Summary of Review by Kirkbymoorside Band on the Risk of Hearing Damage to Brass Band Musicians


In 2017 following some issues of concern arising from noise levels in its bandroom whilst practicing certain pieces, the Kirkbymoorside Town Brass Band sought help and advice from Brass Bands England. They were provided with the Health and Safety Executive (H&SE) Research Report RR664 “Musicians’ hearing protection”, a review prepared by the Health and Safety Laboratory in 2008 .
A member of the band committee reviewed that report along with other information gleaned from internet searches and anecdotal feedback from other band committee members. This including a brief review of the much more detailed H&SE advice “Sound advice: Control of noise at work in music and entertainment”, published in 2010.
This paper summarises the band’s conclusions regarding noise in its bandroom.
Report Findings
The band felt that the H&SE Report RR664 is rather limited in scope having been based upon interviews with just 19 musicians. Also, it had been published almost ten years ago. The band also felt that the detail in it was rather anecdotal in nature and concentrated to a large extent upon the use of ear protection e.g. ear plugs.
The report concluded that different people find different types of ear protection more suited to their needs. The band came up with its own brief summary of the report’s observations regarding ear protection: -
a.    The resulting muffling of sound can affect a musicians’ perception of balance and so affect a individual’s musical performance.
b.    Particularly for brass players “occlusion” - an issue caused by vibrations along the jaw - can make one’s own playing seem louder when wearing ear protection.
c.    Some musicians found ear protection uncomfortable to wear and that if ear plugs were to be used then there needed to be proper instruction on how to fit and use them.
d.    Custom moulded types of ear plug (more expensive) provided better sound quality but several musicians had abandoned them as uncomfortable, so conventional foam or flange ear plugs had been found to have been most frequently used.
e.    Ear protection was often not wanted by lead/solo performers where hearing others is of much greater importance.
f.     Ear protection will also affect communication with a conductor as, when rehearsing, players can’t hear verbal instruction.
g.    It may possibly be better to just use ear protection when needed e.g. when playing particularly noisy pieces.
The later H&SE document is much more technical in nature, perhaps of less practical application to an amateur brass band that usually practices for a few hours each week. By way of illustration the report states “Studies indicate that orchestral musicians can reach the upper exposure action value by playing for as little as 10–25 hours per week.” Only in the final week before a contest would our senior band approach the lower end of this level of rehearsal time. However, the report may need more detailed consideration should bandsmen feel that noise problems were persististing.
It would seem that since these H&SE Reports were published, ear plug development has progressed. A number of internet sites recommend ear plugs at fairly minimal cost, which may well help some players. Given the minimal cost involved for the potential protection that may be provided, bandsmen may wish to try out the different designs that are available on an ad hoc basis.
The reports also considered if acoustic screens may help to mitigate excessive noise levels, but on balance these were felt to be of only limited application (perhaps none in a brass band?) as such screens can deflect noise, particularly in confined spaces (e.g. a bandroom) on to, thus creating difficulties for, other musicians.
It was felt that the repositioning of musicians offered much greater potential help – separating noisy instruments from other players. Quite often very small changes in the distance between an ear and a noisy instrument could help greatly in mitigating potential noise damage. Podiums/risers could also be used to separate noise sources from people, and players on a raised platform may not have to play as loud to achieve a good balance.
One other suggestion was to not play “full on” throughout rehearsals – maybe just one “live” performance per practice in order to limit noise exposure.
The reports also recommended regular hearing check ups for musicians. This was thought to be particularly helpful in measuring and monitoring any possible clinical damage to an individuals hearing. Clearly the sooner a problem is identified, the quicker that mitigating steps can be taken to protect an individuals hearing.
Trombones and Cornets, being forward facing instruments could potentially be a source of more noise irritation as they are frequently positioned behind other ensemble musicians. Percussion instruments can have a similar, albeit more intermittent and on occasions more acute impact on others when they are played. It is recommended that the band looks at the possibility of raised flooring for the percussion players so as to lift the percussion instruments above the ear level of other players (Recommendation 1).
It is also recommended that the trombones, and perhaps also the back row cornet players, position themselves a little distance back away from those bandsmen immediately in front of them (Recommendation 2). If problems of noise irritation persist then further consideration to raised playing positions could also be considered.
It is recommended (Recommendation 3) that the committee brings this policy paper to the attention of its players by: -
1. publishing this paper on its website,
2. including a reference to this paper in the introductory packs provided to new players,
3. discussing noise as an issue with musicians in the practice room,
4. encouraging ongoing debate and awareness of the potential harm that bandroom noise can cause (particularly if new music is found to be particularly noisy in nature).
It is also recommended (Recommendation 4) that players be encouraged to look at NHS and other hearing tests that are available to monitor their own hearing. The NHS website can currently be found under and includes an on-line facility to undertake a quick free check.