ResearchPDF Available

Music, Noise & Hearing: How to play your part II Managers' toolkit


Output from the cross-sector partnership looking at the Control of Noise at Work Regulations as applied to the music industry 2008-2011)
BBC © 2012. May be copied for non-commercial purposes provided the source is
Music, noise and hearing: how to play your part. Toolkit for managers
Musicians’ guide to noise & hearing. Part II | 3
About this document ................................................................................................... 5
Understanding and assessing the risks from noise .................................................................... 6
Eliminating and controlling risk .................................................................................................... 15
Hearing protection ......................................................................................................................... 29
Provision of hearing health surveillance .................................................................................... 30
Training, instruction and information......................................................................................... 32
Links, references and definitions ...................................................................................................... 34
Acknowledgments ............................................................................................................................... 36
The 2005 Noise Regulations: playing your part ........................................................................... 37
This version incorporates feedback from the sector and the Health & Safety Executive.
The BBC is a significant employer of musicians. As an organisation it therefore has a
duty of care towards them, not least to help them to look after their hearing. In recent
years we have been playing a leading part in developing thinking in this area. I am delighted
that our 2008 research initiative looking at noise exposure in our five orchestras and the
BBC Singers has evolved into an important cross-sector collaboration from which many
more musicians (and the musicians of the future) can benefit.” – Roger Wright, Controller, BBC
Radio 3 and Director, BBC Proms
This guide was written
by Ruth Hansford, BBC
Safety, in partnership
with these
organisations. The HSE
was a consulted
stakeholder. See the
section for details of
editorial group
The Federation of Scottish
Theatre provides support,
including Health & Safety
advice, for the Royal Scottish
National Orchestra, the
Scottish Chamber Orchestra,
Scottish Ballet and Scottish
Opera. The FST represented
them on the editorial group
for this guide.
Music, noise and hearing: how to play your part. Toolkit for managers
Musicians’ guide to noise & hearing. Part II | 5
Part II of the guide ‘Music, noise and hearing’ is intended for managers of ensembles and
venues. It supplements the HSE publications Controlling Noise at Work and Sound Advice. It
builds on these two publications in response to requests from the sector, as well as the
Association of British Orchestras’ (ABO’s) February 2008 publication A Sound Ear II. It also
assumes some knowledge of the broader principles of Health & Safety at Work legislation.
Sound Advice was developed in the lead-up to the application of the Noise Regulations to the
Music and Entertainment sector and was published in July 2008. In the intervening three
years much has been done in the UK orchestra sector: the BBC Performing Groups funded
a year-long investigation and collected a dataset of musicians’ noise exposure and potential
reductions across a range of scenarios. Many other orchestras have taken measurements,
devised experiments and explored solutions. In July 2010 the BBC organised a seminar in
partnership with the HSE and the ABO, to share these experiences and look to the future.
Since 2008 we have built up a considerable knowledge base: more figures, the benefit of
experience, and ideas are regularly exchanged through formal and informal networks. But
we also have a greater financial challenge. Fortunately, though, not all of the solutions to
controlling noise and protecting musicians’ hearing have a high cost. True, high-tech acoustic
treatments and custom-moulded earplugs may not be cheap, but the low-tech solutions :
talking, sharing and building on experiences all play a vital part.
The Noise Regulations pose particular challenges for our sector. Solutions for acoustic
music are not ‘one-size-fits-all’; there are many variables: repertoire, venues, instrument,
conductors, and individual musicians. Differentiated solutions must be found, and it is vital to
act and experiment. It requires a sustained team effort, and the Regulations should be seen
as an opportunity for all involved in making music to work together.
The guide as a whole aims to facilitate dialogue and empower all musicians and managers,
and as such represents current good practice around the sector. While Part I, the musicians’
section, is arranged to cater for their information needs, Part II, the managers’ section, is
arranged according to the structure of the CNAW Regulations.
Many colleagues have contributed case studies with a view to sharing strategies and
solutions. Even if they raise more questions than they answer we hope they will inspire
further developments.
Everyone here today appreciates that doing the right things the right way delivers
improved productivity, increased workforce commitment and enhanced reputation. We also
recognise that these things will only be achieved by everyone working together towards a
set of common goals goals that are reasonable as well as practical. Hugh Robertson, HSE
board member, at ‘Classical Music, Noise and Hearing’ seminar, July 2010
It is desirable to work towards an industry-wide consensus as to what everyone can expect
in a risk assessment. There is no one way of presenting this, beyond ensuring that you have
covered the five steps outlined in Sound Advice. This should be used as a guide both to
drawing up your own risk assessments and to deciding whether the risk assessment of a
third party (staging supplier, sound engineer for amplified music, concert hall or studio),
anticipates, and provides appropriate solutions for, noise risks.
A generic risk assessment document might be based on the ensemble’s noise policy or noise
protocols, which outlines roles and responsibilities. This may be supplemented for a specific
project, tour or venue with information that has come out of a stage-management or tour-
planning meeting, for example.
You first need to be clear about what it is you are assessing, whether it be a single project
or a series. Then you should set about addressing the following questions:
Is there a risk due to noise?
Who might be harmed and how?
Evaluate the risk and decide on precautions.
Record the findings and implement them.
Fine-tune as you go, and review after the event.
Yes. The link between prolonged noise exposure and hearing problems is long established.
Musicians are exposed to high sound levels and there is some evidence of noise-induced
hearing loss among certain groups of musicians. However, our understanding of musicians’
hearing is incomplete.
Figures collected by the BBC over a period of a year showed that just over 50% of the
musicians in an orchestra have a daily noise dose at or above 85dB(A) LEP,d. By virtue of
their location in the ensemble, or the instrument they play, certain musicians are more
consistently ‘at risk’ than others. Risk from instantaneous peaks was found to be relatively
rare compared to the risks from prolonged noise exposure in this context.
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There are many variables: layout and position in the ensemble; instrument played
(woodwind and brass players being more exposed than others); venue; repertoire; individual
differences. No two concert halls or studios are alike; one piece performed in two venues
may create different challenges. Each repertoire piece or programme has its own noise
risks; with standard repertoire musicians can draw on experience but with new works the
conductor, composer and artistic planning team are the only ones with the complete
picture. Finally of course, no two musicians are alike.
So rather than thinking globally, we must consider risks that relate to individual musicians.
This sounds like a lot of work, but there is a great deal of knowledge and experience to
draw from, among musicians, managers and venue managers, so it doesn’t mean starting
with a blank page each time.
To help evaluate the risks you can use existing knowledge of musicians’ noise exposure.
Figures are only an indication, but measuring the risks helps you to be explicit about
describing them. To evaluate the risk for a health problem with a long latency it may also be
helpful to look at a bigger picture: it may be helpful to talk in terms of the project, or likely
exposure over a working week. Some figures can be found in the musicians’ section of this
guide, and both musicians’ and managers’ sections explore controls, with some indication of
noise-reduction potential, checklists to use when considering them and examples of how
these controls are being implemented in the real world.
The resulting document need not be overly complicated. It is a record of significant findings;
some projects have more risks associated with them than others (the Rite of Spring vs.
Rodrigo’s Guitar Concerto, for example). Write down the findings of the risk assessment
process and state what you intend to do to eliminate or minimise the risks. The document
should be signed off by the senior person responsible for health and safety.
A risk assessment record should be retained for a defined period (eg. six years), in case of
subsequent civil or criminal claims. It is also good practice to have the documentation
accessible so you can refer back to what you have done on previous projects.
Ensure the contents are communicated to everyone who needs to know. If there is no
reason to keep it confidential (for example, when an individual’s health is involved) an
announcement to the whole ensemble may be sufficient. For example: ‘There are some loud
passages in this programme be sure you have your earplugs with you and if you haven’t, there is a
supply in x’ or ‘There is a supply of screens available. If you’re not sure how to set one up ask for
help.’ Or section leaders or the conductor might take a moment before the first rehearsal to
tell the ensemble where the loud passages are, so that those affected can mark up their
score. These are examples of how the managers and musicians need to work together to
reduce the risk from noise exposure. Clearly these are dependent on managers having made
this possible beforehand by providing screens, thinking about suitable stage layouts,
discussing with the conductor, and so on. Control measures are discussed in the section
‘Eliminating and controlling risk’.
Use the risk assessment as a living document (what is known as dynamic or ‘on-the-spot’
risk assessment), and after the event use it as a learning tool: What could we have done
better? What should we remember for next time? Should we modify the action plan in the
light of what we have tried out? With time you can build up a picture of risks associated
with different venues and different repertoire or programmes. These, and the solutions
(plus your thoughts about their success) can be shared among colleagues inside and outside
your own ensemble.
Instantaneous peaks at or above the maximum Exposure Limit Value of 140dB(C) as set out
in the CNAW are thankfully very rare, but levels do not have to be high to bring about an
adverse reaction. If peaks are in the score they can be predicted. An accidental loud burst of
noise (from an on-stage monitor, for example) is unlikely to be at or over 140dB(C), but
there are measures that can be put into place to avoid these. Ensure that the sound test
takes place while musicians are not on the stage, and prepare musicians for loud sounds in
the piece of music by giving them time to mark up their score (the orchestral librarian can
play a role here too). It is also important to have a procedure for reporting and following up
such incidents, as with any other accident or near miss. See below for a suggested
On the one hand it is important to think about the specific risks involved (which means you
don’t just cut and paste without thinking about its relevance) and on the other hand you
don’t want to spend time rewriting something that has routine elements in it – especially
when the risks are related to exposure over time. But you do want your risk assessment to
refer to the specifics of the venue and the repertoire and to individuals’ needs. Of course,
it is better to cut and paste something that is tried and tested and fit for purpose, rather
than write the perfect risk assessment and then run out of time to implement the controls.
Do the musicians know what’s in store?
Has everyone had noise awareness training?
Is the repertoire known to be noisy?
Is there any amplification?
Do you know the venue?
Does the venue have flexible risers?
Does the venue have adequate acoustic treatments?
Do you have a range of controls at your disposal?
Are there extras/deps whose playing style you don’t know?
Do you have any acoustic screens?
Do you provide disposable earplugs?
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This template has been developed in the BBC. It may be freely copied and adapted to suit
individual scenarios. But bear in mind there’s no substitute for your own thinking process
What is being assessed? A
series, a project or a part of a
Dates the assessment refers
Location details.
Name of person who carried
out the risk assessment.
Name of manager who signs
off the risk assessment.
Names of people to whom the
document should be
Any other related risk
assessments (eg third parties).
Activity title: Performing Groups: rehearsing, performing and/or recording music
Scope and description: For example: This risk assessment applies to noise risks to
musicians associated with the rehearsal and live or recorded performance of
orchestral and choral music. This activity may take place at a BBC venue or at
an external venue and this assessment assumes the venue is already set up for
this activity. In cases where the venue is built or modified especially for the
project (the minority of cases), these issues must be considered at the design
stage. This assessment does not cover associated risks such as manual handling,
long hours, trips and slips, etc.
Who is at risk from this activity? (names and/or numbers)
How could someone become hurt or
made ill?
How are you going to prevent this from happening?
Hazard: Exposure to high levels of
noise that may cause noise-induced
hearing problems.
Description: Over the course of a
career in a noisy environment,
exposure to noise levels above
85dB(A) over the course of an eight-
hour working day can cause
irreparable damage to the cells of the
inner ear. This may result in a
threshold shift (a decreased ability to
hear certain frequencies) which is
known as noise-induced hearing loss,
or in other problems that cannot be
measured in a hearing test, such as
tinnitus or hyperacusis.
At the artistic planning stage, managers to ensure the repertoire is
suitable for the venue. Note that even if the platform is big enough to
accommodate the orchestra (/choral) forces required, the acoustic
volume may be insufficient. If this information is not already known by
the ensemble managers, the venue should provide it.
Rehearsal schedule to be drawn up to provide adequate rest periods (eg,
15’ break after 1 ¾ hrs; 12-16 hrs advisable after a loud concert).
Stage layout to be designed to provide adequate vertical separation:
louder, more directional instruments to be placed on risers if possible
(ideally c.20cm for each row of woodwind; c.36cm higher for brass).
Stage layout to optimise horizontal separation between noisier and more
vulnerable sections of the ensemble: provide space in front of trumpets
and trombones, between horns and percussion section, and between
woodwind (especially piccolo) and the back desks of the string section.
String sections should be rotated and where appropriate brass sections
Acoustic screens to be made available and stage managers to ensure
these are positioned in a way that optimises the protection of vulnerable
players without adding to the noise dose of others. These must not be
moved (or removed) without permission from the management.
Managers to make announcements at the beginning of the rehearsal
warning musicians of potential noise risks associated with the repertoire
being played (including likely sound levels); to inform them of the steps
they have taken and to remind musicians of their own responsibilities.
Conductor to avoid repetitions of loud passages during rehearsal.
Where appropriate, musicians to be allowed to leave the stage when not
required for a passage.
Managers to remind musicians of the importance of wearing hearing
protection and to make earplugs available to all.
Musicians to wear hearing protection, either their own or that provided
How could someone become hurt or
made ill?
How are you going to prevent this from happening?
by the management.
For amplified projects, on-stage foldback to be avoided and wearing of
in-ear monitors by the solo artists strongly advised. Front-of-House PA
to be directed away from the stage. Stage should have been designed to
minimise transmission of unwanted (especially low-frequency) sounds
from amplified to acoustic sections (clear space; rubber matting).Sound
check to take place when there are no musicians (or any staff who do
not need to be there) in the area.
Managers to provide hearing health surveillance to contract staff;
musicians to attend regular hearing tests as set out in their contracts.
(NB though this is not a ‘control’ it is important in evaluating the
effectiveness of noise management strategies).
Here are some characteristics of a good risk assessment:
Drawn up and authorised by someone who is competent (who has sufficient experience
and knowledge).
Begun in good time.
Completed before the activity begins.
Specific and clear about what it is covering.
Specific about what other assessments and procedures it refers to.
Identifies the significant hazards.
Clear about who might be harmed and how
Controls are specific and appropriate.
Key information is communicated to those affected.
Controls are implemented.
Checks are made to ensure controls are implemented.
Dynamic assessment undertaken and recorded if required.
Assessment reviewed.
Venue managements will have carried out their own risk assessment and you should have
sight of this, but you may consider supplementing it with information that is specific to your
ensemble’s requirements. Ideally the venue’s website should provide some information
about dimensions of the space, surface area of the stage, reverberation time, and so on, but
in practice this may not be available.
This table shows what is currently known about the relevant acoustic characteristics of
venues used by British ensembles. It draws on published measurements as well as results of
exercises commissioned by the venues, plus observations made by staff and users of the
venues. The headings are the kind of things you should ask a venue when making a booking.
Use your knowledge of existing spaces to work out where you can rehearse and perform
comfortably. In time it is hoped that this list will become more complete as more
information becomes available. In the meantime, fill in any gaps on your own copy. Send
updates to the BBC Safety Advice Line
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Shape /
Volume m³ (est.)
Length / width /
height, m (est.)
Platform area m²
Rehearsal reverb
time @1kHz, sec.
Choir seating
Info for promoters
on website?
Aberdeen Music Hall
Shoe box
Aberystwyth Arts Centre
Small flat stage
Ayr Town Hall
V small ‘bathtub’
Bangor Prichard-Jones
Basingstoke Anvil,
Birmingham Symphony
Y / flexible
Birmingham Town Hall
Cardiff BBC Hoddinott
Elongated octagon
Y / flexible
Cardiff St David’s Hall
Octagonal thrust
stage overhang
1.9 (1983)
(pit) Cardiff Wales
Millennium Centre
Carlisle Sands Centre
Cheltenham Town Hall
Chichester Festival
Thrust stage
Croydon Fairfield Halls
Edinburgh Usher Hall
Glasgow City Halls
Glasgow Henry Wood
Former church
(pit) Glasgow Theatre
(pit) Glyndebourne
Hanley Victoria Hall
Huddersfield Town Hall
Y v steep
Inverness Eden Court
Kendal Westmorland
Stage almost flat
Small riser
for back row
Lancaster University
Flat stage steeply
raked auditorium
(pit) Leeds Grand
Leeds Town Hall
Liverpool Philharmonic
Llandudno Venue
Stage extension built
to prevent sound
going up fly tower
London Abbey Road
Studio 1
London Barbican
Y - flexible
1.65 (1983)
Shape /
Volume m³ (est.)
Length / width /
height, m (est.)
Platform area m²
Rehearsal reverb
time @1kHz, sec.
Choir seating
Info for promoters
on website?
London Henry Wood
Former church
London LSO St Luke's
Square former
church v resonant
London Mermaid
Very dry acoustic
London Maida Vale
Studio 1
Low ceiling
London Maida Vale
Studio 2
London Queen
Elizabeth Hall
London Round House
Former turning
shed. Circular
Staging built
for specific
London Royal Albert
Large oval
London Royal Festival
1.8 (1970)
(pit) London Royal
Opera House
London St Giles
London St Paul’s
London St Paul’s
London Wigmore Hall
Manchester Bridgewater
2 (mids)
Manchester NBH Studio
Nottingham Royal
Concert Hall
Y flexible
Y 186
Perth Concert Hall
Sage Gateshead
Salford, BBC
Philharmonic Studio
Y flexible
(pit) Salford, Lowry
Sheffield City Hall
Snape Maltings
St David’s Cathedral
Swansea Brangwyn Hall
Watford Colosseum
Yes on stage,
if used
Wrexham William
Aston Hall
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A risk assessment should include some indicative noise exposure figures, based on prior
knowledge and experience in a risk assessment. The precise figures will be hard to predict,
because of the many variables involved (venue; repertoire; how loud everyone plays on the
day…). However, it may be possible to quote measurements that have been taken in the
past for similar programmes. The chart in the musician’s section gives a broad indication of
typical daily doses measured in the past. and the knowledge base will continue to grow as
orchestra managers do more measuring and share data.
Bearing in mind a studio, pit or concert platform is not a laboratory, it is nevertheless good
practice to measure similar projects and collect comparative figures over time, to see what
progress has been made as policies are taking effect. If you expect to do noise monitoring
on a regular basis, it is advisable to undertake noise-assessor training, but here is a checklist
of things to consider when carrying out monitoring.
Be clear about what you’re trying to find out: eg, to develop a string-rotation policy, or
to initiate discussions about noise management and effectiveness of control measures
among the musicians and between musicians and managers.
Don’t underestimate the amount of work involved: you need to concentrate on noise
monitoring and avoid distractions on the day.
Decide how to measure (hand-held meter or preferably dose badges attached to the
Set up a database so you have somewhere to store the figures.
Make sure the musicians understand what the aim of the measuring is and how the
results will be used.
Reassure the musicians that a dose badge only records sound levels and does not record
actual speech (or wrong notes).
Make sure the dose badges are charged.
Calibrate the badges (make sure the meter’s calibration certificate is still valid as well as
doing your own calibration).
Make a note of who has badges; draw a plan of where they’re sitting, or take a photo.
Attach the badges securely and close to the musician’s ear (so that the readings reflect
the actual dose, but ensuring the badge does not get in the way when playing).
On your plan of the ensemble, also make a note of what happens when (eg conductor
talk) and when the orchestral breaks are.
Don’t stop the badges during the breaks as it makes it hard to calculate an LEP,d.
Note any events that might affect the readings (badge drops, musicians hitting them, etc).
Note on the layout plan any controls such as drapes (closed / open), use of screens, etc.
Note use of hearing protection.
Collect the badges at the end of the session / day. Download the data and convert it to a
format that people can read (pdf).
Disseminate the results to the relevant people; let the musicians know what their dose
was and use the opportunity to talk about hearing protection.
In the event you want to do a quick spot-check, you can take a more low-tech approach.
Though it would not be sufficient for the purposes of a risk assessment, it would give you an
indication of likely exposure, the effectiveness of controls or the need for more detailed
A basic hand-held noise meter (if you are going to use a phone meter, you need to
spend £10 at least to get something that is reliable). Remember though that these
meters do not conform to any British Standard. They should be used for information
purposes only and if you use them to estimate noise exposure levels in a risk assessment
you must be clear about the instrumentation that was used.
A clock or watch with a second hand.
A camera.
Describe the circumstances (location, repertoire, forces used and position of musicians
in question).
Note the levels recorded and the length of time you measured.
Bear in mind measurements need to be taken as close as possible to the musician’s ear.
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Aim of noise control measures: to eliminate the risks from noise or to
reduce the risks to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.
Collective measures should take priority over individual measures.
Make sure one control doesn’t cancel out another.
Managing noise often requires working in partnership with third parties.
The actions agreed as a result of a risk assessment aim to eliminate the risks from noise or
reduce the risk from noise to as low a level as is reasonably practicable. It is important to
ensure that one action, or control, doesn’t negate another. For example, a screen or
acoustic treatment that reduces one musician’s noise exposure whilst increasing the dose of
a colleague.
When the noise (or sound) is the deliberate end product of the activity, elimination of the
noise is not a viable or appropriate outcome, though elimination of the risks is. Nevertheless
there may be some scenarios where it is possible and desirable to eliminate unnecessary
noise in amplified projects (see below).
Collective measures take precedence over individual measures. In music, that means the
ideal would be to design the perfect concert hall that provides a comfortable acoustic
environment for the musicians as well as the perfect blend for musicians and audience alike.
In the real world, we have to find solutions for individuals, and in practice this requires
collaboration between managers and musicians. The three possible types of solution are:
technical measures (engineering the noise out)
organisational measures to manage noise exposure (actions that require collaboration
within the ensemble and with managers)
individual measures (including personal protective equipment, non-work exposure and
personal choices).
The Noise Regulations recognise that interventions bringing both measurable and non-
measurable benefits are important. This section covers actions that bring about a
measurable reduction in exposure as well as those actions that help to prevent an
accumulation of temporary threshold shift (TTS) by providing adequate rests away from the
noise, and those that help minimise unhealthy stress. This reflects the fact that some hearing
problems can be measured while others (like tinnitus) are not measurable.
There is rarely one simple solution. If there were, we would all know about it by now. The
reality is that many of the actions described in the pages that follow may only reduce
exposure by 1-3dB (if a figure can be put on it). But a combination of actions can make the
figures add up and the non-measurable things can play a huge part in improving general
health inside and outside the workplace.
The attenuation figures quoted below were collected in real-life situations, and so should
only to be used as a rough guide. They may prompt you to devise other data-collection
exercises. The process of investigating is useful and thought-provoking in itself and it all
adds to our collective knowledge.
This section is intended to be read in conjunction with the section in the musicians’ part of
the guide ‘Assessing and controlling noise risks’. The Guidance to the Noise Regulations
gives a hierarchy of controls as follows: technical measures (‘engineering the problem
away’); next, organisational measures; individual measures. The list that follows adapts this,
starting with the strategic actions, as experience shows the first step is to create the right
environment. We then explore the more practical control measures, and finally move on to
looking to the future and investing in the next generation. Sound bites and case studies are
included for inspiration.
Strategic: contracts, protocols and code of conduct, artistic planning
Day-to-day management: schedules, layout options (vertical, horizontal separation,
rearranging sections, string rotation), acoustic treatments and screens, rest periods
Working with third parties: amateur and children’s choirs, amplified projects, looking to
the future and working in partnership.
There may be a measurable noise reduction (eg if a conductor allows a screen,
or if a musician avoids practising in the studio). There is potential for intangible
benefits (reducing stress by the way a conductor manages a rehearsal).
A ‘noise’ clause in all contracts (example below) can serve as a reminder of
responsibilities with respect to noise. We should aim for a common understanding
between conductors and the ensemble; some conductors may need reminding as they
usually have a lower noise exposure than anyone who is playing or singing.
From the autumn of 2011 all contracts of engagement for musicians on BBC contracts
contain a clause referring to their responsibilities under the Noise Regulations. The clause
has been drawn up by the BBC in consultation with IAMA and the MU. It requires all
musicians to do everything reasonably possible to work in accordance with the
requirements of the Noise Regulations and to comply with any specific requests from the
producer as appropriate.
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Rather than finish a Rite of Spring rehearsal with the ‘Sacrifice’ music, the conductor
(Thierry Fischer) spent five minutes working on the quiet beginning of the piece. The
contrast was appreciated by the players and, when questioned, the conductor said he
instinctively felt he should not end the rehearsal on the loudest sections of the piece.
Barry Wordsworth, on conducting a new commission in the Royal Opera House pit
with the trumpets, trombones and percussion to his immediate right at the front by the pit
rail: “Now I really know what levels of sound the players are sometimes exposed to in the
pit. Standing to conduct in the full force of that sound has been a revelation and will make
me far more understanding about noise problems in future. Every conductor should have to
stand on the podium in that level of noise and experience it.”
Some measurable reductions, eg around 3dB by discussing position and angle
of acoustic screen; 1dB reduction in LEP,d by not practising during breaks. Main
benefits are to orchestral harmony.
In order for these protocols to have any meaning, they need to be negotiated jointly and
the principles agreed by all.
They should cover managers’ and musicians’ responsibilities and can set out the
behaviours that have been agreed to be appropriate.
Once finalised, the resulting document can form part of the induction pack for new
members of the company. It can also be given to any freelance musician.
Occasional reminders can be made to keep it current and relevant.
Noise protocols at Welsh National Opera
The noise protocol was initially drafted in order to clarify boundaries and
responsibilities of the parties concerned with audiometric testing. From this it became clear
that if a document existed as an appendix to the WNO / MU agreement, it would help all
parties to understand the measures being taken to comply with the Noise at Work
Legislation. If these are contractually binding it also means we are in a stronger position to
demonstrate our response to the issue. Phil Boughton
The BBC orchestras held meetings to discuss what musicians and managers would like
to see in a code of conduct. The areas included in the document, and working practices,
were jointly agreed so there is a common understanding of what is expected.
Repertoire and performance planning is a useful tool in mitigating noise
exposure. Larger orchestral (and choral) forces required for certain repertoire
can be balanced across the season by repertoire requiring smaller forces. This
is also an issue when commissioning new works.
The BBC Symphony Orchestra has a buddying scheme called Sound and Music whereby
composers are ‘embedded’ in the orchestra. They can see at first hand why it is not possible
to write a piece where the piccolo is in the middle of the violin section.
The BBC SO’s Senior Producer routinely goes through the score of a new commission
and if necessary discusses with the composer potential noise issues in a new piece.
For certain players this has considerable noise-reduction potential (eg 3-6dB by
increasing space between piccolo / brass and back desks of strings).
There are some pieces that won’t fit physically in some concert halls, but there are
other instances where the stage will accommodate large forces but the venue is not
acoustically appropriate for example if the surface area of the platform is adequate but
the ceiling is so low that the sound has nowhere to go.
A stage with risers that are the right height can reduce the exposure for the viola
players in front of the trumpets by at least 3dB (for example).
The figure often quoted is a space requirement of 25-30 cubic metres per instrument,
which means 2,000 for an orchestra of 60 or more (in rehearsal). However, the chart
in the Risk Assessment section shows that commonly used studios and rehearsal venues
are two or three times larger than that. In addition, the reverberation time can play a
part in musicians’ perception of sound levels and consequently how loudly they play.
This applies to the rehearsal as well as the performance. A big choral piece will increase
noise levels: in rehearsal for Mahler 8 in the Bridgewater Hall exposure for
instrumentalists was 2dB higher across the board once the choir were in place.
When large-scale works such as Berlioz Te Deum, Mahler 8 have been performed at the
BBC Proms, the orchestraonly rehearsal was at Maida Vale studios and the full rehearsals
have taken place in bigger spaces: Watford Colosseum, the Royal Albert Hall itself.
When the BBC Philharmonic and the Hallé collaborated on Mahler 8, rehearsals with
the choruses took place in the Bridgwater Hall rather than the studio. As well as providing
extra acoustic volume and therefore more comfort for all, it also helped musicians to get
used to the acoustic of the space early in the rehearsal process.
A piece called Hekla, with 22 percussion including gunshots, anvils, etc (inspired by the
eruption of a volcano) was performed at the Royal Albert Hall where the galleries could be
used to separate the percussion from the main orchestra.
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Matching repertoire and venue at WNO: “We are fortunate in Wales Millennium
Centre that we have world-class facilities including an excellent pit (using three different
sizes) which we designed ourselves. It has plenty of floor-space and air-space between the
players so the main issue that confronts us on tour in some of the more problematic
theatres is avoided completely. When we tour to the more space-restricted orchestra pits
like Llandudno, Plymouth and Swansea, we start by having a smaller string section in order
to try to replicate the general comfort that the home theatre and some of our other
touring theatres provide. As a management, you have to be careful with this one, though.
Some conductors are not keen to see their string section reduced…” Peter Harrap
Noise reduction potential: intangible rather than numerical benefits to
arranging the schedules with a view to giving the musicians’ ears a rest.
Organising the schedules with noise in mind means leaving sufficient gaps between
periods of exposure to minimise the risk of temporary threshold shifts. This includes
avoiding scheduling a morning rehearsal after a noisy concert the night before.
For planning the schedules, managers at the BBC Philharmonic have devised a starring
system. It is similar to the way marketing departments predict box-office appeal for a
concert or programme. To predict noise levels in a programme, managers use four levels:
piano, mezzo-piano, mezzo-forte and forte. A forte programme in a small venue might drop to
mezzo forte in a bigger venue, or a particular musician’s rating might vary in different venues.
This process helps to vary the noise exposure and also engages musicians and managers in
discussion about the issues. Richard Wigley
Noise reduction potential: at least 3dB. This is the most effective measure in
terms of reducing exposure of the musicians in the vulnerable positions.
Increasing vertical spacing is the single most effective control measure. If the sound of
the trumpets can go over the heads of the players in front, not only are the string
players out of the firing line, the brass players don’t have to blow so loud to send their
sound into the audience: there is less exposure and it is easier on the embouchure.
Risers should be flexible to suit a range of orchestral layouts and, ideally, hydraulically
powered to save on manual handling and time. If you are consulted by a venue where
improvements to the acoustic are being discussed, this is something you can suggest.
Risers should be deep enough to
accommodate the music stand, ideally 1.25m
for upper strings, 1.4m for celli and basses,
0.8m for choir if seated, 1.4m for timps and
percussion (figures from AC Gade).
Risers should not be so high that they create
a fall hazard or a manual handling problem
for the stage crew and players of heavy
instruments (36cm is common).
The surfaces of the risers should be solid to
ensure the right amount of projection with
no ‘overkill’ for the brass or ‘rattle’ for the
low-frequency instruments.
Risers are more complicated in a pit: if there
is no headroom risers will be out of the
question, and even if there is enough physical
space it will be uncomfortable if the sound
has nowhere to go. Sometimes string risers
are used in a pit to help the sound from the
upper strings to get out.
Risers at RSNO’s Henry Wood Hall (photo: Euan Turner)
Noise reduction potential: 3dB per doubling of distance (with multiple noise
source, as in an orchestra).
Increasing horizontal separation is less straightforward. On the one hand you can reduce
the exposure from a noisy instrument by 3dB if you double the distance in front of the
noise source (there will be more leg room for the player too). Note that ‘classical
acoustics says 6dB, but this is with a single ‘noise’ source –rarely the case in an
orchestra, hence 3dB is more realistic. On the other hand it is possible that this benefit
will be cancelled out by a tendency of the musicians to play louder to ‘fill’ the space. As
ever, there is a balance to be found between physical and aural comfort and ensemble
sound, and this should be the result of ongoing discussion about what is acceptable.
A gap between the front of the orchestra and the audience helps with projection of the
sound and stops overplaying which means a reduction in exposure. Also whilst the
horns and percussion should not be too close to a back wall, an angled reflective surface
behind them can help with projection.
Here is a list of average floor-space requirements for instrument groups (from Gade):
upper strings / wind 1.25
cello / large wind 1.5 m²
double bass 1.8
timpani 10
other percussion 20
trombones 180cm in front and 30cm behind
trumpets / brass [spacing requirement is about noise].
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Musicians’ guide to noise & hearing. Part II | 21
Space sound bites
“We are always looking for solutions to suit individual musicians, rather than particular
instruments.” – Fiona McIntosh, BBC Philharmonic
“Though Mahler 8 comes up time and again in these conversations, Tchaikovsky 5
presents more problems and the artistic imperative vs noise issues are very hard to balance.
Where do you put the trumpets? They need to be part of the ensemble but if you put them
too close it creates a very serious problem for the back row of the woodwinds. Simon
Webb, CBSO
The Royal Opera House works closely with its musicians and Music Directors in order
to provide plenty of variety in seating arrangements in the Orchestra Pit whilst not
compromising the conductor's musical aspirations. Twice a year 'pit planning' meetings are
held, with the orchestra and ballet music directors invited, where the pros and cons of
various seating arrangements are debated, to try and alleviate some of the more regular
issues we have in the pit. However, the most positive aspect of the meeting is highlighting
the issues to the Music Directors, whose eyes have been opened to the difficulties that the
musicians face. Matthew Downes, ROH
“When we stood with more space between us, we felt more like soloists, and
instinctively wanted to fill the space.” – BBC Singers (see Noise Day experiment)
Noise reduction potential: 3dB per doubling of distance (in an orchestra).
Moving horns away from wind can reduce exposure by 3dB (and prevent bleed for
microphones in a recording).
Single vs. double ranking the brass: ideally the trumpets and trombones should be in a
straight line as it is preferable to have more space in front; if there is limited space (and if
risers permit it) a curved line can help to increase lateral space. On the other hand if
there is too much space the brass ensemble suffers and it increases the number of string
players in the firing line.
It is common practice to vary layout from one project to another (within the limits of
what is appropriate for the repertoire), in order to vary the dose of the affected
Potential reduction: up to 9dB between back row of first violins and front of
(non-rota) violins.
Measurements have shown string rotation can make up to 9dB difference between back
desk and desks nearer the front for those players who ‘rotate’. This benefits relatively
few players and in reality it is often the freelance string players occupying the back desks
who tend to be in the noisy positions most of the time. If the rota is done by a musician
it can be good for stimulating discussions and sharing experiences.
Noise reduction potential varies, but it is important to ensure one solution
doesn’t cancel out another.
Acoustic treatments to venues take a long time to implement and are expensive (as are
any mistakes). All users of a venue should collaborate with venue managements to
identify what is needed. There will be many demands and inevitably the final result will
involve some compromises.
It is very hard to put an attenuation figure on acoustic screens because so much depends
on the way they are used. Managers must facilitate open discussions about this and
ensure that players are trained in how to place them for best protection and fewest
negative externalities. Screen use is discussed in Part I of the Guide.
With this in mind, it can be useful to carry out some ad-hoc experiments with screens
before committing to large amounts of expense. Although not totally scientific or
controlled, this testing can help you identify what might work, and what probably
doesn’t, with different permutations of instruments and screens. The examples below
are from such an ad-hoc experiment at Scottish Opera, where the aim was to find out
the attenuation different screen setups give with a range of percussion instruments.
Xylophone (average levels for 30exposure)
95.8 89.3
At right ear At 2m
100.9 93.3
At right ear At 2m
Snare Drum
100.6 94.5
At right ear At 2m
97.6 92.7
At right ear At 2m
(With thanks to Euan Turner of the Federation of Scottish Theatres)
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The Scottish Opera percussion experiment illustrated above was carried out in the space used by
the orchestra using a hand-held noise meter taking 30-second samples with and without the screens
in place at the following locations:
- at the musician’s ear to see if screens had an effect on them (ie, noise being reflected back)
- 2m away to see what effect, if any, the screen would have over and above the decrease in noise
that comes with distance.
It demonstrates how the effectiveness of acoustic screens varies, particularly in relation to the sound
source and angle of screen and, equally importantly, how simple experiments carried out in situ can
throw up unexpected results, and help inform choices. Screens can be seen by some as a default, but
this shows their use need to be planned and all the options considered.
Noise reduction potential: (in theory) c.3dB by increasing space between
certain instruments.
"Rehearsing outside the pit can help to limit the noise exposure of opera and ballet
orchestra players. The major positive benefit is having the space to separate sections more
than usual so that individuals near noisy colleagues get lower readings. The negative side of
this, however, is that the acoustics outside the pit are invariably very different. This can
mean that the rehearsal time is not as useful to the production as a whole as it would have
been had it taken place in the pit. As always, compromise is necessary all round." Sally
Mitchell, ROH
Noise reduction potential: 1-2dB over a day, but giving rests out of the noise
can provide a considerable intangible benefit.
Busy canteens, cafés and pubs can be noisy places. Encourage musicians to seek out
quieter places to spend their breaks which includes asking the managements to turn
background music down (or off) so they don’t have to compete to make themselves
heard in their breaks.
If there is no canteen, try to schedule longer breaks so that there’s only not a mad rush
to get coffee, deal with telephone calls and so on. There is time for the musicians to rest
their ears too.
Facilitating discussions about what is acceptable in the green room, especially with
respect to TV use, could help to create a consensus and may find their way into agreed
“It’s often away from the stage that the highest noise levels are experienced. At
Symphony Hall Birmingham we have a relatively small artists’ bar – and the musicians
suggested spending less time in the artists’ bar because of it. Simon Webb, CBSO
In the case of amateur and children’s choirs, this relates to a duty of care
under the Health & Safety at Work Act, rather than a duty under the Noise
Choral works can be very loud, the stage can be cramped and the singers can be very
close to the horns and percussion. Depending on the stage layout and whether the choir
is on the same level as the orchestra, screens may be an option but bear in mind a
horn player can suffer more from a screen than a singer will suffer from the horns (the
singer can put earplugs in when not singing).
Once layout options have been explored, and the schedule arranged so that singers are
not on stage for longer than necessary, remind the singers that earplugs are advisable
and available (reduction: >20dB with disposable earplugs): make announcements, talk to
the choir’s committee and chorus director. In the short term, it may be easier to
persuade singers to use them in rehearsal and during movements where they are not
singing. See also the sections on screens and hearing protection.
Actual reductions have been recorded of 9dB when PA and on-stage
amplification is reduced. Build-up of temporary threshold shift (TTS) is more
likely with amplified music because sound levels are higher and less varied.
This checklist can be further developed and/or shared with third parties. It draws on the expertise of
Ben Ranner at the Round House, Camden and Phil Wright of Sound by Design, and elsewhere in
the BBC and the sector. It was originally used by the set designers for Strictly Come Dancing in
This covers live events where there is an orchestra or band with a large amplified
section (which may also include amplified singers). Typically there are 10-15 musicians or
more, up to a full-sized orchestra.
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations require employers to limit the noise
exposure of workers, and to protect their hearing.
We must do all we can to reduce the noise levels on stage to an acceptable level.
Musicians don’t need to hear the amplified section: just some of the drum kit, plus guitar
and bass. They hardly need to hear the singers / vocalists.
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Musicians’ guide to noise & hearing. Part II | 25
They don’t need to hear any of the mix that goes out to the audience (PA).
However they do need to hear their own instrument and the other members of the
acoustic ensemble. They also need clear sightlines to the conductor/MD.
It is stressful and fatiguing to play an instrument in competition with over-amplified
The set designer, sound engineer and lighting designer should meet at an early stage in
the planning process to specify their requirements and to ensure that noise control is
factored in from the start (eg, if monitors introduced at a later stage and there is
nowhere to put them, they may end up too close to the musicians).
Liaise with the orchestra / band’s manager or fixer to find out what instruments are
involved in different shows during a run.
Layout and construction
Getting the layout right can reduce the need for acoustic screens (which take up floor
space and create reflections for cameras).
Vertical separation (risers): This is the best way of controlling noise on a stage. Risers help
with sight lines and they create a clear path for the sound to travel from the player, over
the heads of the players in front, to the audience (it is also less tiring for the player).
Minimum riser height should be 20cm from the floor for woodwinds, and 36cm is ideal
for brass, where the ceiling is high enough. Ensure Work at Height Regulations are
considered, with handrails, kickboards and/or battens or taped edges for the risers.
Horizontal separation: Acoustic sections should be physically separated from the amplified
sections. Build separate platforms if there is enough space. If sections of the stage have
to be closer together, clamp them together so there is no chance they will rattle.
Space required: Orchestra players need 1.7-2 each, in general (see also the section
relating to purely acoustic projects p.20 which quotes the standard space
requirements devised by AC Gade). They need at least 80cm space from side to side
(more for violins and violas, and 110cm for a double bass). Woodwind players in Big
Bands and Entertainment shows have up to five instruments to accommodate, and need
space for these, as well as leg room. Trombones need at least 180cm in front to
accommodate the slides and c. 30cm behind (trumpets a little less).
Leaving the stage: If players are not needed they should be able to leave the stage safely
and discreetly. Think about access and egress as part of the design process.
Material: Build staging and risers out of dense solid material such as plywood. Make the
frame solid so that vibrations do not travel along the surface. Clamp units together and
separate them acoustically using rubber or neoprene stoppers. Surfaces can also be
covered with absorbent material such as thick carpet. However, absorbent material on
the walls may adversely affect sound quality.
Monitors and PA: In-ear monitors should be used by amplified musicians, ideally. They
don’t take up any floor space and the mix delivered to each artist can be tailored to
their own needs without affecting others. Position any on-stage wedges and other
monitors at a distance from the players who don’t need them, but up close and angled
towards the head of the players who do. This must be factored into the stage design.
Build a separate dedicated platform for PA stacks if they cannot be flown.
Put the drum kit inside a ‘goldfish bowl’, isolated from the rest of the band. The
structure should be placed on the floor and resiliently mounted so it does not transmit
low-frequency vibrations
Other noisy instruments should be separated from the acoustic sections by clear
Perspex screens, high enough to come above the head of the players and placed on a
solid surface.
Any individual screens require an extra 20-30cm of floor space behind the player and
they should not be too close in front of the brass.
The BBC Electric Proms is a case where a considerable amount of sound leakage has
been eliminated thanks to good planning and collaboration with third parties. The BBC
Concert Orchestra plays acoustically with amplified bands. Over the years stage design has
evolved to create physical separation between the two ensembles. PA has been used
judiciously so that it sends the sound out into the audience rather than back on to the stage.
The solo artists’ contracts now have a requirement to use in-ear monitors rather than on-
stage foldback.
“An issue for us is using headphones for click tracks. It’s impossible to give everyone in
an orchestra individual levels for the click, so it’s a ‘like-it-or-lump-it’ scenario. A solution
our management team came up with at the Royal Albert Hall when we were playing to click
was headphones with individual volume controls (to be worn over earplugs) so we had
control, not the monitor engineer. This isn’t what you find in recording studios,
unfortunately. Sarah Freestone, BBC Concert Orchestra
Not necessarily a noise reduction in the short term, but there are benefits for
the long term and it is an important investment nonetheless.
These solutions don’t necessarily reduce noise exposure, but by sharing the load you can
save money in the search for creative solutions. Working in partnership also means the
messages about noise control reach a wider audience. There are some examples and case
studies below as well as many elsewhere in this guide.
Ensemble managers are in constant liaison with venue managers, and can lobby for
improvements to the acoustic of the hall for the musicians, for example, flexible acoustic
treatments, hydraulically powered risers, and so on.
Ensemble managers can also encourage the venues to share information about the
acoustic properties of a venue; this might be added to the ‘information for promoters’
on the venue’s web site.
The search for the ideal acoustic screen is still going on. Feeding back experiences to
manufacturers will help them develop solutions that work in particular contexts.
Partnering up with a university department for research is mutually beneficial.
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Musicians’ guide to noise & hearing. Part II | 27
If touring to places where the legislation is not as comprehensive as the UK, you may
have to explain your requirements. If you have to take along your own supply of screens
and other portable acoustic solutions it adds to your touring costs. You will need to
strike a balance between what you should carry and what the venue might have.
Case study: orchestra and university partnership
Knowledge Connect brought together the expertise of London South Bank University
with the experience of the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s musicians through a London
Development Agency-financed scheme. A Knowledge Connect grant was awarded to the
Acoustics Group of London South Bank University in January 2009 to undertake a noise
compliance investigation for the LPO. The driver for the involvement of the Acoustics
Group was the introduction of the Control of Noise at Work Regulation 2005. The
collaboration included dosimetry of musicians during rehearsals and performances at
different venues; audiometry for musicians in accordance with Health and Safety guidance;
room acoustics measurements; and education seminars and information.
The project was assisted by the full cooperation of the management, administrators,
musicians and conductor. The LPO purchased equipment vital to the investigation and which
will enable a sustained approach to the issues raised.
Audiometric results showed that the musicians had excellent hearing. Dosimetry results
identified the noisiest repertoire and the pieces in which musicians have the greatest noise
exposure. Educational seminars informed the orchestra as to the risks associated with noise
exposure, and when and where to use ear plugs of various types. Room acoustics
techniques were used to improve the natural acoustic of one of the LPO’s regular rehearsal
halls, which may not reduce the noise exposure of the musicians but could enhance their
rehearsal time and the quality of performance.
Future work recommendations following this project were as follows:
To continue the dosimetry measurements using the LPO equipment to establish a profile
for each instrument section for a range of musical pieces and venues.
To continue the audiometric study to monitor the musicians’ long-term hearing acuity.
To improve the acoustics of the orchestra pit using computer modelling techniques to
assess the various practical noise control solutions.
To investigate the acoustics of other venues used for performance and rehearsals.
Test the viability of various types of earplugs for practice/rehearsal/performance/gigs.
Test various types of acoustic screens as a practical solution for brass and timpani for
both stage and orchestra pit. Roanna Chandler
Case study: conservatoire and university partnership
The Royal Academy of Music (RAM) entered into a partnership with London South Bank
University (LSBU) Acoustics Department in 2007 to address issues raised by the Noise
Regulations. A mutually beneficial approach was agreed upon, allowing a PhD student and a
number of MSc students from the university to gather data from a wide range of musical
activities across a range of venues at the Academy whilst allowing the RAM to benefit from
the scientific data collected and the results and conclusions of experiments carried out.
The Royal Academy’s noise group was formed as a result of the collaboration and, to this
day, representatives from the RAM and LSBU and industry specialists form part of the
committee. The results of all experiments (noise exposure, room assessments, layout
arrangements, audiometry, and noise control solutions) are reported to the noise group.
In addition, yearly educational noise seminars for all new undergraduate and postgraduate
students, given by LSBU, were introduced to the Fresher’s week programme. Furthermore,
all new students are given an audiometric test at the beginning of their studentship, carried
out at the facilities at LSBU. Repeat audiometric tests are given to students undertaking a
course of 24 months or more during their last term at the Academy.
The two institutions have also worked together to research, develop and test new means of
sound absorption and monitoring equipment such as sound-absorbing mirrors (patented in
2009), acoustic shields and noise screens, personal sound exposure badge and zero
footprint absorptive screens. Nicola Mutton
Case study: orchestra and university
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s brass section carried out an experiment to find
out what kind of acoustic screen would best protect the string players whilst not adding
unduly to their own exposure (se in the Musician section of the guide).The screens used for
the experiment were home-made by one of the players but the ‘winning’ screen was taken
to Bournemouth University where a design project was commissioned with a view to
making a screen available commercially.
The winning BSO screen (photo: Andy Cresci)
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The Noise Regulations state that hearing protection should not be used as an alternative
to organisational means of reducing noise exposure, so you should first ensure that all
other noise-control options have been explored.
Regulation 8 of the Noise Regulations requires managers to ensure so far as is
practicable that hearing protectors are used. This can be done by encouraging musicians
to use them as much as possible, through instruction in their use, having a supply on site
and also through education and training.
While some musicians will take to earplugs straight away, others will take time to get
used to them. Offer a range of options and keep reinforcing messages; if musicians get
used to them in situations where less precision and subtlety are required, they can build
on that.
Encourage musicians to carry their own earplugs with them at all times, rather than
relying on the disposable ones.
When sourcing disposable earplugs check that the attenuation is adequate and not too
much, otherwise they will not be used.
Note that the 2002 Personal Protective Equipment Regulations require the earplug (or
the box it came in) to carry the CE mark.
The musicians’ section of this guide covers the options available to musicians. Bear in
mind that it is important to keep abreast of developments as technology is improving
very rapidly.
Hearing protection at the Royal Opera House
We have found that one way to encourage the use of ear plugs is to offer our players a
range of options. As a number of sections move around the pit, the players can experiment
and make their best choice depending on the sound levels where they are sitting for any
particular production. We offer individually moulded soft silicone plugs with flat attenuation,
ER20 Xmas tree plugs and soft foam throwaways with a cord. We are experimenting with
the new vented PRO plugs that have been designed particularly with brass players in mind.
We have also tried ear defenders but they block out too much sound to be practical in the
pit. We encourage our players to use ear plugs away from work when engaged in noisy
activities travelling on public transport, DIY, mowing the lawn, the cinema, football
matches etc to save their ears for performing. Sally Mitchell
If you employ musicians on full-time contracts you are obliged to provide hearing health
surveillance to those who are identified as being ‘at risk’. In practice many employers offer
this to all musicians, and it seems to be an effective way of raising the profile of hearing
conservation across the board. Sound Advice recommends that if you regularly employ the
same freelancers you should provide health surveillance. In practice managements will make
a judgment based on the amount of work undertaken by the musicians, to determine
whether they should be treated as employees for health-surveillance purposes. If employers
don’t provide hearing tests it is good practice to provide information about how to access
appropriate services. Below is a list of considerations when setting up in-house provision:
Arrangements: ensure tests are held at a time and a location that fits in with the
musicians’ schedules; they should be conducted in a soundproof booth or quiet studio,
and at times when the musicians are least likely to have a temporary threshold shift after
exposure to noise. Appointment-booking systems need to be agreed and costing
arrangements need to be clear.
Process: ensure the quality-control standards are clear. The British Audiology Society has published guidelines on this and on the competences required of
the tester. Consistency of approach is vital, as the testing process can seem quite
subjective to the patient.
Information, advice and referrals for individuals with hearing problems: again, consistency of
approach is vital, in terms of information passed on to patients. The pre-test
questionnaire should be in line with standard practice and contain questions that are
musician-specific. Clear procedures for referring patients to ENT should be established.
Management reporting: ensure that the information provided enables the management to
identify trends as well as enabling them to provide for individual musicians’ needs.
Managers need to maintain a (confidential) spreadsheet or database with dates of tests,
hearing category and any referrals made as a result.
Re-test schedules: find out how these are defined and ensure the policy relating to this is
communicated to musicians.
Data management: ensure that confidential medical records are stored appropriately and
establish procedures for accessing them as necessary. It is standard practice for the
patient to be given a paper copy of the audiogram after the test.
Managing the relationship: offer opportunities for the provider to be involved in the life of
the orchestra (attending concerts or rehearsals, for example). It is essential for them to
understand what the musicians’ working lives are like.
Many musicians express concerns about the implications of having hearing health
surveillance. They need reassuring that having a hearing test has nothing to do with their
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Musicians’ guide to noise & hearing. Part II | 31
musical ability; it is simply a way of identifying early signs of a problem. Indeed the
techniques commonly used in occupational health surveillance are often criticised as being
insufficiently sophisticated for musicians. Clarify that the requirements of occupational
health surveillance are not the same as a medical intervention.
Musicians will need reassurances about confidentiality of records. Though they are often
prepared to divulge information informally about their health, they may be reticent about
this once it becomes ‘official’. Hence the need for the reassurances as set out above.
Common practice is for musicians to sign a consent form, but note that under the
Regulations employees have an absolute right to withhold their consent to the release of
information obtained about their hearing ability obtained from health surveillance. Note also
that the only information that can be released without their consent is a judgment on
whether the musician is fit or not fit to work.
Health surveillance in partnership at a full-time orchestra, the City of Birmingham Symphony
Setting up a cycle of hearing tests for CBSO musicians was a priority that we addressed
in 2008 by working in partnership with Aston University. The team at Aston fully
understand the potential sensitivities around testing musicians’ hearing and provide briefing
notes and letters of agreement between themselves and the individual musicians.
Within the CBSO, whilst the need for hearing surveillance is accepted by both musicians and
management, and enthusiastically supported by the board, the process is carefully managed
to ensure that there is trust between musicians and those conducting the tests and real
understanding towards any sensitivity regarding the musicians’ responses to the tests.
Before anything was confirmed we discussed in detail with the player representatives the
content of the tests, access to the data and also the management and schedule for the
process. We agreed that the test results would be stored at Aston University and not at the
CBSO, that CBSO staff would have no access to the individual test results and that any
requests for medical support would only come from the musician directly and not via the
testers or orchestral management. In addition, we set up for several staff members to be
available at the hearing unit to ensure that the musicians are always aware of the level of
support being offered.
The tests are scheduled in contract time, with the time spent counting towards each
musician’s annual working days. The testing is therefore obligatory; very few musicians have
questioned this, and the couple that have done were reassured by the answers they were
given and willingly agreed to take part in the testing. The testing is understood and accepted
as one of our ways of expressing our duty or care to our musicians.
In return for an exceptional level of service, we offered the audiology department at Aston
University access to CBSO for post graduate research. Apart from the valuable research
opportunity for the students, this also gives reassurance to the musicians that all the work
around noise exposure and hearing is part of a bigger picture. The research continues to
inform our approach to issues of noise exposure in the workplace. Simon Webb
Under the Noise Regulations managers [of musicians] are required to provide the following
Likely noise exposure and the risk this creates
What is being done to eliminate or reduce the risks
Where to obtain hearing protection
What hearing health surveillance will be provided, and how it will be provided
What musicians can do for themselves (eg, marking up the score, wearing hearing
Warning signs of hearing problems and how to report them
What to do if a problems develops during the course of the day.
The list above is adapted from Para 115 of the Guidance to the Noise Regulations.
Information provision may take many forms in practice:
Noise seminars or input from experts
Regular agenda items at meetings of the managers and musicians
Ad-hoc reminders at the beginning of a project
Notices on noticeboards, etc.
And, of course, the musicians’ guide to noise and hearing: Music, noise and hearing: how to
play your part: www/ and follow the links to the guides and supporting
"The Royal Opera House is in the process of typesetting its own copies of its core
repertoire, such as the ballet version of Manon by Massenet. Loud stage effects, such as
gunshots, have been indicated in the new scores so that the players are more thoroughly
aware of the noise problems in the production and can prepare themselves accordingly."
Matt Downes, ROH
In addition, managers should be trained in
noise-management techniques. As well as key
publications (including this one), the vendors
of noise measuring equipment and other
(industrial) noise consultants can provide
training. Consider joining forces with other
ensembles to source training that is tailored
to the specific needs of the sector.
Universities, patient charities and bodies such
as the Royal Society of Medicine or
Wellcome Trust occasionally put on seminars
on current research. These can be pitched at
a non-specialist audience and are invariably very interesting (and often free).
Massenet, orch/arr Leighton/Lucas Manon. Extract used with kind permission of the Royal Opera House
Music, noise and hearing: how to play your part. Toolkit for managers
Musicians’ guide to noise & hearing. Part II | 33
You may use any of the material in this guide (including the pictures) as a basis for your own
posters and in-house factsheets. Please acknowledge the source and date.
The Health and Safety Executive
(HSE) provides its own
guidance on Noise in the Music
and Entertainment Sector, The
Control of Noise at Work Regula-
tions 2005, and supports subse-
quent industry-led guidance,
Sound Advice. This is the recog-
nised source of guidance for
compliance with the law, and
can be found on its website at
Musicians’ Union:
MU members’ handbook
contains a section on health
and safety. Regular features
on noise and hearing in the
quarterly journal The
Incorporated Society of
Members of all of these, plus
MU, are entitled to dis-
counts on hearing tests.
Association of British
Sound Ear II (2008)
downloadable from the site.
The Healthy Orchestra
Charter is a joint initiative
with the Musicians’ Benevo-
lent Fund
on health and wellbeing in
British Association for
Performing Arts Medicine:
Clinics and information on all
aspects of performers’ health.
Association of Medical
Advisers to British Orches-
tras (AMABO).
British Association of Concert
Halls (BACH). Forum for
managers of concert halls
and theatres. Secretariat
provided by Sue King
RNID: Action on Hearing Loss:
Activities include informa-
tion, awareness-raising cam-
paigns and funding research.
Deafness Research UK:
Information, research. Pro-
vides the Bionic Ear Show, a
fun, interactive guide to how
the ear works.
British Tinnitus Association:
Advice line and information
on all aspects of tinnitus.
Text of the EU Directive
2003/10/EC can be found at
(search by CELEX number:
ISO 7029 (age-related
hearing loss).
ISO 1999 (noise-induced
hearing impairment).
During 2008/09 a literature
review was carried out of
the peer-reviewed literature
on noise, acoustics, hearing
and music. The Q&As that
prompted them are here and
the literature review is here.
Music Matters extract (10’)
on musicians and tinnitus.
Twenty Minutes: The Pleasure
of Noise.
The standard textbook on
the subject is Meyer, J
Acoustics and the Performance
of Music (1972 now in its
fifth edition pub Springer.
Music, noise and hearing: how to play your part. Toolkit for managers
Musicians’ guide to noise & hearing. Part II | 35
To locate video clips on
Tinnitus: “RNID Buzz off”,
“RNID Tune out tinnitus”
Cochlea: “cochlear
animation”, “dancing hair
Noise calculators:
ator.htm (needs Excel)
Audio clips: all © BBC:
Brahms Symphony No 4 in E
minor, BBC SO, rec Maida
Vale Studios, 20/04/11. Music
Matters extract, broadcast
02/04/11. Twenty Minutes
broadcast 18/02/11.
‘A’ weighting
Used for Leq (qv), it gives additional weight to the frequencies the human
ear is most sensitive to
‘C’ weighting
Used for peaks, it treats all frequencies equally
Automatic Gain Control (your ear’s volume knob)
Decibel measurement of sound intensity
High frequencies
Usually means above 5kHz
Hertz cycles per second
Daily personal noise dose
Weekly personal noise dose
Equivalent continuous sound level (=average)
Low frequencies
Usually means frequencies up to 300Hz (D4)
Mid frequencies
Usually means between 300Hz and 5kHz
Noise Induced Hearing Loss characterised by a notch in the audiogram
at 4-6kHz
Otoacoustic emissions vibrations in the ear canal
Pure-tone audiometry
Permanent threshold Shift
Reducing noise to as low a level as reasonably practicable involves
weighing a risk against the trouble, time and money needed to control it
Single number rating (for hearing protection)
The 3dB rule
Reduction or increase of 3dB is a halving or doubling of sound intensity
Temporomandibular jaw joint.
Temporary Threshold Shift
This guide is the result of many years’ work in the BBC and around the sector, and dozens if
not hundreds of people have contributed along the way.
When the Noise Regulations came into force for the music and entertainment sector in
2008 the six BBC Performing Groups (PG6), together with the Controller of Radio 3 Roger
Wright and Radio 3’s Head of Station Management Ben Woolland, agreed to fund a one-
year project to investigate what more could be done in the BBC’s five orchestras and the
BBC Singers. That year involved a great deal of measurement and many conversations with
musicians, managers, acousticians, engineers and doctors, and two main conclusions
emerged: one, solutions have to be found for individual musicians as well as for workplaces
and ensembles, and two, controlling noise requires sustained management over a long
period to make a lasting difference. It was also clear that sharing solutions would bring
wider benefits.
Paul Greeves, head of BBC Safety and Chris Burns, Audio & Music, agreed to take the work
forward, as the BBC was an early signatory to the HSE’s ‘pledge’ to ‘be part of the Health
and Safety solution’. Steve Gregory, BBC’s Head of Production Safety, saw the scope for
cross-sector working and a seminar was organised in July 2010 bringing together musicians,
ensemble managers, acousticians, occupational health colleagues and safety practitioners and
others. Out of that came a working group which acted as an editorial group for this guide.
Working group membership was as follows: Leo Beirne, Colin Chatten and Anne Wright
(Noise & Vibration Unit, HSE), Phil Boughton (Welsh National Opera), Roanna Chandler
(London Philharmonic Orchestra), Sally Mitchell (Royal Opera House), Keith Moston
(ABO), Nicola Mutton (Royal Academy of Music), Simon Webb (CBSO), Helen Wilson
(Opera North), Euan Turner (Federation of Scottish Theatres) and Bill Kerr, Morris Stemp
and Diane Widdison (Musicians’ Union). From the BBC Performing Groups: Susanna
Simmons (BBC Symphony Orchestra) and Richard Wigley (BBC Philharmonic). From BBC
Safety: Laura Baker, Louise Bisdee and Wendy Pelaez.
Many others have had a hand in this guide and their ideas and contributions have been
incorporated in some form or another: acousticians Steve Dance and Georgia Zepidou
(London South Bank University) and Richard Cole (BBC) and many engineers including Ian
Astbury, Andy Leslie and Dougal Proudlock (BBC), Brad Backus (UCL Ear Institute). Medical
colleagues whose contribution is in here include Paul Checkley (Musicians’ Hearing
Services), audiologist and epidemiologist Dr Christian Meyer-Bisch, Chris Rhodes (Capita
Health Solutions), the late Dr Martin Rosenberg and Dr Colin Thomas (BBC’s Chief Medical
Officer). Dom Stiles of the RNID Library provided access to the literature. Countless
musicians have helped to influence what has gone into the guide (and what’s been left out)
and particular thanks go to Andy Cresci and Jamie Pullman (Bournemouth SO), Sarah
Freestone and David McCallum (BBC Concert Orchestra) and Chris Bowen (BBC Singers).
Jayne Bailey, Chris McNally and Nick Walker are among the many BBC Safety colleagues
who have provided help. Philip Burwell of BBC Radio 3 prepared the Brahms sound clips.
Photos are mostly by Euan Turner; percussionist Alasdair Malloy (BBC CO) took the photo
of Sir Henry Wood. Violinist Julian Gregory of the BBC Philharmonic has captured in his
cartoons of the kind of scenarios we hope will become a thing of the past.
Music, noise and hearing: how to play your part. Toolkit for managers
Musicians’ guide to noise & hearing. Part II | 37
(coloured text refers to a duty /
responsibility under the Noise
General activity
Minimise extra-curricular
noise exposure.
Get used to wearing
Have hearing tests.
Provide audiometry to
in-scope musicians.
Go on noise awareness
training to understand
duties under CNAW.
Information provision
Provide hearing
Put documentation
together and make it
Contribute to Risk
What are the noise
implications of this
project? (rep+venue).
Risk assessment.
Measuring if no figures
Can the venue
accommodate this
project? (stage? acoustic
Inform management of
potential noise risks.
Ensure there are
adequate rest periods in
the schedule
Mark up score.
Ask for screen if
Discuss noise problems
with colleagues.
Wear hearing protection
Rest ears during breaks.
Adjust staging
Provide screens and
check they are posi-
tioned correctly
Encourage musicians to
leave the stage when not
Remind re: hearing
Adjust staging and
acoustic (treatments) of
room if possible.
Before the
Ask again: do I need this
Give your ears a rest.
Check position of
Reminder re: hearing
Dynamic risk assessment.
Stage mgt to add or re-
move screens according
to the repertoire.
After the
Feed back to manage-
ment and each other.
Don’t add to your noise
Feed back to venues.
Revisit risk assessment:
what can we learn?
Listen to the feedback;
use it for business case
for improvements.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Chris McNally and Nick Walker are among the many BBC Safety colleagues who have provided help. Philip Burwell of BBC Radio 3 prepared the Brahms sound clips. Photos are mostly by Euan Turner; percussionist Alasdair Malloy (BBC CO) took the photo of Sir Henry Wood
  • Jayne Bailey
Jayne Bailey, Chris McNally and Nick Walker are among the many BBC Safety colleagues who have provided help. Philip Burwell of BBC Radio 3 prepared the Brahms sound clips. Photos are mostly by Euan Turner; percussionist Alasdair Malloy (BBC CO) took the photo of Sir Henry Wood. Violinist Julian Gregory of the BBC Philharmonic has captured in his cartoons of the kind of scenarios we hope will become a thing of the past.