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Ear fatigue and pitch perception


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I've recently started having a very odd and disconcerting experience during gigs: my perception of pitch starts shifting around. That is, in the middle of a tune it will suddenly sound like the pitch of everything I'm hearing shifts downward by about a quarter step, then a moment later it will jump back up, then back down, etc. This happens near the end of the night, during the last set or two of some rather long gigs (sometimes as long as 7 hours). It has now happened twice. The first time I was exhausted from several days of physical labor and inadequate sleep, and I chalked it up to that. But tonight it happened again, and I was well-rested and having fun at the gig -- until this started happening.


So I'm wondering if anyone here has any knowledge/experience about this phenomenon, what causes it, and if anything can be done to stop it. If it were just an annoyance I wouldn't bother asking, but unfortunately it's a good deal more than that. I find it actually gives me a headache and slight nausea after a few minutes, not to mention making it impossible for me to sing, since I can no longer trust my sense of pitch. (Thankfully I only do a few minor backup vocals.)


I've been doing this gig regularly several nights a week for about a month, and up to now I haven't been using earplugs because the stage volume didn't warrant them (and I'll be the first guy to pop a pair in if it's loud). However, I made that decision when the gig was three hours long. Now that it has started running more than twice that, I've realized it's a different ballgame and I need to use earplugs, at least after a certain point. I'm hoping that will help.


Apart from that, any other advice or wisdom? Thanks in advance...

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I had an ear infection caused by a big flu last year. My left ear was infected and my pitch perception was a mess. I was hearing everything like 3 steps up with that ear.

I took some shots and made several warm compresses until it get better (3 weeks later).

Now Im 100% ok.

But my problem was clearly caused by and infection in your case I think maybe your frequent exposal to loud volumes may be causing this, or you have a minor ear infection that is messing it all.

Go see a doctor and have a complete ear scan.

The doctor can check your ear visually and youll probably have to make some tests that will show which frequencies are being listened or missed and by that whats causing your pitch problems.

Commonly ear issues causes nausea and headaches but only a doctor can check it out.

The most important thing after you solve this: Use ear protection. Our hearing damages is cumulative so every day that you go to bed with that whistling in your head after a loud gig is one less chance to have perfect ear health.

Hope it helped



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Remember that it's not only volume but duration that causes hearing damage as well as fatigue. Look at the (good) charts about what causes damage, and they'll say X dB for Y time. It's an area under the curve thing, if you're familiar with that.


What you exposed yourself to may not have been loud, but the fairly constant louder volume over the long period of time is what I'd say did you in. Use your earplugs and you should be fine.

"I'm so crazy, I don't know this is impossible! Hoo hoo!" - Daffy Duck


"The good news is that once you start piano you never have to worry about getting laid again. More time to practice!" - MOI

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Look at the (good) charts about what causes damage, and they'll say X dB for Y time. It's an area under the curve thing, if you're familiar with that.


Thanks for that tip. I hadn't seen those charts before. Now that I have, I see I am out of the "safe" zone for the duration of my gigs, though thankfully not by a lot. Earplugs will definitely be in order from now on.


SEVEN hours?!!!


What kind of gig lasts that long?


A Bourbon Street gig on a Saturday night during the busy season. Of course that's not continuous; there are breaks in there. I never thought I would enjoy such a gig, but the guys I'm playing with make it fun, and the $$ is right.

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I don't know about my perception of pitch. But I've noticed if I'm extremely fatigued, having problems with control. I can still hear if I'm off, but it just gets harder to be as accurate. But that's more of a vocal fatigue than ear fatigue.


Curious, are you meaning that you yourself (vocally) sound off, or everything shifts? And if it's everything, how do you know it shifted? I would think if you lost perception of pitch that you wouldn't know you were off. Can you give a little more detail? I'm very curious about this.



Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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Imagine listening to your favorite album through your favorite audio processing software, which can change the pitch without changing the speed. At some point, you shift the pitch down about a quarter tone. Later in the tune, you shift it back up. Then a little while later, you shift it upward by the same amount, then back down a bit later. And so on. So it's always a pretty subtle shift, but definitely noticeable and disorienting. As time goes on, the shifts become more frequent, happening maybe every 10 seconds or so on average. That's what it's like.


Fortunately I wore my earplugs to tonight's gig, and the problem disappeared. :)

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