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This is the full text of the Sound Advice Working Group specific recommendations on symphony orchestras, chamber orchestras, bands and other ensembles
12.1 Most orchestras will require control measures as most musical instruments have the potential to produce hazardous noise levels. Representative noise levels can be found in the table below. A noise risk assessment flowchart for a typical orchestra is shown at the end this advice note. Additional guidance can be found in Sound Advice Note 13 'Orchestra pits' and Sound Advice Note 14 ''Stage bands''.
|Violin/viola (near left ear)||85 - 105||116|
|Violin/viola||80 - 90 *||104|
|Cello||80 - 104 *||112|
|Acoustic bass||70 - 94 *||98|
|Clarinet||68 - 82 *||112|
|Oboe||74 - 102 *||116|
|Saxophone||75 - 110 *||113|
|Flute||92 - 105 *||109|
|Flute (near right ear)||98 - 114||118|
|Piccolo||96 - 112 *||120|
|Piccolo (near right ear)||102 - 118*||126|
|French horn||92 - 104 *||107|
|Trombone||90 - 106 *||109|
|Trumpet||88 - 108 *||113|
|Timpani and bass drum||74 - 94 *||106|
|Percussion (high-hat near left ear)||68 - 94||125|
|Percussion||90 - 105||123-134|
|Singer||70 - 85 *||94|
|Soprano||105 - 110||118|
|Normal piano practice||60 - 90 *||105|
|Loud piano||70 - 105 *||110|
|Keyboards (electric)||60 - 110 *||118|
|Chamber music (classical)||70 - 92 *||99|
|Symphonic music||86 - 102 *||120 - 137|
|* at 3 m|
|Note: These representative noise levels are collated from a range of sources. They give an indication of the variety of noise levels and noise peaks that musicians and other workers can receive from the instruments concerned. This information can be helpful with estimating noise exposure and in identifying potential noise 'hot spots'. However, as shown, many of the instruments can exhibit a range of noise levels depending on how loudly they are played, for how long and under what circumstances (eg repertoire, venue, number of instruments concerned). Do not only use this information for a risk assessment but look at Sound Advice Note 3 'Noise risk assessment and planning'and the relevant sector guide(s).|
12.2 By carrying out a noise risk assessment based on noise measurements or other available information, the extent of the problem can be established and will allow the development of a plan for controlling the noise exposure.
12.3Excitement in musical performance is not achieved by volume alone. Constant loud volume may become monotonous and is potentially damaging to both performer and listener. Drama is created by dynamic contrast, which can be achieved with a reduction in general volume levels that would not be noticed by the audience. This represents a culture change and may require greater effort to achieve the softer levels needed to maintain the range of dynamic contrast.
12.4The table below aims to demonstrate how long it would take for a symphony orchestra player or singer to be exposed to the upper exposure action value of 85 dB if playing a typical repertoire, for example by composers such as Haydn, Schubert or Vaughan Williams.
|82||16 hours||eg violin|
|85||8 hours||eg harp|
|88||4 hours||eg trumpet|
|91||2 hours||eg trombone/French horn|
|94||1 hour||eg loud piano|
|97||30 minutes||eg loud soprano|
|137 dB (peak)||Maximum instantaneous peak noise when wearing hearing protection||Note that the peak noise from percussion, e.g. snare drum or cymbal clash, may exceed the 137 dB upper exposure action value.|
12.5 Studies indicate that orchestral musicians can reach the upper exposure action value by playing for as little as 10-25 hours per week.
12.6 Assessment should begin when planning a season or concert, and continue right up to the moment when the music starts - when it switches to monitoring the effectiveness of the control measures. Some orchestras, where repertoire and venue(s) are consistent for a period, are able to base their noise risk assessments on previous noise measurements. Others may be able to use existing noise measurements as a point of reference, and may find it useful to take noise measurements as part of their monitoring. Additional material on noise measurement can be obtained from A sound ear II through the ABO and Sound Advice Note 3 'Noise risk assessment and planning'.
12.7 The starting point for a noise risk assessment may be based on the following:
12.8 Noise risk assessments help establish who is at risk and identify ways to prevent and protect people from hearing damage. Communication of the findings from noise risk assessments increases awareness among players, conductors and composers about possible noise-induced hearing damage and encourages everyone to moderate demands for ever-louder playing. Ensure that stage managers and orchestra porters are included in awareness training. Noise risk assessments will identify areas of greatest risk, which should be the priority for control.
12.9 Scheduling can help reduce noise exposure:
The conductor can play a vital part in helping to lower musicians' noise exposure in line with the Noise Regulations. It can be beneficial to understand the common rehearsal and performance practices that can greatly impact on a musician's noise exposure. Some of these control measures could include:
When programming a concert or a series, a conductor can also be aware that musicians' exposure is measured over a weekly average, so if they were able to programme larger, noisier works balanced out with smaller or quieter pieces, this could reduce noise exposure for their performers. It is also beneficial for an opera and ballet orchestra to rehearse in a space outside the orchestra pit, giving more ambient space to allow sound to escape. Generally the conductor has considerable control over the whole noise output of the orchestra and is able to improve conditions for musicians by being aware of what they are asking of their orchestra.
12.10 Modifications to the venue can help reduce noise exposure:
12.11 Plan the seating layout to minimise problems with noise exposure:
12.12 Allow a clear path between the audience and the woodwind - this involves placing the woodwind players on risers and may require an even greater elevation for the brass.
12.13 Use adjustable baffles behind the horns - this improves the forward projection of their sound, so they don't have to play as loudly.
12.14 The use of risers to elevate brass sections may help to project their sound, which is highly directional, over the heads of the performers in front of them (see 'Risers' in Sound Advice Note 4 'Noise-control measures and training')
12.15 If the above measures are insufficient, consider using screens (see Acoustic screens).
The orchestra management arranged for a noise assessment of individual members of the orchestra. Measurements were made during rehearsals. The musical repertoire being rehearsed at the time of this noise assessment was:
Vaughan Williams A London Symphony
Haydn Symphony No. 104 in D Major, 'London'
Schumann A Song of Orpheus
These were considered by members of the orchestra to be relatively quiet works.80% of the musicians wore individual dosemeters mounted on clothing as close to the ear as practical.
Other measurements were made by sound level meters (SLMs) positioned in strategic locations. These were:
Each SLM was mounted on a tripod, with the microphone positioned at about head height (when seated) and pointing towards the middle of the orchestra.The key findings were:
|Total number of musicians with valid results||66|
|Number for whom LEP,d exceeded upper exposure action value (85 dB)||26|
|Highest recorded LEP,d||93 dB|
|Highest recorded LAeq||98 dB|
|The highest recorded sound levels tended to centre on the brass and woodwind sections, followed by percussion and timpani.|
|SLMs results over 6h 47m||LEP,d dB||LAeq dB|
The variation of layouts is one of the more effective control measures available, by providing the appropriate distance and height between players at different times. The input and co-operation of the conductor is essential as this enables the orchestra to address the issues as they develop and, with monitoring, vary the layouts of the orchestra. This has the added bonus of providing opportunities for artistic experimentation.
It would be relatively straightforward to vary layouts between concerts were the orchestra to perform only in its home venue. However it is important to consider the idiosyncrasies and unsuitability of some of the stages where the orchestra is repeating all or part of a programme. These engagements are crucial and repeating programmes happen frequently. It would be unfair on conductors and the musicians to change the layout after significant preparation at the home venue and, for this reason, the knowledge and experience of the players of these smaller venues is crucial. Reaching a balance, therefore, usually requires compromise on all fronts.
Two examples are shown below. Note risers are provided with their heights marked.
Another layout for an orchestra/pop group during a recording session is in Sound Advice Note 15 'Studios'.
Note: To be more effective the riser heights for the trumpets should be at least 2ft Example layout from 'MusicLab', an educational programme involving professional and amateur musicians
12.16 If, after putting in place all the appropriate control measures, the exposure is likely to be at or greater than the upper exposure action value, personal hearing protection must be used. In other situations its use may be recommended. See Sound Advice Note 5 'Personal hearing protection'.
12.17Some woodwind players may think they have natural protection by using the Valsalva manoeuvre (the creation of a slight positive middle-ear pressure when blowing a woodwind or brass instrument), however, this cannot be considered as an alternative to using hearing protection.
12.18 Reference positions for taking noise measurements can be useful for orchestras, especially when touring, to help assess whether sound levels are under control (see figure below).
Example of an orchestral layout showing reference positions for noise measurement
1 Acoustic screens should only be used in accordance with the risk assessment and on a collective basis as determined by a person who is competent. It is essential that screens are carefully sited to ensure that they do not create a secondary problem of reflected sound for players close by. Screens should be as large as possible, and extend vertically as far as possible. The application of absorption to them helps control sound levels.
2 Proper training is essential on the choice and use of acoustic screens. Extreme care is needed in positioning screens. Experimenting is usually necessary to achieve the best result.
3 Large screens may help to isolate percussion sections, other noisy instruments and loudspeakers from other performers. However they need enough room to be effective and can reflect sound back at performers seated behind them unless arranged so as not to increase the sound levels for these performers. Large screens may produce distortion and make it difficult for the performer to hear other instruments. In most environments, it may be necessary to include vision panels in screens unless the screens themselves are transparent.
4 Screens should not be regarded as personal protective equipment as they can double the noise exposure of the player to the rear, as well as increasing the risk of an over-playing injury. The protection afforded to the player in front may prove to be more psychological than acoustic although this may be worthwhile where the risks of hyperacusis or stress are significant.
5 Acoustic screens can provide some protection to individual players from noisy sections in orchestral layouts. However screens are not useful to all sections of an orchestra, for example horns, and can sometimes cause sound to reflect back to the performer.
6 In amplified music environments, the strategic positioning of appropriate absorbent screens can provide significant protection. Where the sound is amplified and performers are using monitors, drum kits should be mic'd and located in booths where possible. Alternatively place a large screen in front or behind the drum kit (where vision is required, this could be transparent) to help isolate the drummer's sound from the rest of the performers.
7 In film-set environments, the use of appropriate absorbent screens positioned out of shot can be used as protection during loud activities.
8 Individual acoustic screens can be located around players to help protect them from high sound levels produced nearby. Individual acoustic screens are most effective if placed near to a performer's head and used in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. The indiscriminate use of personal screens can actually increase the noise exposure for others so screens should be introduced in a considered manner. It is not acceptable to slightly reduce a medium risk (for example, to the performer in front of a screen) by doubling a high risk to the musician playing into the screen (which reflects sound back at the musician).
9 Employers need to take into account potential problems if they are considering installing screens, for example:
10 There are two main screen constructions: these are hard (acoustically reflective) and soft (acoustically absorbent). There is a hybrid third type that combines the hard and soft types.
11 Hard screens are commonly made from plastic or similar transparent material to maintain visual contact.
12 Soft screens comprise an acoustically absorbent material (mineral fibre, foam, foils etc) mounted on a panel and covered in a decorative finish.
13Screens can be relatively small and discretely placed to deal with localised specific issues. Studio screens are usually 2 m or so high, and can be used to form enclosures. These are normally absorbent and can include transparent vision panels.
For a more detailed explanation of terms see Useful information and glossary.
Fold-back monitors Loudspeakers sited near performers to allow them to hear specific sounds which would otherwise be too quiet, for example a singer on stage to hear a pit orchestra. Includes on-stage monitors and side fills.
Noise exposure: 'The noise dose', which can be calculated, takes account of the actual volume of sound and how long it continues. Noise exposure is not the same as sound level, which is the level of noise measured at a particular moment.
Noise measurementsDecibels (dB) are used for measuring noise. A-weighting is used to approximate to the frequency responses of the human ear. C-weighting is used to measure peak, impact or explosive noise.
Orchestra pit In a theatre, an area in which the orchestra performs at a lower level in front of, and usually partially under, the stage.
Reference position Standard location, usually static, selected to enable monitoring of noise levels to be conducted by measurements.
RisersRostra or platforms.
Seating rotation The amount of exposure to noise depends on where the musician sits and plays within the orchestra. The noise exposure of musicians may be varied by moving them.
Upper exposure action values see Exposure action values in Useful information and glossary