A ProposedStudy:

The Hearing Effects ofPlaying in a High School Marching Band

Jana K.Vinson

Stephen F. Austin StateUniversity

In our everyday lives we hear manydifferent sounds. Many times we hear noises that are harmful to ourhearing. When we hear noises that are too loud for a long amount oftime or a loud impulse noise, something called Noise-Induced HearingLoss (NIHL) can occur. In NIHL the inner structures of the ear, whichare very sensitive, are damaged.

In the normal system sound waves aretransformed into electrical energy. The sound waves are first caughtby the outer ear. When the waves reach the end of the outer ear theycause vibrations in the ear drum and then travel to the middle ear.Here the vibrations are carried through three small bones in themiddle ear called ossicles. These vibrations are magnified and thencarried to the inner ear. After entering the inner ear they flowthrough fluid in the cochlea, the part of the ear that allows you tohear. The cochlea contains many hair cells which are moved bypressure changes in the fluid and then signals are carried to thebrain and perceived as sound. Different levels and variations ofsounds have different impacts on the motion of the hair cells. Veryloud noises for long or short amounts of time can cause damage to thehair cells, which can cause NIHL (NIDCD, 2002).

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss can betemporary or permanent. The symptoms increase gradually as a personis exposed more and more to loud noises. Sounds begin to sound lessclear and muffled. Sometimes a person may not even realize they havea hearing loss (NIDCD, 2002). NIHL can also be accompanied by pitchdistortion, speech impairment, and tinnitus, which causes ringing inthe ears (Prasher, 1998).

Many people all over the worldexperience loud noises on the job, during leisure time, or at home,and do not even realize they are at risk for hearing loss.Carpenters, construction workers, loggers, firemen, policeman,factory workers and many more jobs involve loud noises. Rock starswho play many shows throughout their lives experience hearing loss.Even younger people who attend concerts, go to clubs, listen to loudmusic, or play musical instruments are at a risk for hearing loss. Athome, vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, power tools, and many more itemsare used, which can also cause a loss. As you can see, there are manydifferent types of people who experience loud noises and many itemsthat can cause hearing loss.

Approximately one-third of Americanshave been affected by loud noises (NIDCD, 2000). Usually, hearingsounds of more that 75 decibels (dB) are likely to cause temporaryhearing loss, while sounds of 85 dB or more can possibly causepermanent damage. Decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale, so asthe dB increases by 10, the level of sound doubles (Zembower, 2000).To give some examples, a jet taking off emits loudness of about 140dB. Attending a rock concert or using a chainsaw can give off 110 to120 dB, and stereo headphones can have a loudness of 100 dB.Conversation is not nearly as loud compared to the previous sounds,giving off a loudness of only 60 dB. A whisper gives off only a mere30 to 40 dB (Rabinowitz, 2000). Now that you have an idea of exactlyhow loud certain sounds are, we can begin talking about when ahearing loss can originate, for example, during childhood.

The childhood years have a greatimpact on whether or not NIHL can occur. If a parent does not realizeearly in a childís life that hearing loss can be brought aboutby loud noises, then there is a greater chance of damage once aperson gets older. Some types of toys made for children can generateenough sound to cause a hearing loss that could be permanent(Rabinowitz, 2000). There is a really good chance that todayísteens who experience loud noises might end up needing hearing aids atsome point in their lives (Current Health 2, 2001). In a recentstudy, it was found that people who use portable stereos regularlyand have a history of childhood ear infections have a greater risk ofhearing loss than people who attend rock concerts two times a monthor more or work in a noisy environment (Napoli, 1999). Many childrenare interested in music and decide to join the band in school. Youngband students are also at a risk for hearing loss, especially thosewho play the loudest instruments, the brass and percussion sections.By choosing to play a musical instrument at an early age, youngerchildren are at risk and this risk continues as they playlonger.

There are not many studies performedon marching band students, so most of my background will come fromgeneral musicians. It has been found that grade school students whoare musicians have an increased incidence of hearing loss (H.E.A.R.,2001). Studies have shown that sound levels within concert bands canreach a loudness of 130 dB (Eberwein, 2001). Individual instrumentscan produce extremely loud sounds that are 90 dB or more, especiallythe brass and percussion sections (Eberwein, 2001). Solomon (1986)found that even though hearing losses of any kind can cause bothpersonal and professional problems, people who are in the musicprofession spend a great amount of time in hazardous environments forthe ears. Because musicians are exposed to these hazardousenvironments, they tend to show more problems with hearing later inlife. Zeigler (1997) found that there are more reports of tinnitus inmusic majors than in any other major. Zeiglerís study reportedthat percussion majors reported the most tinnitus, then the brass andwoodwind players. Musicians are also at a greater risk when they playin larger numbers. A band with eighty to one hundred members canproduce sound levels of 80 to 90 dB when playing at the lowestdynamics, and loudness of up to 115 dB at the loudest dynamic(Mortenson & Rainbolt, 1992). The type of room played in canaffect exactly how loud the band sounds. Rooms used for rehearsingand concert auditoriums are labeled as damage zones because they canproduce sound levels equal to factories (Zembower, 2000).

Musicians are at great risk forhearing loss because they usually begin at an early age and areexposed throughout their career. If musicians do not realize at anearly age that they are at a risk for hearing loss, they could end uphaving even more damage as they get older. Marching percussionstudents require more time in practice together because of thedifficulty to get the music right together and the time spent gettingthe drum line adjusted. Marching percussion instruments probablyproduce the highest sound levels compared to the rest of the marchingband.

The purpose of this study is todetermine how much hearing loss can occur in high school marchingband students. Not much research has been done on when a hearing losscan originate in musicians. Hopefully, this research will give abetter understanding to musicians at risk for hearing loss andexplain when the hearing loss can actually start. My hypothesis isthat marching band students who play percussion and do not wear earplugs will have the most hearing loss and that brass players who dowear ear plugs will have the least amount of hearing loss. I expectthese results because the marching percussion section experiences theloudest noises during performance and practice time.



Approximately 75 high school marchingband students will be used for this study. Students from Clear BrookHigh School (CBHS) brass and percussion sections will be studied. Thestudents will be divided into two main groups: those who playpercussion and those who play brass. Each of these two groups will bedivided into subgroups: those who wear earplugs and those who do notwear ear plugs. There are approximately 20 percussion students and 55brass students at CBHS. Demographics will be recorded for sex, raceand age. Participation will be voluntary; volunteers will be givenextra credit in music class for their participation and will betreated in accordance with the Ethical Principles of Psychologistsand Code of Conduct (American Psychological Association,1992).


A pure-tone audiometer will be usedto create a hearing profile showing the thresholds for which pitchescan be heard (Santucci, 1990). This will be used for initialscreening and also for monthly screening of hearing loss. Thethresholds will be measured with the audiometer by presenting puretone stimuli at different frequencies and intensities (Goldstein,2002). A dosimeter will be used to measure sound levels (Santucci,1990). The dosimeter measures loudness near the performerísear and is worn on the musicianís body with a microphonepositioned on the musicianís collar (Santucci, 1990). Someband members will be using hearing protective devices (ex: earplugs). The students will have a choice as to whether or not theprotective devices will be worn during the study. All band membersparticipating will fill out a practice card every week in order todetermine how much time students spend in individual practice. Banddirectors will use a time card to record full performance playingtimes.


Students will first be given a surveyto fill out or have their parents fill out in order to determine anypre-existing causes for hearing loss. The survey will ask aboutfamily history of hearing loss and diseases of the ear (Santucci,1990). Subjects will also be investigated for any non-band exposureto sounds that could cause a hearing loss. These students will beeliminated from the study. Students will be asked at the beginning ofthe marching season to keep a practice card to record all individualpractice times and whether or not they were wearing earplugs eachtime. Students from the brass and percussion sections will be testedfor any kind of hearing loss due to exposure to music performed inmarching practice, performance, and individual practice. For initialscreening of hearing loss already present, an audiometer will beused. The existing loudness levels will be recorded for brass playersplaying individually, percussion players playing individually, andfrom both brass and percussion players playing in full marchingensemble. (These are recorded for band members who are not wearingear plugs and are not expected to vary much between the individualand full ensemble playing.) These sound levels will be monitored oncea week for the course of the study in order to determine high and lowsound levels. The amount of time playing in performance will berecorded by the band director for every performance so that we canknow how much exposure there is. At the end of each month of marchingseason, the students will be tested again with the audiometer. (Theywill be tested while they are at school). Results will be recordedmonthly for each person participating over a course of four years(throughout high school.) The results will be calculated for exposureto music sound levels versus hearing loss over time.


A quasi-experiment will be performedwith two quasi-independent variables: instrument and ear plugs. A 2 X2 factorial ANOVA will be used in order to determine the results.Significant results are expected for the main effect for type ofinstrument and the main effect for ear plugs. Measures of sound levelwill be compared to how much hearing loss occurred. The factor oftime will also be put into the experiment, by comparing the time fornoise exposure for brass and percussion students. Results should showthat hearing loss is greater for those who do not wear earplugs andplay percussion. Not very many students are expected to use ear plugsbecause they do not realize that they are at risk for hearing lossand it may make then feel like a ìband nerdî. I willcompare the number of students who wear earplugs and the number whodo not. (Most expected to wear earplugs are percussion students.)Expected results are that 85% of the students will not use ear plugsin practice or in performance. The results expected are that all thestudents will experience sounds of 120 dB or even more for at least atime period of a few hours at a time. Percussion students areexpected to experience higher levels for longer amounts of timebecause of more time spent in rehearsal and in practice. The resultsof this study will hopefully confirm my hypothesis that musicians doexperience hearing loss, and that percussion band members willexperience more of a hearing loss than brass band members.


Hearing loss is something thatmusicians will face in their lives. It is definitely very importantthat musicians protect their hearing at an early age or they will beat a greater risk of hearing loss. There are many different ways tofind out what type of musicians are at more of a risk for a hearingloss. If my hypothesis is correct, it will confirm the idea thatmusicians are at a risk for hearing loss, and that percussionstudents are at a greater risk than brass students. Another studycould be performed comparing the hearing loss rates of concert andmarching band members. Marching band students should be at a greaterrisk of hearing loss than concert band members because music isplayed louder in marching band. Marching bands must increase theirsound in order to be heard and have to practice at the same levelthey would normally play in a performance in order to perfect theirsounds. Woodwind or string instrument players could be added into thestudy to see which instrument causes the most hearing loss withoutthe use of earplugs. A longitudinal study could be performed to seehow these musicians fare as they get older and continue to play. Thestudy could be expanded to college students or even professionalmusicians. It is very important for musicians to know that theirplaying can damage their hearing. If more studies were done we may beable to prevent the hearing loss from happening.




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