Sound Advice Note 16

Music education
Teachers, conductors of student groups, education officers and directors in schools and music colleges

This is the full text of the Sound Advice Working Group specific recommendations for those involved in music education. It may help you to prevent damage to your own hearing, and to give information on hearing protection to your students.

Who is this guidance for?

16.1 This advice is for:

  • Directors of teaching establishments.
  • Instrumental teachers - including private/peripatetic at any level.
  • Classroom teachers.
  • Conductors of student instrumental/vocal groups.
  • Education officers/learning managers.

16.2 Teachers should use this advice to prevent damage to their own hearing. They are also encouraged to pass on this information to their students as part of their complete musical education.

16.3 Each establishment should identify the responsibilities for risk control.

Noise levels produced by individual instruments

16.4 Representative noise levels

Noise source dB
Music teaching: group practice
Saxophone: Tutor 93-95
Saxophone: Students 94-96
Music Teaching: individual lessons: tutor exposure
Violin with piano accompaniment (small practice room) 82
Violin with piano accompaniment (large practice room) 76
Violin 84
Flute 89
Electric guitar 88
Saxophone 95
Trombone 90
Piano 82
Singing (piano accompaniment) 85
School Orchestra Practice
Tutor conducting 94
Student trombones (back row) 94
Student percussion 92
Student trumpet soloist with orchestra 96
Student saxophone (back row) 91
Student clarinet (front row) 95
Student flute (front row) 98
Staff tuba 92

16.5 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 were to continue at that level for eight 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 measured at a college

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

Plan to avoid overexposure

16.6 Employers of teachers and self-employed teachers need to plan their working week to avoid overexposure. Any noise exposure, not just to music, over the week is cumulative. The Noise Regulations allow exposure to be assessed across the working week - see Sound Advice Note 3'Noise risk assessment and planning'.

  • Revise the structure of lessons so that only certain groups in the class are actually using instruments at any one time while other groups are planning and 'composing' their works.
  • Try and alternate sessions so that exposure to loud noise is limited.

16.7 Private instrumental teachers should maintain a record of exposure levels and adjust their teaching schedules if necessary to prevent overexposure.

The Building Regulations

The Building Regulations set out some guidelines relating to the design of school buildings:

  • Under Building Bulletin 93 (Requirement E4 from Part E of Schedule 1 to The Building Regulations 2000 (as amended)) 'Each room or other space in a school building shall be designed and constructed in such a way that it has the acoustic conditions and the insulation against disturbance by noise appropriate to its intended use'
  • The Education (School Premises) Regulations 1999, which applies to both new and existing school buildings, contains a similar statement: 'Each room or other space in a school building shall have the acoustic conditions and the insulation against disturbance by noise appropriate to its normal use.''
  • Although Building Regulations do not apply to all alteration and refurbishment work, it is desirable that such work should consider acoustics and incorporate upgrading of the acoustics as appropriate.Although Building Regulations do not apply to all alteration and refurbishment work, it is desirable that such work should consider acoustics and incorporate upgrading of the acoustics as appropriate.
  • Section 4 of Building Bulletin 93: 'The design of rooms for speech' and Section 5: 'The design of rooms for music' give guidance on various aspects of acoustics design relevant to schools

Look at Building Bulletin 93 on the DFES website: www.teachernet.gov.uk/acoustics

Exposure-reduction measures for employed and private instrumental teachers

16.8 Ways of reducing noise exposure include the following:

  • Teaching rooms should be assessed as suitable for the purpose. The size of teaching rooms is important - it is likely that teaching in a small room will result in higher exposure levels than those in a larger auditorium where the teacher can get further away from the sound being produced. Avoid highly reverberant rooms - select an appropriate acoustic. Select rooms not by size of instrument but by how noisy they are - the players of the loudest instruments need the largest rooms. See also Sound Advice Note 8 'Venues'.
  • Acoustic treatment - use a teaching room that has been fitted with sound-absorbent materials, such as carpeting, acoustic panelling or drapes. See also Sound Advice Note 8 'Venues'.
  • Positioning when teaching - some instruments are highly directional. Teachers should avoid standing directly in the 'line of fire' during lessons. When possible make use of acoustic screens between the pupil and the teacher - see acoustic screens in Sound Advice Note 12 'Orchestras'.
  • Scheduling of lessons - avoid back-to-back scheduling of lessons without 'respite' periods.
  • Content of lessons - it might be possible to include some instruction which does not require the student to play.
  • Teaching levels - ask the student to play at a reduced level during lessons whenever possible.
  • Avoid 'playing along' with student(s) to reduce overall noise levels.
  • When teaching in groups, avoid constant 'group' practice.
  • Wear hearing protection when necessary.

Hearing preservation - education and training of students

16.9 As part of teaching, consider discussing the following with students:

  • Type of practice rooms - encourage students to practise in rooms that have been fitted with sound-absorbent materials: carpeting, acoustic panelling, drapes etc.
  • Size of practice room - encourage students to practise in larger rooms if possible. Greater space than 1.7 m2 per person is desirable. Good results have been achieved by moving the loudest instruments into the largest spaces.
  • Encourage students to play more quietly.
  • Where sound reinforcement is used, select high-quality amplifiers used quietly.
  • Take account of exposure during private practice time and also during rehearsals and performances. Encourage students to use typical dB readings to calculate their typical noise exposures to help identify the control measures needed, for example shortening the time spent on loud practising. Many conservatoire students are expected to do at least four hours of private practice over a day. In the case of brass players this would automatically push them over the upper exposure action value - either the length of the practice period should be reduced or other control measures taken. Wearing hearing protection is the last resort.
  • Use technique to reduce exposure, for example, violin/viola players can reduce sound levels to their left ear by keeping their heads more upright while playing. This also encourages a good playing posture.
  • Use practice mutes. There is a large amount of information on the internet about the various practice mutes available - search under 'practice mutes':
    • rubber practice mutes are available for stringed instruments;
    • various practice mutes are available for brass instruments. Make sure the mutes are designed to reduce output volume rather than redirect the output straight into the ear via a stethoscope simply to avoid disturbing the neighbours;
    • practice pads are available for drummers. In addition, most percussion instruments can be successfully dampened for practice purposes with pieces of cloth or foam.
  • Pianists should keep tops/lids lowered during practice.
  • Practise amplified instruments at the lowest possible levels. Use electronically limited headphones.
  • Practise guitars acoustically rather than amplified.
  • Consideration of 'off-hours' sound exposure, for example personal/car stereos, cinemas, sporting events etc.

Orchestras, brass bands, wind bands and other ensembles/vocal groups

16.10 Teaching duties often include conducting ensembles both in rehearsal and in performance. Refer to other parts of this guidance for general information about sound-reduction techniques for use in these situations. These cover:

  • reduced volume during rehearsal;
  • orchestral/ensemble layout;
  • mixing loud and quiet repertoire;
  • suitable rehearsal and performance venues;
  • encouraging trumpets/trombones to raise their bells during loud passages to project their sound over the top of other performers. This should enable them to play at a lower level to produce the same effect.

16.11 Sound levels produced by groups of student instrumentalists are likely to be higher than those produced by a professional group of players because of less-developed technical abilities and natural exuberance. Damaging sound levels have been measured at the conductor's position in school bands.

Classroom teaching

16.12 There are various methods of reducing noise levels during classroom teaching:

  • When using keyboards during general class music teaching, instruct the students to maintain the lowest possible volume unless demonstrating/performing to the class. Headphones can also be used to reduce class exposure, but these should be fitted with noise limiters.
  • When using percussion instruments in classroom situations, consider using softer beaters as a way of reducing noise levels, particularly in practice or rehearsal situations.
  • Consider the use of hearing protection for both teachers and students to protect hearing during 'loud' lessons
  • Listen to recorded music at moderate volume.

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.

Table below gives the noise levels teachers were exposed to during lessons for individual pupils and group practice at a school with excellent teaching facilities. The LAeq 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.

Noise levels to which teachers were exposed during lessons

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

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.

Glossary

For a more detailed explanation of terms see Useful information and glossary.

Exposure action valueslevels of exposure to noise at which certain actions need to be taken (see Useful information and glossary).

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 limiters Sometimes known as volume regulatory device (VRD), controls noise exposure from amplified music. Modern noise limiters can be fitted with anti-tamper relays connected to external switches to improve system security.

Upper exposure action valuessee Exposure action values

VRD Volume regulatory device (see noise limiter).

Bibliography

  • The Building Regulations 2000 (as amended) Building Bulletin 93 Acoustic design of schools. View at www.teachernet.gov.uk/acoustics
  • Controlling noise at work. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005. Guidance on Regulations L108 (Second edition) HSE Books 2005 ISBN 978 0 7176 6164 0
  • Listen while you work: Hearing conservation for the arts for performers and other workers in art and entertainment Safety & Health in Arts Production & Entertainment (SHAPE), Canada 2001 ISBN 978 0 7726 4643 9 www.shape.bc.ca/resources/pdf/listen.pdf
  • Noise at work: Guidance for employers on the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005. INDG362(rev1) HSE Books 2005 (single copy free or priced packs of 10 ISBN 0 7176 6166 2)
  • Protect your hearing or lose it! Pocket card INDG363(rev1) HSE Books 2005 (single copy free or priced packs of 25 ISBN 978 0 7176 6166 4) www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg363.pdf

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