It might seem a strange thing that musicians wear earplugs, but it is indeed common. For one thing, many musicians are exposed to high levels of sound for extended periods of time. This can result in hearing impairment or tinnitus, both of which are disasters for a musician. One study, conducted at Sweden’s Concert Hall and Lyric Theatre in Gothenberg showed that 42% of the orchestra had an unexpected degree of hearing loss. Musicians earplugs are especially designed to reduce the decibel of sound without impairing its quality. Unlike cheap earplugs, they do not alter the sound at all, but simply reduce it. There are four types of musicians earplugs available.
Filter earplugs are the best over the counter solution. They specifically filter dangerous frequencies such as very high, piercing treble. Filters can be purchased in different levels, generally 15 and 25 decibel reduction, depending on the kind of music you play and the kind of venues you frequent. These are also good earplugs for serious concertgoers and clubbers. This kind of earplugs has little effect on the quality of the sound, and should be replaced about every three months.
Best for MusiciansNRR 20, Two levels of protection
Etymotic Research ER20 Flanged EarplugsNRR 20, Earplug and Play favorite
These are not quite the same as the ones you might purchase from a drug store or receive from an airline. Music shops do sell foam earplugs designed for musicians, which generally give better protection. The cheapest option, they have a number of downsides. They can be difficult to apply, and they tend to muffle and distort the music. They are recommended only for occasional players and for emergencies.
Best Foam EarplugsNRR 33, Highest protection available
Ear muffs are the kind that look like a set of headphones and which are popular with construction workers. They give good protection and are easy to put on and remove. However, they are very obvious and ugly in appearance, and probably not what you want to be wearing on stage.
Best Ear MuffsNRR 30, Best earplug alternative
The very best option, custom earplugs, are filter earplugs that are made for the specific person. A mold is taken of your ears, and the plugs are then formed for a perfect fit. Also, you can choose exactly what decibel protection you want within the 15 to 25db range. However, these earplugs are extremely expensive, especially if you are still relatively young and may not have quite finished growing. They can set a musician back a lot of money, but if you are serious about your art, they might be worth it.
Do-it-yourself molded earplugs are the most common choice for custom earplugs without the full expense of earplugs made specifically for you.
All musicians should consider the health of their ears, for their own benefit, their careers and those around them. Musicians earplugs are the easiest way to protect your hearing for the long haul.