We are surrounded by sounds and voices throughout our days. This is nothing out of the blue and you understand this well.
However, all of those sounds cumulatively cause what you wouldn’t want even in a thousand years – a gradual hearing loss. No wonder why the majority of the older people have a certain degree of hearing loss.
As I said, through general observation, this is obvious.
But the real question is can playing a piano somehow accelerate this process? Or, can a piano contribute to hearing loss, especially, of those players who practice a lot?
Before exploring answers to these questions, let me educate you about…
…the structure of the ear
An organ made of cartilage might not seem as delicate as it is on the inside. It is basically made of three layers all connected to each other through various means indispensable to their structure and function.
The outer ear is funnel-shaped, which captures all the sounds. Once the frequencies find their way inside our ears, its middle part is where they produce vibrations on our eardrums. Those vibrations signal the minute hair cells in the inner ear; and thus, the hearing sensation is produced, depending on their capacity to accommodate different frequencies.
If we talk about the human ear, it can only hear frequencies between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz. Any frequency below or above these thresholds would not be recognized by our hair cells; and thus, we won’t be able to hear it. But this does not necessarily cause hearing loss. We can term the main culprit to be the intensity of the sound we hear.
Pertaining to that, any intensity (dB) of the sound that is too high from the threshold of pain (115 dB), or even near it (from 80 dB to 95 dB), would put an obvious strain on our hair cells. So, over the time, if we continue listening to higher intensities deliberately or not, like working in a factory, we’d compromise our hearing capability. It would deteriorate with the passage of time as there is a limit to the strain that our ears can take. Besides, you know what happens to almost every organ of our bodies if we overuse it.
How can the piano contribute to hearing loss?
Pianos have a range of intensities, normally from 60 dB to 70 dB, which equates to 27 Hz to 14000 Hz of frequencies.
If we put it this way, then playing the piano or practicing for longer times every day should only have a minimum impact on your hair cells because this range is affordable for the ear. However, as research warns us about hearing more than 80 dB for longer times, playing the piano in fortissimo could damage our ears more than you think. For your information, fortissimo increases the intensity to 94 dB, which could damage our ears completely if we keep on listening to it for about an hour.
So, if I were to state a direct answer to the question asked, I’d say that playing noisy pianos with high pitches or sound intensity could damage your ears without you even noticing it, just like the writer of this article who happens to be a piano player suffering from tinnitus. He attributes his ‘acoustic trauma’ to his playing of noisy grand pianos, and the overall impact of the sounds heard over the years.
Don’t lose hope, though. You can still play the piano without caring about losing your hearing faculty over the time. You just don’t have to care about it. Simple. Our ears can be damaged not just by playing the piano, but a plethora of other practices such as listening to loud music, heavy traffic, and the overall prevailing noise pollution.
What to do, then?
What you can do is take necessary measures to dampen the effect of the sound intensity produced.
1. Use hearing protection specially designed for musicians. Instead of earplugs, go for in-ear monitors that come with a better quality and offer more sound isolation.
2. Place some pauses or silences in your music so that you don’t have to listen to continuous high-intensity music.
3. In case you use a silent system, always prefer using headphones of higher quality and always lower the sound.
4. Use blankets to cover the instrument and dampen its sound.
A little reminder
Listening to high-intensity sound at a low volume could have a lesser impact than otherwise. It is always wise to protect your ears from receiving damage because once they are damaged, there’s no recovering.