True or False: I only need to worry about hearing loss if I play a loud instrument like percussion, tuba, trumpet, or contra-bass bazookaphone; work in a loud factory, ride Harleys or listen to my earbuds with the volume turned up to 11.

Oh, so very FALSE! Every instrument at the Conservatory including strings and voice are loud enough to cause hearing damage over time. So unless you play acoustic rubber band . . . . PAY ATTENTION, your future as a musician may depend on it. Apart from the Conservatory, there are plenty of seemingly normal situations that can cause hearing damage, from concerts, to sporting events, to headphones.   Did you know that over 50% of musicians experiencing some level of hearing loss, and hearing damage from headphones and earbuds is on the rise.

Great hearing is an amazing asset, whether you are a musician, or someone who values the beauty of a distant birds call.


At Lawrence we are committed to your long-term hearing health.

The Facts

Any sound over 85 decibels (dB) has the potential to cause hearing damage over time.  The louder the sound, the shorter the time it takes to cause the damage.  Here is the important part: once the damage is done, it can’t be undone—ever!  

To complicate matters, the effects of that damage probably won’t appear until later in life.  So if you think you aren’t exposing yourself to dangerous sound levels because you aren’t experiencing any warning signs, think again.  Whatever you can do to protect your hearing now will directly benefit the 30, 40, and 50 year old musician inside of you. So pay it forward. If you can still hear every nuance of a Beethoven symphony when you are 50, it will be thanks to the actions you put in place today.

The chart below shows the safe time exposures for different decibel levels.  It is important to remember that the decibel scale is logarithmic not linear. What this means is a 10 dB increase in sound represents a sound 10 times louder in volume. A 20 dB increase represents a sound 100 times louder and a 30 dB increase, a sound 1,000 times louder! This is why the times for safe exposure drop so rapidly as the decibel levels rise.

Decibel Exposure Levels

Here are the recommended daily exposures for different decibel levels. Notice that each 3 dB increase cuts the recommended exposure time in half.

Decibel (dB) Level Time Exposed
85 8 hours
88 4 hours
91 2 hours
94 1 hour
97 ½ hour
100 15 minutes
103  7 ½ minutes
112 1 minute
115 30 seconds
121 8 seconds

Decibel readings for most Conservatory instruments fall between the 75-100 dB range, so the challenges are clear. If you play your trumpet at 85 dB, you can play for 8 hours a day.  Boost it up to 97 db and that drops to just 30 minutes!   All of our ensembles generate volumes from 85-110, with the Sambistas coming in at 120db. The Conservatory office has decibel meters for you to check out so you can see what your sound exposure levels are. This will help you decide the best approach to take to protect your hearing.

Apart from the Conservatory, the story is the same. Normal volume levels in the Cafe and Commons hover around 85-90 and can be higher during peak hours.  Earbuds at 1/3 maximum volume are producing around 85db.  Think about that.  When is the last time you listened to your headphones at 1/3 volume level.  Most headphones easily exceed 95-100dbs as they reach peak volume. That means your safe listening time is only about 30 minutes.  How often do you listen to your headphones at high volumes for extended periods of time?  Do whatever you can to turn down the volume and limit extended exposure.


This message might not be easy to hear, but if you ignore the facts, nothing will be easy to hear. After all, what is more important than your hearing?

What You Can Do to Prevent Hearing Loss

First, assess your hearing.  Each year both the Wellness Center and the Conservatory bring in audiologists to provide free hearing tests.  Sign up and find out if you have any hearing issues. 

Second, now that you know that both the loudness of the sound and the length of exposure impact the potential hearing damage, be aware of your sound environment and don't be afraid to protect yourself.  Fingers in one's ears are still an amazingly effective form of hearing protection for the random siren, jack hammer, or drum solo.   Better yet pick up a pair or two of free foam ear plugs at either the Wellness Center or the Conservatory, and then use them!

For musicians the Con also carries musician's earplugs as wholesale cost (around $8.00).  These lower the decibel levels without causing a muffled sound. No musician in the Con should be without a pair or two.

Third, remove yourself from situations that can cause hearing damage. Distance from the sound source has a large impact on the decibel level of the sound.  That's why standing in front of the speakers at a stadium concert is much more dangerous than sitting 100 yards away.


Hearing damage cannot be reversed, so do whatever you can now to protect your future listening experiences.