Protecting Teacher and Student Health with Earplugs at Band Practice


When school is in session, as teachers we all know to stock up on hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and tissues, and schedule the annual flu shot. While these are all very important, there are several other areas that all teachers – but in particular music teachers – need to be concerned about: our voices and our hearing.

Best Earplugs for Marching Band Practice

These are all reasons that music educators and probably every student in the instrumental program should use hearing protection each and every day. You will want something different than the foam earplugs they sell at the corner drug store. While those protect against noise levels, they also distort the sound and eliminate certain frequencies. Instead, you will want to look at getting a set of high-fidelity earplugs like:

The Etymotic ETY Earplugs reduce most noise to safe levels while preserving the clarity of speech and the richness of music. It allows you to hear the sound exactly as the ear would hear it, only quieter.

The Etymotic ER20XS Earplugs are a bit smaller and more discreet, having a lower profile that sits snugly in the ear without protruding – but again, allowing you to hear the sound exactly as the ear would hear it, only quieter.

The Earasers Musicians’ Earplugs were developed by an engineer who has been a musician for over 20 years. They are great for very loud environments, allowing you to hear at a safe, comfortable level.

The Etymotic Electronic Musicians’ Earplugs are state of the art, protecting your ears and providing two modes: a low position which provides a 15dB decrease in sound pressure, and a high position which provides for a 6dB gain for soft sounds and a 9dB cut for loud sounds.

It is important that you take into consideration that damage to the ear and hearing is always permanent. Once a hair cell in the cochlea has been damaged or destroyed, it cannot be repaired – so take care of your ears and your students’ ears!

The Importance of Earplugs for Music Teachers

In a study by Joseph Pisano of Grove City College, 42 band directors were tested for noise-induced hearing loss. It found that 86% showed some degree of damage. That statistic should scare us all! While instrumental teachers may be the most vulnerable, the choral and classroom teacher can also suffer hearing loss from their work with students in the classroom.

This came to my attention when I was visiting the European Music Educators Association, which is made up of teachers who teach for the Department of Defense Education Activity. During that visit I found that the Department of Defense takes hearing loss so seriously that they require both the teacher and the students in the band to wear noise-reducing earplugs during any class where there can be excessive sound or when electronic equipment is played. We even had a wonderful presentation about hearing loss from one of the Army doctors that was truly enlightening.

Some interesting facts:

Noise levels for the average band rehearsal regularly reach 110 db.
Noise levels for the average marching band rehearsal regularly reach 125 db.
Noise levels for the average choral or general music classroom regularly reach 100 db.

90-95 decibels is the level at which sustained exposure may result in hearing loss.
125 decibels is the level at which pain begins.
140 decibels is the level where even short-term exposure can cause permanent damage.

In a study, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that a band director’s noise exposure reached and exceeded occupational exposure limits that they recommend (85 db over an eight-hour exposure). They also found that the noise levels were greater in the band room than in the cafeteria, and that the average band room was not a large enough rehearsal space for the number of students in the high school marching band.

Our voices are critical to our professional lives as well as our musical lives and continually shouting over a band ensemble can damage a teacher’s voice as well as their ears. Be sure to also see our post on PA systems for schools.

Tom Dean
Tom Dean
Tom Dean is a Choral Editor, and the Elementary and Secondary General Music Editor for J.W. Pepper & Son, Inc. Prior to working for Pepper, Tom taught instrumental and choral music as well as audio engineering at the high school level in the Delaware public schools for 32 years. He is a member of the ACDA and is active in the Delaware Music Educators where he served in numerous positions including President, All-State Coordinator, Technology chair, and Composition chair, and NAfME where he served as Eastern Division President and NEB member. He also was a member of the music writing team that developed the new music standards for the NCCAS project.


  1. Thank you for this article. I am recovering from hearing damage caused by poor acoustics in my choral classroom. Last spring I began experiencing severe pain in my left ear which was diagnosed as hyperacusis. I taught for 6 yrs. in a room with no windows, carpet, or acoustic panels. Within that enclosed classroom, there was a metal clanging bell which rang 17 times a day for 15 sec. I have approx. 200 students who pass through that room a day with 26 keyboards. It gets very loud! After many Dr. visits and medical tests, I had to take a leave of absence for 7 weeks. My school added carpet, and acoustic panels which has made a huge difference, and after having the time off work with summer break, and therapy, I am much better.
    One of the essential components to my recovery has been good ear protection. Etymotic earplugs have literally saved my hearing! I cannot stress enough the importance of these earplugs, and their role in preserving our hearing. You never know how grateful you are for your hearing until you’re faced with losing it.
    Protect your ears.
    Use Etymotic earplugs.
    Thank you again for your timely article.

  2. I am a 77 y/o former band director who has returned to playing Tuba after 30 years in another career. In or community band I sit right next to percussion and have tried several different solutions. For the last 2 years I have been using the Earasers. Other less expensive plugs hurt my ears, muffled sounds that made it impossible to hear across the band as well as having great impact on speech from podium. The Earasers have proved to be comfortable and effective. A happy side result is I hear myself better.


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