How Music Can Protect Against Hearing Loss

This post originally appeared on the Minds on Music blog for Kindermusik International and was written by Jamie Sterling.
My husband is a professional musician. He’s spent the majority of his life playing loud music through loud amplifiers (and in booming tones). Did I mention he’s a bassist? Not only that, but he likes to listen to pretty loud music – and he wears headphones to do his recording and other loud, musical work every day. I’ve expressed my concern for his ears and the potential hearing loss I was sure he was doomed to deal with. But, despite my nagging…I mean, despite my expressions of concern… he has always insisted that he has “tough ears.”

One time, he was having a hard time hearing – to the point that he decided to go to the doctor. This is something, because he is one of those guys who likes to avoid the doctor, unless it is very serious. I was sure I was going to have my ‘told you so’ moment on his hearing. Turns out, it was a massive amount of earwax! And, after taking a requisite hearing test at the ear, nose & throat specialist, he was deemed to have “exceptional hearing.”

Now, this just didn’t compute for me. Didn’t my Dad tell me he lost a little bit of his hearing at an early age from standing too close to the amps at big concerts in the 70s? How does exposing yourself to music constantly, as a part of your profession, allow anybody to have better hearing? Perhaps it’s just my husband. He really is a ninja (black belt in Isshinryu karate), so maybe this is just another way his ‘ninja-ness’ manifests itself?

Turns out recent research actually suggests that musicians’ ears ARE tougher. NPR published that embracing music early in life can actually stave off age-related hearing loss!

The article states:

“If you spend a lot of your life interacting with sound in an active manner, then your nervous system has made lots of sound-to-meaning connections” that can strengthen your auditory system, says Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University. Musicians focus extraordinary attention on deciphering low notes from high notes and detecting different tonal qualities. Kraus has studied younger musicians and found that their hearing is far superior to that of their non-musician counterparts.

Knowing that younger musicians seemed to have a distinct hearing advantage made Kraus curious about what happened to those same musicians later in life.

To find out, she assembled a small group of middle-aged musicians and non musicians, aged 45-65. She put both groups through a series of tests measuring their ability to make out and repeat a variety of sentences spoken in noisy background environments. Turns out, the musicians were 40 percent better than non-musicians at tuning out background noise and hearing the sentences, as Kraus reported in PloS ONE. The musicians were also better able to remember the sentences than the non-musicians — and that made it easier for them to follow a line of conversation.

So, my husband will likely be a really sharp older man because he will have less hearing loss, be able to carry conversations better, and have an enhanced IQ. I’ll be the crazy old lady sitting next to him, responding only with “Huh?” and wondering who the President is… unless I pick up my viola – or maybe take up those guitar lessons again!

Listen to the full story on

(Also, as a disclaimer, I highly encourage everyone to wear earplugs and listen to music at a normal decibel level, as the safest precaution against early hearing loss).

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