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Musicians' Earplugs: Do They Affect Performance or Listeners' Perceptions?

Karen S. Thomas, Raychl Smith, Sandra Teglas, Donald A. Hodges
From: Medical Problems of Performing Artists: Volume 35 Number 4: Page 188 (December 2020)

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Abstract: BACKGROUND: Does wearing musicians' earplugs while performing affect the quality of the performance? Can listeners perceive a difference in sound when musicians are performing with or without earplugs? The risk of hearing loss is a concern for musicians, but some are reluctant to wear hearing protection due to factors such as an inability to hear their own instrument properly and the possibility of decreased sound quality for listeners. OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of musicians' earplugs on instrumental pitch accuracy and the perception of tone quality, intonation, and dynamic contrast, as perceived by musicians and listeners. METHODS: Ten university studio faculty teachers were recorded performing single pitches and lyrical and technical passages, first without earplugs and then immediately after with earplugs. A sample of 8 studio faculty teachers and 88 undergraduate music education students completed a researcher-created music perception test of tone quality, intonation, and dynamic contrast. RESULTS: Objective analyses of the single pitch recordings made by faculty with and without earplugs indicate that pitch accuracy did not favor either condition consistently. Results from the perception test indicate that although both faculty and student listeners perceived some differences, the most frequent perception was that the audio pair was equal, and there was no clear difference between performing with and without earplugs in terms of tone quality, intonation, or dynamic contrast. CONCLUSION: These findings suggest that musicians should feel confident that wearing musicians earplugs while performing does not adversely affect pitch accuracy or listeners' perceptions of their timbre and dynamic control.

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