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Hearing Loss from Piano
#2949231 02/19/20 05:52 PM
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Is it safe to assume most of the teachers on PW have spent many hours practicing, performing, listening to students' piano playing, attending concerts, etc? I've played the piano seriously for 30 years, most of time on a grand piano of varying sizes.. I keep the lid closed on the piano and have a large thick rug underneath. I've noticed that my hearing has really declined, especially in the left ear. I also have suffered from tinnitus most of my life. I'm in my late 60's and this has me really concerned that I could possibly lose my hearing altogether. My recent hearing test indicates "severe" hearing loss.

As a kid, I was prone to ear infections, and had a few bouts of inner ear issues over the years. Aside from the medical issues, sometimes when I play the piano, even with the lid down, it almost hurts my ears. I researched hearing aids, and unfortunately, wearing them does not slow down the hearing loss.

Has anyone noticed ear issues from years of piano exposure? I'd be very interested to hear if you suffer from ringing in the ears, hearing loss, etc.


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Re: Hearing Loss from Piano
chasingrainbows #2949239 02/19/20 06:02 PM
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I posted a poll on Pianostreet some years ago and was dismayed to find almost half of members, mostly quite young, had tinnitus. Mine began after a severe influenza in 1995, but has remained stable and does not bother me. I have no reason to suppose the piano was in any way a cause of it and my hearing is sharp for seventy-two.

Tinnitus poll

Last edited by Ted; 02/19/20 06:06 PM.

"We shall always love the music of the masters, but they are all dead and now it's our turn." - Llewelyn Jones, my piano teacher
Re: Hearing Loss from Piano
chasingrainbows #2949250 02/19/20 06:21 PM
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Not so much hearing itself, but I am losing my sense of perfect pitch. Things tend to sound flatter than they actually are. And when I grab a pitch out of thin air and compare to the piano, I go flat. I'm adjusting it constantly by being "high" on purpose, but who knows what will happen 10 years down the line. I might be a whole step flat. Then, I guess I will have to adjust by thinking/singing a whole step higher.


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Re: Hearing Loss from Piano
chasingrainbows #2949255 02/19/20 06:31 PM
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https://music.eku.edu/sites/music.eku.edu/files/ekuhealthandsafety.pdf

The piano is one of the safest instruments to play in terms of hearing damage, as you can see from the chart above.

Normal piano practice is only 60 - 70 dB, which technically means that there is no limit to the amount of time you can be exposed to it. Just as long as you're not banging ff non-stop (= 84 - 103 dB: max permissible exposure is one hour per day for 105 dB), but you'll hurt your hands & fingers before your ears. Playing the violin is far riskier.

Of course, if you're in a small studio and your piano has a very bright & piercing tone, you can hurt your ears just playing 'normally', as I discovered when I visited some practice rooms recently: the upright in one tiny room hurt my ears within a few minutes of normal playing, whereas the 7-foot mellow-toned grand in another much bigger room sounded perfectly comfortable even when I was banging out Liszt fff for half an hour.

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/safety/d...c/Safety-Musician_noise_guide_Part_I.pdf

https://www.healthyhearing.com/report/51549-Which-musicians-are-most-at-risk-for-hearing-loss


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Re: Hearing Loss from Piano
chasingrainbows #2949261 02/19/20 06:45 PM
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Originally Posted by chasingrainbows
I researched hearing aids, and unfortunately, wearing them does not slow down the hearing loss.

I went through this for my father a few months ago. If you end up going that route, look for musician-grade hearing aids with the widest bandwidth, dynamic range, and the least distortion. WIDEX Beyond is an excellent one for musicians and the one I bought for my father. WIDEX makes a few other models for musicians. It works with both iPhones and Android phones. Consult with your audiologist to make sure this is the best option for you.

(BTW, as a piano teacher, I assume this could be considered a professional business expense with respect to your taxes.)


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Re: Hearing Loss from Piano
chasingrainbows #2949304 02/19/20 09:15 PM
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The ear infections would be the first suspect in my mind (I'm not an MD, so take two grains of salt and call me in the morning smile ).

I've often wondered about the hearing status of people who play in orchestras or even smaller ensembles. I was at a concert recently with piano, violin, and cello, and the violin and cello where loud compared to the piano.


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Re: Hearing Loss from Piano
chasingrainbows #2949309 02/19/20 09:49 PM
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Thanks for all your input.
Ted, thanks for the poll. Interesting.
AZN, hopefully your perfect pitch will not decline. Are you sure it isn't related to hearing loss?
Stubbie, Orchestra and band members are certainly at risk if they don't wear protective ear plugs.
Tyrone, I will definitely look up your recommendation. Thanks!
Bennevis, I found a decibel chart online and plan to get a dB meter - they aren't too expensive.


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Re: Hearing Loss from Piano
chasingrainbows #2949316 02/19/20 10:57 PM
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Fundamentals of Piano Practice has a section on Ear Damage, if you are interested.

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Ear Damage (Tinnitus, etc.): Ear damage generally occurs as a function of age; hearing loss can start as early as age 40 and by age 70, most people have lost some hearing. Hearing loss can occur from over-exposure to loud sounds and can also be caused by infections and other pathological causes. The person may lose hearing in the low frequency or high frequency range. This is often accompanied by tinnitus (ringing sound in the ear). Those who lose hearing in the low frequency range tend to hear a low, roaring or throbbing tinnitus, and those who lose hearing in the high frequency range tend to hear a high pitched whine. Tinnitus may be caused by uncontrollable firing of the hearing nerves in the damaged section of the ear; however, there are many other causes. See the Reference section for information on the internet on hearing damage.

Although severe hearing loss is easily diagnosed by an audiologist, its cause and damage prevention are not well understood. A damaged ear is more easily damaged than a healthy ear. For example, those with mild hearing loss have difficulty hearing conversations, but are extremely sensitive to loud sounds – even moderately loud sounds that do not bother normal people can be painfully loud because even moderately loud sounds can cause further damage and damage generally causes pain. Ironically, those with hearing loss can be more sensitive to loud sounds; that is why hearing aid technology is so difficult – you can’t simply amplify all sounds. Soft sounds must be amplified but loud sounds must be attenuated. There is no method for diagnosing tinnitus except from the comments of the patient. For tests and treatments you need to see an ENT specialist (Ear Nose Throat). For non-pathological cases, damage is generally caused by exposure to loud sounds. Yet a few people exposed to very loud sounds, such as pianists who play every day for hours on concert grands, piano tuners who routinely use “pounding” during tuning, or members of rock bands, may not suffer hearing loss. On the other hand, some, who are exposed to less sound, can lose their hearing, especially with age. Therefore, there is a wide difference in susceptibility to hearing loss. However, there certainly is a tendency for those exposed to louder sounds to suffer more hearing loss. It is likely that hearing loss by pianists and piano tuners (as well as rock band members, etc., and people who routinely listen to very loud music) is much more widespread than is generally known because most of them go unreported.

Tinnitus is present in essentially 100% of people 100% of the time, but is so soft in normal people that it cannot be heard unless the person is in a soundproofed room. It may be caused by spontaneous firing of the hearing nerves in the absence of sufficient stimulus. That is, the human hearing mechanism effectively “turns up the amplification” when there is no sound. Totally damaged regions produce no sound because the damage is so severe that they cannot function. Partially damaged regions apparently produce tinnitus because they are sufficiently damaged to detect almost no ambient sound; this silence causes the brain to fire the detectors, or the system develops a leak in the sound signal circuit. These detectors are either piezo-electric material at the base of hairs inside the cochlea, or ion channels opened and closed by molecules associated with the hairs – there is conflicting literature on this topic. Of course, there are many other causes of tinnitus, and some may even originate in the brain. Tinnitus is almost always an indication of the onset of hearing loss.

For those who do not have audible tinnitus, there is probably no need to avoid loud music, within reasonable limits. Thus practicing the piano at any loudness should be harmless up to about age 25. Those who already have tinnitus should avoid exposure to loud piano. However, tinnitus usually “sneaks up” on you, so that the onset of tinnitus often goes unnoticed until it is too late. Therefore, everybody should receive tinnitus education and wear ear protection after age 40 during piano practice. Ear protection is an abhorrent idea to most pianists but when you consider the consequences (see below), it is definitely worthwhile. Before wearing protection, do everything possible to reduce sound intensity, such as soundproofing the room (adding carpets to hard floors, etc.), voicing the hammers, and generally practicing softly (even loud passages – which is a good idea even without possibility of ear damage).

Ear protectors are readily available from hardware stores because many workers using construction or yard equipment need such protection. For pianists, an inexpensive unit will suffice because you need to hear some music. You can also use most of the larger headphones associated with audio systems. Commercial protectors completely surround the ear and provide a better sound barrier. Since protectors available today are not designed for pianists, they don’t have a flat frequency response; that is, the sound of the piano is altered. However, the human ear is very good at adapting to different types of sound and you can get used to the new sound very quickly. The piano sound will also be quite different when you take the protection off (as you will need to do once in a while to see what the REAL sound is like). These different sounds can be quite educational for teaching us how much the brain influences what sounds you hear or don’t hear and how different persons will interpret the same sounds. It is worthwhile to try ear protection just to experience these different sounds. For example, you will realize that the piano makes many strange sounds you never noticed before! The differences in sound are so startling and complex that they cannot be expressed in words. For lower quality pianos, ear protection will result in sound simulating a higher quality instrument because the undesirable high harmonics and extraneous sounds are filtered out.

The brain automatically processes any incoming data, whether you want it to or not. This is, of course, part of what music is – it is the brain’s interpretation of incoming sounds, and most of our reaction to music is automatic. Thus when you wear ear protection, much of this stimulus disappears, and a large amount of the brain’s processing power is freed to do other jobs. In particular, you now have more resources to apply to your HS practice. After all, that is why you practice HS, and not HT – so that you can concentrate more on the difficult task of acquiring technique. Thus you may find that progress is faster HS when wearing ear protection! This is the same principle behind why many pianists close their eyes when they want to play something with high emotional content – they need all the resources available to produce the high level of emotion. With eyes closed, you eliminate a tremendous amount of information coming into the brain because vision is a two-dimensional, multi- color, moving source of high bandwidth information that must be immediately and automatically interpreted in many complex ways. Therefore, although most audiences admire that a pianist can play with the eyes closed, it is actually easier. Thus, in the near future, most piano students will probably wear ear protection, just as many athletes and construction workers use helmets today. It doesn’t make any sense for us to spend the last 10, 30, or more years of our lives without hearing – a most important lesson Beethoven taught us.

How does piano sound damage the ear? Clearly, loud sound containing many notes should be most damaging. Thus it is probably not an accident that Beethoven became prematurely deaf. This also cautions us to practice his music with ear damage in mind. The specific type of piano is also important. Most uprights that do not produce sufficient sound are probably least damaging. Large grands that transfer energy efficiently into the strings with long sustain probably do not cause as much damage as medium quality pianos in which a large amount of energy is imparted into the initial, instantaneous bang associated with the hammer striking the strings. Although much of this damaging sound energy may not be in the audible range of the ear, we can detect it as an unpleasant or harsh sound. Thus the medium size grands (about 6 ft) may be most damaging. In this regard, the condition of the hammer is important, since a worn hammer can produce a much louder initial bang than a properly voiced hammer. This is why worn hammers cause more string breakage than new or well voiced hammers. With old, hardened hammers, probably most pianos can cause ear damage. Thus proper voicing of the hammer may be much more important than many people realize, for pianissimo, playing musically, technical development, and protecting the ear. If you have to close the lid of a grand in order to play softly, or to reduce the sound to a pleasant level, the hammers probably need voicing.

Some of the loudest sounds are produced by those ear phones used to listen to music. Parents should warn their youngsters not to keep turning up the volume, especially if they subscribe to the culture that plays loud music. Some youngsters will fall asleep with their ear phones blasting; this can be very damaging because the damage is cumulative. It is a bad idea to give gadgets with ear phones to youngsters – postpone it as long as possible. However, sooner or later, they will end up with one; in that case, warn them before they suffer ear damage.

Except for some special cases of tinnitus (especially those cases in which you can alter the sound by moving your jaws, etc.), there is no cure yet. Large doses of aspirin can cause tinnitus; in that case, stopping its use can sometimes reverse the process. Small amounts of aspirin taken for cardiac purposes (81mg) apparently do not cause tinnitus, and there are some claims in the literature that these small amounts may delay the onset of tinnitus. Loud tinnitus can be extremely debilitating because it cannot be changed and is present all the time, and it only increases with time. Many sufferers have been driven to thoughts of suicide. Although there is no cure, there are remedies, and all indications are that eventually, we should be able to find a cure. There are hearing aids that reduce our perception of tinnitus, for example, by supplying sufficient sound so that the tinnitus is masked or the person is distracted from the tinnitus. Thus for tinnitus suffers, absolute quietness can cause the tinnitus to become annoying.

One of the most annoying traits of hearing loss is not that the ear has lost its sensitivity (frequently, sensitivity tests reveal very little deterioration), but the inability of the person to properly process the sound so as to understand speech. People with normal hearing can understand speech mixed with a large amount of extraneous sound. Understanding speech is usually the first ability that is lost with onset of hearing loss. Modern hearing aids can be quite helpful, both by amplifying only those frequencies needed to understand speech and for suppressing sounds that are loud enough to cause damage. In other words, if your hearing aid just amplifies all sounds, it may cause even more damage. Another approach to tinnitus is to train the brain to ignore the tinnitus. The brain is amazingly trainable, and part of the reason why tinnitus causes suffering is the inappropriate brain response of the person. The brain has the ability to either concentrate on the sound, thereby driving you crazy, or to ignore it, in which case you won’t hear it unless you are reminded of it. The best example of this effect is the metronome. Most pianists do not know that if they practice with the metronome too long, the brain will play tricks so that you either do not hear the click at all, or hear it at the wrong time, especially if the metronome click is sharp and loud. This is one reason why modern metronomes have flashing lights. In addition to enabling you to time yourself without the sound, it allows you to check to see if what you hear matches the light flashes. Thus modern treatments of tinnitus start with teaching the patient that others have succeeded in living with it with minimal discomfort. Then the patient receives ear training in such a way as to be able to ignore the tinnitus. Fortunately, the brain is quite adept at learning to ignore a constant sound that is always there.

If you read enough stories about tinnitus suffers, you will probably follow the advice to wear ear protection after age 40, at least when practicing loud passages for long periods of time. At the first hint of tinnitus, it is imperative that you start ear protection procedures because once the tinnitus starts, ear deterioration can proceed rapidly with exposure to loud sounds, with significant deterioration every year. Use of a digital piano and turning the volume down is one solution. Look for an ENT specialist immediately, especially one experienced in tinnitus treatments. Ear protection applies to other members of the household; therefore, if at all possible, isolate the piano room acoustically from the rest of the house. Most quality (glass) doors will be sufficient. There are a few herbs and “natural” medications that claim effectiveness against tinnitus. Most of these do not work, and the ones that seem to benefit some people have dangerous side effects. Although it is true that there are precious few specialists treating tinnitus, the situation is improving and there are many sites on the internet with information on tinnitus, such as The American Tinnitus Association.

Copyright © 2009. Copy permitted if author’s name, Chuan C. Chang, and this copyright statement are included. Order this book at BookSurge or Amazon. This entire book can be downloaded free here.

Re: Hearing Loss from Piano
chasingrainbows #2949328 02/19/20 11:43 PM
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I'm also in my late 60's and I've been playing piano for over 60 years.

No hearing problems, as far as I can tell. I always take care to use hearing protection when using machinery. This also applies to loud amplified music. And no tinnitus either.

My wife would dispute my claim to good hearing, however.

Re: Hearing Loss from Piano
bennevis #2949441 02/20/20 09:02 AM
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Originally Posted by bennevis

Playing the violin is far riskier.


Indeed. It was the violin (well, I was playing traditional American fiddle music) that destroyed the hearing in my left ear. My favorite fiddle (early 20th century German) was especially loud and bright, with a lot of energy coming right off the top. I didn't realize it was damaging my left ear until it was too late. I started wearing an earplug in my left ear, but the damage had already been done, and I did not play the fiddle for much longer due to arthritis.

I also started wearing an earplug in my left ear when playing the Great Highland Bagpipe. That bass drone is close to the left ear, and a long piping session can leave that ear ringing. But again I've had to set that instrument aside due to arthritis.

As far as piano, I once tried a practice session on my Baldwin concert grand with the lid fully open and the music desk removed. After half an hour, I had a pounding headache and my ears were ringing. Fully open like that is fine for a big concert hall, but this is in a residential setting and the piano is situated in a corner, so I was getting strong reflected energy from the the walls as well as direct from the piano. I won't do that again.


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Re: Hearing Loss from Piano
chasingrainbows #2949483 02/20/20 11:28 AM
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Thank you, navrinda. That's an excellent article.


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Re: Hearing Loss from Piano
CharlesXX #2949484 02/20/20 11:29 AM
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Originally Posted by CharlesXX
I'm also in my late 60's and I've been playing piano for over 60 years.

No hearing problems, as far as I can tell. I always take care to use hearing protection when using machinery. This also applies to loud amplified music. And no tinnitus either.

My wife would dispute my claim to good hearing, however.


Selective hearing? smile


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Re: Hearing Loss from Piano
chasingrainbows #2949636 02/20/20 09:03 PM
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I'm a professional musician and have used the Etymotic custom earplugs for over 20 years. I got them as I had tinnitus from playing at deafening volumes in my 20's. Not a piano related experience, but they are the best for essentially turning down the volume and maintaining a fairly broad frequency spectrum at concerts, etc. If you or anyone has issues with tinnitus I highly recommend if you attend concerts yet want good clarity without furthering hearing loss. Again, I think they are phenomenal and have had the same pair for 15 years and have the 9, 15 and 25 db reduction inserts. These need to be purchased from an audiologist as they take ear molds of your ear canal and are soooo comfortable.

Re: Hearing Loss from Piano
spartan928 #2949639 02/20/20 09:12 PM
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Originally Posted by spartan928
I'm a professional musician and have used the Etymotic custom earplugs for over 20 years. I got them as I had tinnitus from playing at deafening volumes in my 20's. Not a piano related experience, but they are the best for essentially turning down the volume and maintaining a fairly broad frequency spectrum at concerts, etc. If you or anyone has issues with tinnitus I highly recommend if you attend concerts yet want good clarity without furthering hearing loss. Again, I think they are phenomenal and have had the same pair for 15 years and have the 9, 15 and 25 db reduction inserts. These need to be purchased from an audiologist as they take ear molds of your ear canal and are soooo comfortable.


I love Etymotic’s products. I have the ER-4SR earphones and think they sound great. I have the cheap 12-20dB cut plugs. Which custom ones did you buy? Could you post a link? I avoid amplified music these days, except from my stereo, and I don’t crank that up loud.

Re: Hearing Loss from Piano
Tyrone Slothrop #2951220 02/25/20 12:37 AM
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FWIW --

There are inexpensive Etymotic earplugs available (model ER20-XS) -- not 'custom fit' but with a choice of earpieces -- with a 20-dB reduction across a wide frequency range:

https://www.amazon.com/Etymotic-High-Fidelity-Earplugs-Standard-Packaging/dp/B00RM6Q9XW

I just started using them, and find them comfortable and just right for listening to loud music, riding on the subway, and so on. They even work for a djembe class (and that is _loud_). They're less "colored" than my old Hearo "Musician's Earplugs".

I looked at my audiologist's report. My hearing curve is flat up to 1000 Hz, and then looks like a ski hill -- it's down 30 dB at 4 kHz.

. . . It's classic "age-related high frequency hearing loss".

I notice that my speech comprehension is getting worse, especially in high-noise environments. I'm experimenting with a pair of "personal hearing amplifiers", They're not cheap, until you compare them with audiologist-dispensed hearing aids:

https://www.soundworldsolutions.com/product/hearing-aid-hd75/

I just wore them for a performance (I played darbukka, mostly) and their high-frequency boost changed the sound of the drum, but I didn't notice distortion in other instruments.

Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop
. . .
I went through this for my father a few months ago. If you end up going that route, look for musician-grade hearing aids with the widest bandwidth, dynamic range, and the least distortion. WIDEX Beyond is an excellent one for musicians and the one I bought for my father. WIDEX makes a few other models for musicians. It works with both iPhones and Android phones. Consult with your audiologist to make sure this is the best option for you.

. . .


Thank you! I'll have to check those out, if the HD75's aren't good enough.


. Charles
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PX-350 / microKorg XL+ / Pianoteq / Lounge Lizard / EV ZXA1 speaker
Re: Hearing Loss from Piano
chasingrainbows #2951335 02/25/20 09:39 AM
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Not sure if it is common for musicians to wear foam ear plugs. People who travel on a plane you find foam ear plugs very common. They filter noise but not as much as the ear protection construction workers and others who are subjected to loud noises in the workplace would wear.

1 lady in my music group played piccolo had significant hearing loss to the point she had to watch TV with the volume almost at the maximum. A lot of instruments can lead to hearing loss. Someone who plays violin or viola the damage tend to be on the left ear because they hold the instrument on that side.

I play keyboard at home and usually with the volume way down. I don't wear headphones very much. I'd move the volume up only for recordings.

Re: Hearing Loss from Piano
thepianoplayer416 #2951443 02/25/20 02:44 PM
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Originally Posted by thepianoplayer416

I play keyboard at home and usually with the volume way down. I don't wear headphones very much. I'd move the volume up only for recordings.


I'm not sure that is the best strategy.

If you have to reduce sound so your playing doesn't bother people, I think it would be better to leave the volume up and change to headphones.

What i do on my digital is set the master volume control so it matches how an acoustic piano plays, and then I do dynamics the same as i would on an acoustic piano. I don't have a way of measuring this precisely of course, but when I set the volume on 3 it seems about the same to my ears as when I play other pianos.

If you don't do this, how would you learn to play softly? Dynamics are part of technique.


gotta go practice
Re: Hearing Loss from Piano
chasingrainbows #2951475 02/25/20 04:12 PM
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In the 1980s when the first generation Sony Walkman became popular, people listened to music & radio broadcasts through their headphones. And came the risk of hearing loss from the volume set too high. Headphones don’t protect against hearing loss, only prevent your playing from distracting others.

A lot of blind & deaf people play music. They rely on their sense of touch more than normal folks do. The trick is to strike the right balance between hearing what you play without causing ear damage. We adjust the volume setting 1/4 to 1/2 way up which is reasonable.

When you set the volume higher for recording, you take sound samples to hear if certain notes should be louder / softer. Do a few trials. Making notes loud / soft you adjust your touch. Otherwise the notes are the same.

Re: Hearing Loss from Piano
chasingrainbows #2951503 02/25/20 05:26 PM
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pianoplayer, earplugs OTOH, protect against hearing loss, which many have suggested in this thread. I am interested in the earplugs mentioned above by Charles Cohen.


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Re: Hearing Loss from Piano
Charles Cohen #2951505 02/25/20 05:30 PM
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Charles, how are your personal hearing amplifiers working for hearing conversation in noisy environments?


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KAWAI NOVUS NV5 KEY ACTION PROBLEMS
by ilsanto1978 - 11/23/20 08:04 AM
KAWAI NOVUS NV5 KEY ACTION PROBLEMS
by ilsanto1978 - 11/23/20 06:41 AM
What's wrong with this picture?
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Would you ever buy a new piano"blind"
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