Can playing piccolo damage hearing? You may have asked yourself this question, especially if you developed a ringing in your ear (tinnitus) after a practice session.
Before you quit the piccolo entirely, consider the risks and how you can protect yourself. Then, you can enjoy playing the smallest member of the flute family.
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Can Playing Piccolo Damage Hearing?
Unfortunately, playing piccolo can damage hearing. The damage may be unnoticeable, but it could easily become severe, and hearing won’t come back after you lose it.
Hearing Risks of Playing Piccolo
Playing piccolo can be fun and exciting, and many flute players love it. However, it doesn’t come without a few health risks, some of which are specific to your hearing.
Consider a couple of ways in which the piccolo can be damaging to your hearing.
The piccolo has the highest range of all of the common orchestral instruments. You can play as high on a piccolo as you can on a piano keyboard with 88 keys.
Playing any high-pitched sound can be damaging to your hearing. But if you play the piccolo, you’ll hear those high notes after another, and it might not stop for a while.
Not to mention, the piccolo can be quite loud, and playing softly takes a lot of practice and skill. So if you play the piccolo without hearing protection, you could damage your hearing.
Along with playing high notes, the piccolo is very close to your right ear. Sure your head shields your left ear, but it could still be affected if you play the piccolo enough without taking care of your hearing.
I almost always wear an earplug at least in my right ear. The only exceptions are when I’m only practicing in the first octave or when I’m tuning and want to hear the intonation clearly.
Otherwise, I add an earplug to at least drown out some of the sound, and I can still hear through my left ear. If I’m playing really high notes for a while, I may also add my left earplug to be extra safe.
How to Protect Your Hearing as a Piccolo Player
Hearing protection is important for many musicians but especially if you play the piccolo. Once you lose your hearing, you can’t get it back, so prevention and protection are key.
Here are some things you can and should do to help keep your hearing without having to quit playing the piccolo.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to wear earplugs. Hearing those high notes can actually be physically painful, and that’s your body telling you to protect it.
Putting in at least the right earplug can help make it easier and more fun to play up high. You won’t feel like you have to hold back just to keep from ruining your hearing.
Instead, you can play out like you would on the flute, so you can sound your best. Earplugs are small, and many are affordable, so you can get a few pairs to keep in your case, bag, and in your practice studio.
Take Practice Breaks
When determining if playing piccolo can damage hearing, consider you can overdo it. Be sure to schedule plenty of practice breaks to give your ears a break, even if you wear earplugs.
Even when I wear earplugs, my ears start to ring after a while. I take that as a sign to either stop practicing entirely or to at least switch to playing my C flute or alto flute.
Wait until the ringing stops or until you feel comfortable again. Then, you can practice the piccolo, but don’t forget to take more time away from the instrument.
Get Annual Checkups
Everyone should do this anyway, but if you want to protect your hearing, you need to see your doctor at least once a year. They can make sure you’re healthy overall, and they may help order a hearing test.
Your doctor could also recommend an audiologist if you can’t hear as well as you used to. An annual checkup isn’t always perfect, so you may need a second opinion if your doctor doesn’t listen to your concerns.
Still, seeing a professional can help you find out if you’ve lost a bit of hearing. Then, you can take steps to protect what you have left so that you can continue to enjoy playing music.
Leave the Rehearsal Space
One of the downsides of playing piccolo is that you have a lot of downtime during rehearsals. However, if your break is long enough, you can get up and leave the rehearsal room.
Your piccolo isn’t the only thing that can damage your hearing. Other instruments, such as brass and percussion, can easily harm your hearing with loud notes or surprising bangs.
Consider going out into the hall or even your car if you have a long enough break between pieces. Then, you can enjoy some silence, and you can come back to the rehearsal ready to work.
Best Earplugs for Piccolo Players
Playing piccolo can damage hearing, but it doesn’t have to if you have the right gear. A good pair of earplugs can make a world of difference and allow you to play the piccolo more.
If you’re convinced you need hearing protection, consider the following options.
I have and use the Etymotic ER-20 earplugs, and they work great. If I remember right, I bought them around when I started playing the piccolo in 2014, so they’ve held up over the years.
They’re also affordable, and they come on a string and in a clamshell case. That makes it easy to keep the pair together, so you don’t have to worry about losing one.
I’ve heard tons of good things about Eargasm Earplugs, and I’m looking to try a pair myself. They’re small and clear, so they don’t look odd if you like to play with your hair back.
These earplugs reduce the sound, so you can still hear what you’re playing and stay in tune. I like that they come with a case, but I do wish they came on a string like the Etymotic pair.
Earasers earplugs are also popular among flute and piccolo players. They also help reduce the noise so that you can still hear yourself without damaging your hearing.
I love that you can choose from different sizes, and I’d like to try a few sizes to see what’s comfortable. You’ll also get a nice little case to keep the earplugs in when you aren’t using them.
Probably the best earplugs you can get will come from an audiologist or some other doctor. They can take molds of your ears so that the earplugs fit perfectly.
Unfortunately, this is going to be the most expensive option. You’ll need to pay for an appointment, and the earplugs can cost much more than the ready-made pairs, but it might be worth it for serious players. I might get a pair from an audiologist in the future.
So, Can Playing Piccolo Damage Hearing?
Playing piccolo can damage hearing if you don’t have the right gear to protect your ears. I use earplugs most of the time with very few exceptions.
If you don’t already use earplugs, I HIGHLY suggest you start since your hearing won’t come back. To learn more about piccolo playing and gear, head to the resources page.