Schools & Colleges

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Case study: School music department

Despite the excellent acoustics of purpose-built practice and performance facilities, music teachers at a school could be at risk of receiving excessive noise exposures.

The Table below gives the noise levels to which teachers were exposed during lessons for individual pupils and group practice at a school with excellent teaching facilities. The Leq is the measured level when pupils were actually playing, rather than the average level over the lesson. Daily exposure increases with both the level and duration of the sound. The exposure time to 80 dB LEP,d is the total time in the day that a teacher is hearing pupils play at the measured sound level before that teacher reaches their 80 dB daily exposure. Some teachers could reach a hazardous exposure within a single lesson.

Daily exposure will increase with listening and playing times.

Activity Leq dB Exposure time to 80 dB
LEP,d
Leading and playing with eight member saxophone group 93 to 95 15 to 24 minutes
Conducting brass, woodwind and percussion orchestra 94 19 minutes
Saxophone lesson 95 15 minutes
Trombone lesson 90 48 minutes
Flute lesson 89 60 minutes
Electric guitar lesson 88 75 minutes
Singing lesson 85 2.5 hours
Piano 82 5 hours
Violin lesson tutor providing
piano accompaniment
Small practice room 82
Large practice room 76
5 hours
Not exceeded

Commentary

The following recommendations were made:

  • Lower noise levels are possible in the larger practice rooms. These should be the preferred choice for lessons on louder instruments.
  • Avoid playing loudly all the time. Reduce the exposure time at hazardous levels by having a repertoire of loud and quiet pieces.
  • Limit the amplification of electronic instruments.
  • Use hearing protection designed for musicians in conjunction with noise controls where a risk remains.

Case study: College tuition

The following measurements were taken over approximately a one hour period of adult tuition in a purpose-built teaching room. If a teacher's exposure continues at that level for 8 hours then the representative noise level would be the actual daily exposure level.

Note the peak exposure of the cornet player would be of concern.

REPRESENTATIVE EXPOSURE LEVELS
INSTRUMENT dB Peak
College tuition
Flute 93 116
Oboe 84 132
Clarinet 90 132
Alto saxophone 93 132
Tenor saxophone 95 134
Bassoon 83 120
French horn 85 129
Cornet 89 140
Trombone 91 132
Euphonium 96 131
Violin 88 120
Violin 86 126
Piano 80 126
Bass guitar 80 121

An Audiologist with a role in a college of music

While my daughter was attending a music college on a singing/vocals course, I became aware that the college syllabus had no content on the safety aspects of exposure to high sound levels in the context of music tuition, and performance. The college management and tutors were very open to my offer to help them in this respect. I have a long-standing background in NHS and private audiology, with an MSc in Environmental Acoustics, a special interest in musicians’ hearing protection, and past publications on noise control and hearing conservation.

Sound-level measurements in the keyboard, guitar, bass guitar, and drum/percussion practice rooms at the college, confirmed routine exposures to sound levels between 93 dB and 103 dB, with the percussion peak level at over 120 dB.

It was arranged that I would meet the students and give them a presentation to cover:

  • the basic anatomy and functioning of the ear and hearing system;
  • an introduction to the science behind hearing and noise measurement;
  • an awareness of UK and European Health and Safety legislation on hearing conservation matters;
  • practical guidance on managing their own noise exposure from music and other sources.

The students and college staff have all proved to be very receptive to this information, effectively empowered to adopt an educated attitude to the routine use of hearing protection, and the routine scrutiny of sound levels during practice and performance. Around 75% of them report previous episodes of ‘temporary threshold shift’, (dull hearing), and/or tinnitus (head noises), following exposure to common levels of sound experienced when playing or listening to music.

Since 2000 this ‘Hearing Awareness’ lecture has been given to every new entrant in their early weeks at the college, and the staff have set an excellent example by using hearing protection themselves, reinforcing the information the students have been given, and reviewing working practices with regard to sound levels.

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