Decibel level in brass bands

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by hicks, Oct 18, 2008.

  1. hicks

    hicks Member

    Bands all strive to attain a good dynamic range, but there seems to be an attitude that loud is good, and we need to achieve the biggest i.e. loudest sound possible on the 'ff' and 'fff' passages. Personally, I don't see why we have to play so loud, and would prefer a quieter and more controlled sound. That probably sounds weird coming from a trombonist :rolleyes:
    But I wonder if these high volume levels have any long term effects on hearing.

    Does anyone have any data to show the kind of decibel levels achieved by a band, and whether this is damaging to hearing?
  2. Bayerd

    Bayerd Active Member

    Since when did loud = big?

    I think you'll find that the loudest blowing bands will be found in the 1st section where intonation isn't as good. Most top level bands do not blow the thak off it as they're more interested in making a quality sound. A quality sound comes from balance and intonation, not from volume.......
  3. Hells Bones

    Hells Bones Active Member

    It also depends on the instrument and the kind of attack it has.
    For example, someone playing a woodblock or claves anywhere near me is absolute agony yet I can happily sit and listen to a Bass tanking it out.

    An easy solution to high decibel levels though are musician's ear plugs. They literally cut the decibel level but not the quality or texture of the sound.
  4. hicks

    hicks Member

    Should we have to resort to ear plugs? I think if this is the case, we've completely lost the plot.
  5. Hells Bones

    Hells Bones Active Member

    If you spoke to some die hard ear protection fans they would say wear ear plugs to everything.

    Hearing is a very sensitive sense that people take for granted. Once you lose it you have lost it.

    I was born with a hearing impairment which recently has taken a turn for the worst. I'm not stupid when it comes to my hearing because I can't afford to be.

    Bands make a hell of a noise when at high volumes. Not as high as a rock or metal concert but high enough to do damage if exposure is regular.
    If ear plugs is the way to make sure you keep your hearing then I'd say take it.
  6. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

    1) Potentially yes. Permament hearing damage is predominantly linked to sustained exposure to high noise levels (although the threshold is maybe lower than you'd imagine), but loud transients can also be dangerous. The thresholds for exposure are governed by the Control of Noise at Work Regulations and there's an HSE calculator available to guestimate exposure here. Obviously sitting in a voluntary 2 hour rehearsal is somewhat different, but it's something to consider seriously.

    2) There was a thread a while ago that might've contained some data - I'm pretty sure Woodenflugel was involved somewhere (apologies if it wasn't you Ian)...depending on motivational levels, I might make a few measurements over a some sessions to get some illustrative data but it'd have to be taken at face value as meaningful comparisons without controls would be difficult to make.
  7. WoodenFlugel

    WoodenFlugel Moderator Staff Member

    It was Keith - hang on, I'll see if I can find it...
  8. WoodenFlugel

    WoodenFlugel Moderator Staff Member

    Right - found it:

    My interest was sparked by two things happening together - my band was the culprit in a noise complaint, and there was a change in the Health and Safety at work legislation the meant that any work environment where an operator is exposed constantly to noise more than 80dB meant you had to wear ear protection - which has a direct impact on my job.

    So I was to design a machine with lots of vacuum which is always horrifically noisy (and high frequancy too - the worst kind) which when working had to be only slightly louder than a noisy office. Tough! I've just finished that and despite having double glazed guard doors made of two sheets of 1/2" acrylic with a 1/2" gap filled with argon, and every other steel panel and door on the machine being filled with sound-proofing foam we only just scraped through - at 1m away the machine is 79dB. But if you open the gaurds and stick the meter near where all the vacuum is then the noise is somewhere between 100 and 105dB. Bear in mind that 3dB is double the volume of sound, so I think we did OK!

    Where this becomes relevant to brass bands is that I can quite happily work near that vacuum with the guards open (I know I shouldn't and usually wear ear plugs when I do), but when our trombone section opens up it really hurts. I would say they were nearer the 110dB mark. Scary stuff, given that I was told recently by an expert that the current thinking is any exposure to noise over 85dB will damage your hearing to some extent.

    Bayerd is right here - I think a lot of 1st section bands play louder (in terms of sheer volume) than the really top boys in the championship. The difference is that Dyke or whoever, play so well together that is appears to be louder - if you like the sound is more focused.

    As for ear-plugs, I tried musicians ear plugs and the effect was wierd - its a bit like playing with a heavy cold times 100 - you get a real exaggerated sound of your tongueing action but you actual sound is quite muffled. I didn't get on with them at all. You can also get screens (which for brass and I guess woodwind would appear to be a better solution) so you sit in your own little protected cubicle. But given what I've just said about the guards on that machine (2x1/2" acylic and inert gas filled) to get from 100dB to 80dB, and what I've just said about my band's trombone section, they appear to be only made from a single sheet so I'm not sure how effective they would be.

    BTW I'll keep this thread open (but I reserve the right to change my mind on this...;))
  9. DublinBass

    DublinBass Supporting Member

    Some times I practice dynamics with a decibelmeter. Below are my goal settings...mind you that is with only one player (a tuba) and the decibelmeter on my music stand right in front of me.

    pp - 60 dB
    p - 70 dB
    mp - 80 dB
    mf - 90 dB
    f - 100 dB
    ff - 110 dB
  10. Rapier

    Rapier Supporting Member

    Where I used to work we had to attend St Thomas's Hospital every 6 months for a hearing test. They were most concerned about any unexpected loud noises that we had experienced, as apparently if you expect the noise it is less harmful.
  11. DMBabe

    DMBabe Supporting Member

    We used earplugs for the 3rd cornets and screens between the trombones and the percussion when we rehearsed Dark side of the moon earlier in the year. Our bandhall is tiny and when our percussion were playing at full tilt we registered 150+ decibels. And it wasn't that they were drowning out the band either, think it was more to do with the confined space. :dunno

    Besides that I found out by accident that after almost 25 years of banding I've got a lower end hearing impairment. Only found out when I was doing baby hearing checks and thought the box we used wasn't working at the lower end of the range. Explains why all notes sound the same on basses......;-)
  12. 007ish

    007ish Member

    Just a querey for one of you knowledgeable people out there. Not having any knowledge myself of decibel output meanings, would I be correct to assume that 80dB on a Cornet would be the same volume as 80dB on a Bass or Timp. for example :confused:
    My question obviously leads, if my assumption be correct, to equal dB equates to a balanced sound.:clap:
    Or am i just talking absolute rubbish :eek:
  13. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

  14. on_castors

    on_castors Member

    It's the HIGHER frequencies that have gone most for me, although enough low ones too!
    As a bass player, the problem has often been, (as well as everyone else's noise), percussion in small rooms, sitting SO close to loud general din from drums & cymbals & timps hit hard enough to interfere with your breathing if you take a breath at the wrong moment!

    Industrial deafness is similar in that high & low frequencies go, and middle ones get nicely muffled, so that listening to someone speak when there is background noise becomes a problem :-(

    I am actually surprised this thread hasn't been merged, as the subject has certainly been discussed at some length before!
  15. WoodenFlugel

    WoodenFlugel Moderator Staff Member

    If you read my post above you will see that I stated I'd decided not to merge the thread. Basically because "my" original thread dated back to May 2006 and I only found it after trawling through several pages of searches - even though I knew what the thread title was. Its ancient history, I've linked back to it but in my opinion as a moderator here the discussion is worthy of revisiting again from scratch.

    Maybe I should've carried on reading my Daily Mail instead of making the effort to find the old thread?
  16. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Something else in your original post, hicks, has set me thinking.

    Every conductor I've ever worked under has told me dynamic is not about how loud you can play, nor how soft, it's the difference between the two.

    Do bands generally strive for louder sounds, because it's simpler and quicker to do this, than it is to work on real quality at low dynamics? Or has quiet playing just gone out of fashion, like vibrato comes in and out of fashion every so often?
  17. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    I blame the rock music - most specifically the heavy metal rock music for making people less sensitive to volume. Brass bands - particularly in lower sections - don't help.
  18. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    I think often bands are afraid of notes not sounding, and so tend to play safe, with very little quieter than mp. To give the required contrast, the upper dynamics are pushed up and up accordingly. When a band really does work at a proper pp or ppp, it can be an electric effect, and I only wish more would make the effort.
  19. Hells Bones

    Hells Bones Active Member

    I agree with this statement.
    I saw Dyke at the open rehearsal for the BO and they played the Toccata from Suite Gothique.

    OH. MY. GOD.

    So quiet yet so focused. The people in the audience were visibly having shivers from what was being heard.

    I wouldn't blame things solely on Rock and Metal music though. Popular music, yes.
    Those cars on the road that you can hear and feel the bass coming about 5 minutes before you can see the cars certainly do not have rock or metal on.
  20. DublinBass

    DublinBass Supporting Member

    It is my understanding that (in this context) decibels measure the power output by the instrument. So the power put out by a cornet and timpani (both at 80dB) would be the same. However, I do not believe the volume would necessarily be exactly the same as the low frequencies are not as easily detected by human ears as higher frequencies.