Cutietta, R. A., Klich, R. J, Royse, C., & Rainbolt, H. (1994). The incidence of noise-induced hearing loss among music teachers. Journal of Research in Music Education, 42(4), 318-330.
The main purpose of this study was to compare the hearing “health” of three types of music teachers: vocal, elementary instrumental, and high school instrumetal. The results of this study were hoped to complement results of an earlier study by the same researchers on noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) in high school band directors in order to ascertain the risks of NIHL associated with high school band directing.
The study concerned itself with two types of hearing loss: noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) and presbycusis. NIHL is “the permanent loss of some degree of hearing due to exposure to sound at substantially hight levels, especially over prolonged periods of time.” Presbycusis is a hearing loss attributed to the natural aging process.
104 subjects ranging in ages from 22 to 62 were used in the study. 55 of the subjects were choral or general music teachers with no band conducting experiences dueing their professional careers. 38 subjects were high school band directors and 11 were elementary band directors with no high school level conducting experiences.
Hearing tests were administered to each participant using a traditional “pure tone” test in both ears at varying degrees of intensity (ranging from 250 – 8000Hz). An additional “bone conduction” test was also administered to each participant to test the middle ear mechanism.
Results of the study indicated 14% of the participants had hearing loss typically indicative of presbycusis. Within that group, instrumental teachers had a significantly higher percentage of loss than did vocal teachers (57% as compared to 70%).
Overall, 19% of the subjects displayed hearing loss consistent with NIHL. In analyzing data along different variables, it was determined that gender potentially served as an indicator of frequency of NIHL. While 16% of the subjects with NIHL were female, 26% of male instrumental teachers, and 38% of male vocal teachers demonstrated NIHL in their audiograms.
When comparing the audiograms of vical instrumental teachers at the high school level, all losses of vocal teacher occured within the limits of normal hearing. On the contrary, hearing of the instrumental teachers showed greater average losses and variability amongst the subjects.
When analyzing data according to age of subject, there appeared to be an intensification of loss associated with natural aging in instrumental teachers as compared with vocal teachers. This might suggest that the repeated exposure to more intense sounds over time increases the effects of natural hearing (presbycusis).
The findings of this study, in conjuction with the earlier study, suggests that high school band conductors need to be cautious of their individual hearing, and regularly have hearing tested (every 12-16months). From a precautionary perspective, high school instrumental music teachers are encouraged to have rehearsal rooms evaluated by professional acousticians for proper treatment.