment to musicians
in the north Texas region.
The Texas Center for Music and Medicine at UNT has conducted research
on several issues important to musicians' health, including easing
strain on small-handed pianists by using smaller keyboards, measuring
mouthpiece pressure to reduce long-term negative effects for people who
play wind instruments, and helping musicians deal with the mental and
emotional pressures of the profession. For more information, visit