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Basics of Human Hearing

human-earWhen you are at your place listening to Pop / Rock / Jazz or Country music in your recording studio sitting behind your recording console / equipment or even on stage if you are performing. What is that one important thing that makes your job easy to communicate with? When Singing, playing the Piano, Guitar, Acoustic Drums, Audio Recording or working on your final Mix. “Its Your Ears”.

There is no substitute for good natural hearing. Without a healthy condition ears, a career in or even the simple enjoyment of music would be impossible, even with today’s digital hearing aids. If you do not protect your ears from the early stages, your chances of a long, prosperous career as a musician / singer or music lover could be easily be ruined. So if you are not careful, you could become problematical with hearing and have to always ask people to repeat what they are saying; in some of the worst cases, you could live the rest of your life with a constant buzzing or humming noise called tinnitus in your ears. Hearing conservation is a serious issue for anybody and music professional and general music hobbyists; you need to understand how your Ears work and how to protect them.

Generally speaking you would know by now that sound is nothing more than waves of energy. The strength of those waves is called Sound Pressure Levels, or SPL’s which are measured in decibels (db). The higher the SPL, the louder the sound, and the worst it can get for your hearing. The frequency spectrum of sound waves can be understood very simply: the slower and more widespread the sound wave, the deeper the sound; the higher and tighter, the higher the frequency. Frequencies are measured in hertz or cycles. Human Ears can only pick up a limited range of the aural spectrum generally 20Hz (very low Bass) to a maximum of 20,000Hz (20 kilohertz- 20kHz), but in general most of us are unable to hear past 16kHz as we reach our adulthood.

As you might know that sound comes through our ear’s canal as waves of energy, where they meet the eardrum, which is very similar to a stretched drum-head skin on a drum kit. The Ear drum causes the bones of the inner Ear to vibrate, which in turn causes the cochlea, or inner Ear to vibrate. The cochlea is filled with tiny hairs, and when the fluid in the inner Ear is vibrated, the energy is transferred to those hair cells, which translates the vibration to electrical energy which is then sent through the auditory nerve to the brain. I hope it is not complicated but you will find it interesting in the end.

Hearing loss can take place from various reasons. In fact, hearing loss can be a common birth defect, nearly one in every 1,000 babies are born with some degree of hearing loss. While we naturally lose a degree of hearing as we age, the most prevalent reason for losing hearing in today’s age is overexposure of any kind of loud sound. Remember this simple modus operandi, time + exposure = loss. When you expose your ears to loud music, you damage the tiny hair cells inside your inner ear. Sometimes this damage is temporary if the exposure was limited for a short time. Have you ever had your ear’s ringing for a couple of days after a loud live concert? So if this happens too many times repeatedly over a long period of time, then that’s where hearing loss comes in and sits for a long time.

Always try to limit your exposure to any loud sounds. At the majority of live concerts you will experience SPL’s of about 110dB decibels or greater, depending on where you are sitting or standing. At 110dB, OSHA (the Occupational Safety & Health Administration) recommends only a half hour of exposure per day. Help your cause by wearing earplugs; reducing the SPL’s by even 10dB to 15dB can allow you to listen to a concert without risk of hearing damage for up to two hours. There are a number of companies now offer custom fitted musician’s Ear plugs with a filter to allow un-attenuated high frequencies to pass through, presenting a much better listening experience. Earplugs can cost in the region of $120/- plus a visit to your audiologist, but you can purchase universal-fit versions for as little $25/- to $50/-.

If you are a Guitarist or Musician, there are a couple of “Be Concern” things to deal with from the start. Always keep the volume low of your guitar amplifier; only bring it up to the required volume when really required. In reality no one truly needs their amplifier to be cranked up to volume 10 from the start, do they? Believe me, its not a pleasing experience for any human-ear-breakdownaudience or for your Ear Drums to have loud amplifiers on stage competing for volume.

As with today’s technology, just leave it to the mix engineer to do the mix for the front house speakers so that audience will enjoy your music as properly mixed. Good music should sound as if it is coming out from a CD player. That’s why your personal sound on stage should not be too loud, and it will make it easy for an sound mix engineer to create that healthy sound mix which is so important for your paying audiences.

Latest technology “In-Ear Monitoring” has been the choice for professional concert tours since its introduction in the mid 1980’s. Reducing the loudness on stage by using these monitors in your ears as a replacement from deafening floor speaker wedges can help you stay healthy and still carry out your performance without any loudness issues.

See your audiologist for routine hearing tests regularly, at least once or twice a year if your livelihood depends on your Ears and by doing this you are making sure that your Ears are in good health. If you do not have health insurance just like many musicians and freelance audio engineers that I do, then consider other options like a hearing screening which can cost in the region of about $120/-, which is a small investment for a lifetime of hearing. You can also check with your local universities and teaching hospitals close by for a free Ear check-up. You might be lucky and have an audiology clinic nearby that can help you meet your hearing requirements. Very importantly, always use your common sense in all situations. By keeping your Ears healthy it will prevent you from being one of the many musicians who after years of overexposure is still healthy by means of hearing. Be aware of your noisy surroundings and your options, and you too can have a long prosperous Audio career creating and enjoying your quality music.

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