French horn players are most at risk of hearing loss in an orchestra
Aspiring musicians beware – playing the French horn can be bad for your hearing.
By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent
5:46PM BST 25 Sep 2013
It is one of the most rousing instruments in the orchestra, used to create soaring fanfares and powerful harmonics.
However, it seems the beauty of the French horn may be lost on the very musicians who play it because it causes them to lose their hearing.
Scientists have found that those who play the distinctive, curved brass instruments experience some of the loudest noises within an orchestra and have the highest risk of hearing loss.
New findings suggest that up to a third of horn players suffer hearing problems in at least one of their ears, with younger musicians being most at risk.
It is thought that the shape of the instrument, which can direct the sound towards the player’s ears and those of their neighbour, is partly responsible for this increased risk compared to other musicians.
French horns are also often used to play loud fanfares while in classical orchestras horn players are seated side by side in the midst of the brass section.
Dr Wayne Wilson, an audiologist who led the study at the study from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, said: “It is now well established that professional orchestral musicians can be exposed to potentially harmful sound levels in their working environment.
“It is also acknowledged that sound exposure varies significantly across the orchestra from musician to musician according to position, repertoire, and instrument played, with horn players thought to be one of the most at-risk groups.
“Even mild hearing loss can result in difficulties discriminating pitch, abnormal loudness growth and tinnitus, all of which can effect a musician’s ability to perform, subsequently jeopardising his or her livelihood.”
The researchers examined the hearing of 142 French horn players attending a conference of the International Horn Society and compared this to how often they played.
Their study, which is published Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, found that the majority played their horns for more than 20 hours a week, with two thirds of those who took part being members of an orchestra.
They found that overall 22.2 per cent of the horn players showed signs of hearing loss while among those who were under 40 years old, 32.9 per cent showed signs of hearing loss. Just 18 per cent wore hearing protection when they were playing.
French horns can reach noise levels of up to 106 decibels while trombones and trumpets can exceed 114 decibels.
A recent study published last year by scientists in Slovenia, suggested that violinists were also highly prone to hearing loss due to the proximity of their instrument to their ears.
Ian O’Brien, a professional horn player and co-author of the latest research, said: “Our findings reinforce the need to educate horn players about the need to protect hearing.